Throw 25 Pesetas in and feel the Fury

Fatal Fury: King of Fighters (1991)

It must be nice to live in luxury, I thought to meself, as I sat back and loaded up the Metal Slug Anthology. I’d dropped fifty or sixty bones on that in 2006 for the Wii version when I was new to the series. Come 2020, I bought it again, this time on PS4 for a measly fiver. A fiver, for seven games, at least some of which used to come in their own dedicated arcade cabinets with some of the loveliest hand-drawn graphics you’ve ever seen. Posers like me can go on about how you practically need to sell a kidney to be a retro collector these days. But never mind the original, physical copies; if all you want in your life is the 1s and 0s, then it don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Mind you, you might have lost an arm, a leg, or worse in some of the places that masqueraded as “arcades” around here. Probably the nearest one next to me, which was less a video arcade and more of a delinquent infested snooker hall and one-armed bandit den, just happened to house a Street Fighter II machine, probably one of a million variants. Now this establishment was owned by, well, a highly secretive group shall we say. In this da and age, that’s about as good as I’ve got in terms of local arcadery.

Looking further afield though, enthusiasts in the greater Dublin area can “chow down” on some “fries” and “grab” a beer while playing a few dedicated cabinets in Token, a relatively new barcade spot, offering coin-op games and card-op machines to buy a round of gargles with. You can find a Metal Slug 3 machine there, and in certain 30 second windows you’ll see me there, losing my three allotted lives in record time.

I’m a bit better at the Tetris machine, located a short distance away. Thrillingly there’s also a Donkey Kong machine, where you can see for yourself just how difficult a task it is to threaten Billy Mitchell’s records, faked or otherwise. It’s exceptionally difficult to achieve any kind of high scores when the noisy clack-clack-clacking of the Time Crisis guns is blaring over every other noise.

What you don’t find in Token, incidentally, is a Fatal Fury machine. That’s probably no big deal for an Irish arcade, but any Latin-speaking arcade worth its salt would have a Fatal Fury machine located somewhere. Or is that King of Fighters? I’m not quite sure anymore. Truth be told, I hadn’t even heard of a Neo Geo until much later on in the old gaming career. We were happy enough with home ports of games like Ninja Turtles and Outrun over here. The presence of an actual home arcade console, an apparatus that cost something like a grand or more in today’s money, was almost sheer effrontery. It would have been the height of notions.

Not to mention that, once you’ve shelled out four figures for your console, you’ll need to spend another 250 lids on one singular game, housed in a cartridge the size of a suitcase. I ain’t exaggerating with these prices by the way, and neither were SNK. Ever spend 250 quid on a game? You’d just prefer to drop a 20p coin in the machine for five minutes of House of the Dead, wouldn’t you? Before some unavoidable death scenario occurred and the game proceeded to try bleeding you dry?

Fatal Fury, and indeed Metal Slug, seemed to grab huge popularity in Central America, Spain and I have to assume Japan. One of those is not like the other, you’ll notice, in a similar way to how Fatal Fury isn’t like Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat, in that most casuals won’t have heard of it.

Realistically, the first Fatal Fury and all that came after it won’t have had a hope against Street Fighter II and its nine-hundred iterations, even though Fatal Fury did go on spawn all kinds of its own offshoots like a beautifully animated triffid of some kind. Art of Fighting, King of Fighters, and various Capcom vs SNK games all lead back to this first title. But even with those nice sprites, there’s never any money in drawing, as illustrators will tell you. Hence, SNK have gone bankrupt I don’t know how many times.

Anyway, what’s to look at in the original Fatal Fury? Not much, I can tell you, because the graphics hadn’t gotten juicy just yet. Speaking of juicy, iconic booby lady Mai Shiranui and her goods aren’t on offer here either – she didn’t make it to the party until the second game. It takes two, right? Actually, a scant selling point to this game is that there are two planes, or I suppose axes, or what have you, to fight on. You’ll jump between the two like a 55 Meg, train re-railing onto a different track.

In between rounds of punching the head off each other, you’ve got arm wrestling contests to partake in. Being that in real life I’m obviously some sort of wimp, I can never win an arm wrestling contest in real-life, but here I’m Bald Bull on steroids – you just have to mash the buttons like a madman to win, which is pretty much how one progresses through an arcade tournament fighter anyway.

That first port of call in any unfamiliar fighting game always seems to work, and that’s a good thing too because pulling off special moves in Fatal Fury is a real lottery -you might just as well throw your money into those rigged claw grabber games a few feet away for all the chance you have. It’s not as bad as the very first Street Fighter, I’ll grant it that, but otherwise you won’t even be able to follow the game’s own instructions in pulling off special moves.

And remember that this wisdom holds true on an arcade perfect port on good hardware. What chance would you have on the old Yop-soaked, creaky, well-worn arcade machines from back in the day? Still, the “good” news here is that in Fatal Fury, you’ve only got a measly three characters to perfect. And realistically you’re only ever gonna pick Terry Bogard, in the hope that he’s some sort of Americanised Ryu.

I’m sorry to keep comparing this game to Street Fighter 2. In reality, a rube like me shouldn’t even be talking about tournament fighters at all, because I’m no use at any of them – they’re mostly all the same to me. I use button bashing as my first port of call, I absolutely never block, and if you asked me about i-frames, I’d think you were one of those tragic web design geeks.

Street Fighter, and to a lesser extent Smash Bros, is my only “frame” of reference for tournament fighters, being the filthy casual that I am. Maybe I’ll watch the Fatal Fury movies instead, where the only thing more extreme than the 90s anime animations are the jiggle physics, or perhaps how bodaciously long the female characters’ legs are. That brings me to the end of pretty much anything I know about Fatal Fury, but you mustn’t blame me – after all, I’d rather spend 1200 sovs on your average car rather than your (painfully) average fighting game.

17 May 2022

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