Art of Fighting Anthology Review
With the advent of online stores on the next-gen consoles, the old-school classics have returned to the limelight and adopted a state of nostalgic glory. And in addition to those worthwhile downloads, veteran companies like Capcom and Sega have been releasing collections of great franchises from the past quarter-century. The Sega Genesis Collection for the PS2 and PSP is only one recent example, and another is SNK's Art of Fighting Anthology. It includes the three installments in the popular fighting series from the Neo-Geo, and fans of those titles should be excited to hear about this budget-priced collection. Unfortunately, despite the occurrence of a few golden memories, we fail to see the appeal of this particular anthology. The games were never all that great in the first place, anyway, in our opinion.
In all fairness, whenever we review collections of classic games, we rarely even bother to factor in the graphics score. After all, we're talking about a very different era in the video game industry, and it would be ridiculous to compare this game to the likes of Virtua Fighter 4 or Tekken 5. First of all, it's two-dimensional, and second of all, there are 15 years of technological advancement between those titles and Art of Fighting. So a direct comparison would make zero sense. But we can look to ensure the developers have faithfully recreated the visuals without any significant problems; to see if the games appear the same as they did on the Neo-Geo. And for the most part, all three titles do. We noticed some bizarre shimmering during some battles (not even sure what it was), but besides that, the games are recognizable in every way. And that's all we can really ask for.
The sound is in the same boat. Bad voice-acting amidst poor translation was typically the name of the game with these old titles, and the soundtrack was rarely anything special in most fighting games. Now, Art of Fighting did have some solid sound effects for its time, and the soundtracks were on par with other titles in the genre. Characters have their own little catch-phrases, the music kicks up in tempo near the end of a match, and there's some average diversity throughout. Plus, SNK did provide the option of switching between the original and a newly arranged soundtrack, so that's a nice touch. But if you've ever played a 2D fighter from the early ‘90s, you probably know exactly what to expect: over-exaggerated clashing, smashing, and crushing effects coming through a fast-paced electronic-oriented set of soundtracks. Hardly a surprise, but it's not really a bonus or a drawback. It's just...the way it is.
The gameplay needs to be as responsive as the original titles were, and they are. But if we could take a look at these old fighters from a critical standpoint, rather than the collection on the whole, we notice a few problems. These were flaws the series had way back when; they've simply been ported into this version, so it's not exactly the fault of the developer. But they still exist. For example, the balance is terrible due to certain characters and particular moves always having a distinct edge during battle. Jin-Fuma's cartwheel attack and Sinclair's extra-fast cutlass maneuvers give the player an immediate edge, and even experts have acknowledged the franchise's "cheapness" in the past. This is once again evident right off the bat, and immediately reminds us of the shortcomings in Art of Fighting.
They've transferred the controls from those old Neo-Geo controllers to the PS2's Dual Shock quite well; the button layout seems to work just fine. But remember, Art of Fighting wasn't so much about multiple button presses, but the combination of the directional pad with the attack buttons. In other words, pressing back and the circle button does something different than pressing forward (or nothing) and the circle button. If you don't learn this quickly, you'll be wasting your time in each and every match. And you can use the d-pad if you wish, but the analog works just as good; it can even give you a slight advantage due to the speed of the stick in comparison to a standard directional pad. So the controls aren't a problem. They're just what you'd expect.
Anybody could see the significant differences between the first and third entries in this series; the original was extremely difficult, not very fluid, and the balance may have been the worst in the series. Therefore, most who play the anthology would likely spend most all their time with Art of Fighting 3, which is a far superior option. The camera calms down - the first two seem to be plagued by a sporadic camera that jerks a bit during hectic confrontations - and the gameplay gets a big upgrade. You can finally use three styles of attack (high, middle, and low), which was a novelty at the time; name another 2D fighter that featured the "mid" attack...we bet you can't. Furthermore, there was a far greater possibility for super-cool combos, and being able to "juggle" your opponent added a great deal to the experience. But then again, this is nothing new. The games are straight-up emulations, plain and simple.
But hey, this is an anthology, correct? We should be able to expect a bunch of sweet extras geared towards the fans, options that were never available in the original incarnations of these games. Right? Wrong. We get nothing except the throwaway option to change the color of our outfits, but for some reason, it was only included for one of the games (Art of Fighting 2). Wait...that's it? That's all we get? Perhaps SNK and Crave believed the games would speak for themselves, and just bringing them back for another generation would be enough. But it really isn't. We could've used something; anything that would build and expand upon the series we already knew. There's absolutely nothing in this anthology that we didn't already know or haven't already seen, besides that silly color-changing option. And that's a serious problem.
See, as we said in the intro, these games weren't all that amazing to begin with. Art of Fighting 3 was pretty innovative for the time, and yes, we are aware of all those loyal followers out there, but it's not like this is a Street Fighter or Tekken or Mortal Kombat or Virtua Fighter anthology. Those are collections that would stand up on their own, without any frills or extras. The Art of Fighting Anthology cannot. Therefore, we can only recommend this for hardcore fans of the franchise, but then again, we assume those people might still have the Neo-Geo with these games. And if you do, don't bother with this anthology: we repeat, it's nothing you haven't seen and experienced before.
6/16/2007 Ben Dutka