Having never owned a Neo Geo Pocket Color, I have really appreciated SNK’s efforts to emulate a range of the classics and bring them to the Nintendo Switch. Fatal Fury: First Contact is the fifth in the series, following SNK Gals’ Fighters, Samurai Shodown! 2, King of Fighters R-2, and The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny. Fatal Fury is by no means my favourite of the collection, but it’s still a good time.
I am consistently reminded of just how impressive the Neo Geo Pocket Color must have been back when it first landed on the market. Within its humble, two-button exterior and basic pixel graphics, the console was more than capable of running smooth, dynamic, compelling fighting games. If you go back and try and play a Game Boy, Game Boy Color, or even Game Boy Advance fighter today, it’s a real effort to slog through the clunkiness of it to enjoy it on any level. The Neo Geo Pocket collection, meanwhile, are every bit as playable today as most fighting games designed for modern systems. They’re more limited, sure, but every bit as responsive and smooth.
Fatal Fury: First Contact was actually one of the first games on the console, being released in 1999, and close to the console itself. It boasts an impressive roster of 13 characters in total (including hidden and multi-player only characters Alfred and Lao), and includes series favourites including Li Xiangfei, Mai Shiranui, Terry and Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi. The Neo Geo’s hardware was limited to two buttons and a control stick, but the developers have included an impressive move-set for each of the characters within those limitations, and across the three difficulty settings (and multiplayer), there’s more than enough there for the dedicated fighting game fan to spend hours carefully mastering their favourite character.
Like the previous four Neo Geo Pocket Color fighters, Fatal Frame gets round the rendering limitations of the hardware by giving the characters big bobbleheads and exaggerated body dimensions. It’s a good, appealing aesthetic, especially considering the range of backgrounds an the high level of detail within them. Once again, it must have been truly amazing to a fighting game fan, over 20 years ago, to have an arcade fighter of this quality in their pocket, ready to go, whenever they were waiting for a train or on a lunch break.
With all of that being said, Fatal Fury has limitations over what the developers would be able to eke out of the console later down the track. There is no narrative or additional game modes, for a start. You get the gauntlet of the bog-standard single-player more, the ability to pit your fighting skills against a real opponent, and that is absolutely everything that the game offers. There are also all kinds of presentational elements cut, meaning that victories don’t feel quite as rewarding (thanks to the lack of victory acknowledgements from the character). The emulation is as good as always, including a fully re-sizable screen, but the lack of bonus features in comparison to the loving treatment some retro collections have had leaves this game feeling a little shallow as a historical artefact and archiving initiative.
Fatal Fury: First Contact is still a joy to play and – I really can’t say this enough – it remains impressive that the developers were able to create such pristine fighting games on such modest hardware. With that being said, the five games Neo Geo Pocket Color games that have now been released really should have been compiled together into one collection, and I would really like to see some of the other, non-fighting games that appeared on the console given the same emulation and restoration process now. I don’t begrudge SNK going to the effort with the five fighting game classics that it has, but enough’s enough with this genre. It’s time for something different, please.