When it comes to fighting games, the NEOGEO had more than its fair share. Its top three franchises in terms of name recognition were almost certainly The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and Fatal Fury. Of course, The King of Fighters more or less spun out of Fatal Fury in a lot of ways, and in some sense I feel like the Fatal Fury series was constantly struggling to find a raison d’etre in its wake. Real Bout Fatal Fury felt like the first soft reboot of the series, but it wouldn’t be its last. Still, its success resulted in a couple of direct follow-ups, culminating in Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 ($3.99). And hey, that just happens to be the latest ACA NEOGEO release from Hamster and SNK. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
One of the ways that Fatal Fury tended to distinguish itself from many other fighters, including The King of Fighters, was in its multiple lanes. Characters could jump into and out of the background in most of the games, a mechanic that perhaps never fully reached its potential but was interesting nonetheless. Indeed, one of the big changes in the original Real Bout Fatal Fury was to give that maneuver its own dedicated button, a decision which necessitated simplifying the attack button layout. Real Bout also added in a gauge that enabled counters, super specials, and powerful hidden abilities. The longer a fight dragged on, the more likely players would have access to all of these advanced techniques, stepping up the tension appropriately. It also added ring outs, which made for amusing ways to finish fights if you could set them up properly. Perhaps best of all, it was faster and more fluid than its predecessors, making for a more playable and organic fighter overall.
Real Bout was followed up by Real Bout Fatal Fury Special, pulling a trick that the original Fatal Fury sub-series did after its second installment. More returning characters were added, and the presentation got a big overhaul. Refinement was the order of the day when it came to the gameplay, and ring outs were removed. The number of lanes was reduced from three to a more sensible two, which cut down a bit on the hopping and skipping that sometimes occurs in Fatal Fury fights. Essentially, it improved on the original Real Bout in almost every way and is often considered a favorite among fans of the series for doing so.
So how about Real Bout Fatal Fury 2? In some ways it feels even less special than Special, not really doing as much work to earn that incremented digit as it perhaps could. There are two brand new characters in the roster, and lots of new stages to do battle in. Perhaps the biggest change is in how it handles the lanes. The second lane is now more of a way of temporarily evading your foe rather than a secondary arena of combat, so you basically duck in and out quickly as needed. Every fighter can now counter without any meter built up as long as the player has good timing, setting down the foundations for the parry-fest that would be seen in the next game in the series. The robust roster makes this another popular choice among series fans, as it has the largest group of distinct assembled characters.
Anyway, Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 is another one-on-one fighter where you pick your favorite character and battle against your opponents in best two-of-three round fights. Reduce your opponent’s life bar down (twice) to claim a round. Each character has an array of special moves they can pull off if you know the right combinations of directions and buttons, and the aforementioned gauge is here to enable super specials and hidden abilities. You’ve got four buttons in front of you. One does a regular punch, one does a regular kick, one does a strong attack whose form varies from character to character, and the last is for slipping into that other lane.
You’ll most likely be partaking of the standard mode here, which sees you battling a series of fighters until you reach the boss. The game is obviously at its best if you play against another human player, but you’re going to need some extra controllers to have access to that in this mobile version. Indeed, an extra controller is strongly recommended here. Some of the special moves in Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 are nigh impossible to pull off with the provided touch controls, and even if you can do them it’s a lot easier and more enjoyable to use the actual stick and button controls the game was built for. You might still have a decent time thrashing away at the CPU without a controller, and I will say that the CPU in this game is gentler for the most part than previous entries. But it’s not ideal by any means.
It’s somewhat vexing, really. The games the NEOGEO was best known for, fighting games and Metal Slug, are probably the least ideal for the default mobile ACA NEOGEO status quo. Precise directional movements, button combinations, a multiplayer emphasis, a minimal focus on score… all of these things are the Achilles’ Heel of the set-up we have here. If you have a controller then some of that is mitigated, but multiplayer remains cumbersome thanks to a lack of online or local wireless implementation. The added modes are aimed at score attacking, and that’s not the most entertaining thing to do with a fighting game. Well, it is what it is.
Anyway, all the usual ACA NEOGEO stuff applies here. You have access to lots of options, there are online leaderboards, you can play the Japanese or overseas release, and there are the usual additional modes that allow you to take on a score challenge or see how many points you can rack up in a set amount of time. You can use external controllers or you can fly with the touch controls. Your call. The emulation is top shelf, as one would expect from the folks at Hamster by now.
It all comes down to two points with Real Bout Fatal Fury 2. First, this is a great fighting game and, along with Garou: Mark of the Wolves, the peak of one of the better franchises in the genre. If you dig playing one-on-one fighters on your mobile device, you won’t be unhappy with this one. Excellent stuff. Second, I don’t think one-on-one fighters really work that well on mobile, or at least not in the way that Hamster does things. Can you get sixteen quarters’ worth of fun out of it anyway? Probably, but I continue to wish that these releases could do more to make multiplayer easier.