Do you remember your arcade glory days? Were you one of those no-goodniks who spent a sizable portion of his waking hours hanging out in the local movie theater, arcade, or Chuck E. Cheese’s (They had good games! I swear! Who cares if I was 19?) pumping quarter after sweat-stained quarter into the insatiable maw of his current electronic fixation? Was this “sometime” between 1992 and 1996? If so, then you’re probably already very, very, very familiar with The Art of Fighting series, SNK’s mid-nineties hand-to-hand combat games for those ubiquitous Neo Geo machines.
[image1]Reliving those golden days of yore, SNK has managed to cram the original arcade games--The Art of Fighting I, II, and III-- into one slim PS2 disc: The Art of Fighting Anthology. Following in the footsteps of SNK’s earlier Fatal Fury series (and probably in response to CapCom’s incredibly popular Street Fighter), The Art of Fighting introduced a few new concepts to the fighting game genre. Each character’s Spirit Bar, for instance, reflects how much energy he or she has to execute special moves and attacks, and can be replenished through the vigorous taunting of one’s enemies. Likewise, the scalable battlefield was an original feature at the time. As characters approach and back off from each other, the frame of the screen expands and contracts to contain them, allowing for close-ups of short-range attacks without giving up the larger playing area. Replaying the series now, you hardly notice these innovations, in fact, you hardly notice anything besides how lame the graphics were.
Playing now that I’m older, wiser, and more financially solvent initially felt like a pleasant trip down memory lane – re-living my glory days as a pimply, awkward video game geek (as opposed to the clear-skinned, awkward video game geek I have become).
[image2]However, reliving puberty only sounds like a good idea. First of all, the graphics and sound are pretty laughable. I know, I know, it’s not fair to hold ten to fifteen-year-old games to the same standards as today’s 3-D, true-color, hi-def games, but you can’t help it. It’s like visiting your favorite childhood playground, and while in some ways it is exactly as you remembered, it also looks so… dinky, and run down, and pathetic. Depressing, right? Going back to old games is like the anti-Prozac.
The three games in question actually have plots, but I won’t bore you with them here or anywhere. They don’t matter. Bust the heads of every enemy you come across, and you’ll manage just fine. But man, that’s harder than it looks. I’m not sure whether my fighting skills are rusty or the controls don’t translate from the stand-up system to the console, but I just kept getting whupped. It’s been a long time since I had that oh-so-familiar urge to hurl my controller into the television, but that feeling came back with a visceral vengeance every time my animated adversaries roundhoused me to oblivion and then laughed out of the screen as my hapless alter ego fell ever-so-slowly to the beer-stained floor. Curse them. Curse them all.
While I’m fairly certain I could still remember how to execute Ryu’s Shoryuken flawlessly, I’ll be damned if I could manage any of this game’s special moves with any kind of regularity. Instead I would find my poor dude staring into space blankly as he was stomped time after time with the awful wrath of an old, crotchety and cantankerous computer AI.
[image3]Unfortunately, the anthology provides little relief from the frustration of getting beat down by a dude in a monkey mask fifteen times in a row. With this re-release, I had expected SNK to offer some new features to the collection. But The Art of Fighting Anthology offers little more than the games themselves. I suppose you can change your controller settings, and the color (but not race!) of the characters, but that’s about it. And while it’s fun for a few minutes to make the hideous neon mutant version of Robert Garcia, it doesn’t exactly breathe new life into this somewhat stale series.
Playing The Art of Fighting Anthology is a little bit like rediscovering your 6th grade journal. It’s entertaining to relive those days and marvel at how far you’ve come, and certainly it has too much sentimental value to get rid of, but ultimately it’s too painful to look at for long, and really belongs in a box somewhere where you can forget about it for another fifteen years.