Following the seismic success of Street Fighter II, a deluge of contenders flooded the fighting game arena. Among the throng of developers, SNK, a three-letter brand, emerged not only as a formidable player but as a distinctive force in the genre.
They didn’t just release one, but a series of high-caliber fighting games that injected a unique style into the mix. One of these pivotal titles was Art of Fighting.
A Poetic Ode to Combat Mastery
The name Art of Fighting is more than just a title; it’s a poetic encapsulation of the game’s essence. It sought to convey not only the raw power and speed of martial arts but also the grace, fluidity, and sheer kinetic energy of combat.
This game was designed to transcend the mere brawl, and the arcade version was a testament to this ambition. Art of Fighting introduced novel elements into the genre, setting it apart as a distinct contender.
Controls were responsive, making it a crowd-puller in arcades, as the elements and effects dazzled players and set SNK’s games apart from a sea of similar titles.
A Turbulent Transition to Genesis
When the torch passed to Sega itself for the Genesis port, challenges emerged. The signature zoom effects, visually defining the original, were sacrificed due to hardware limitations. While this was anticipated, it meant that the game now had to stand on its own graphical prowess.
The stages, once dynamic, now appeared static. Backgrounds, including the once-animated spectators, were reduced to mere stills, with perhaps a flicker of light as their only sign of life. Character animations, while still decent, lost some of their former fluidity.
This was particularly noticeable when a character hit the ground after a powerful blow; the game experienced a noticeable slowdown. The fact that Sega, the console’s creator, struggled to optimize the game for its own system was indeed frustrating.
Control Quirks and Formidable Difficulty
The control scheme of this port proved somewhat erratic. One button was reserved for taunting, leaving three-button controller users with just one button each for punch or kick.
Executing a hard variant required pressing both buttons simultaneously. While owners of a six-button pad had a slightly better experience, the button configuration was still perplexing.
Buttons X to Z were all designated for taunts, A & B for punches and kicks, and C for hard attacks. Granted, the original arcade version only had four buttons to work with, but why allocate three buttons for taunting?
Why not two for weak and hard punches, and two for weak and hard kicks? Additionally, later enemies regenerated their spirit gauge far too quickly, rendering taunting largely ineffectual outside of two-player mode.
The Challenge: Navigating Single-Player Mode
In single-player mode, players could test their skills in mini-games interspersed between stages. These mini-games served a vital purpose beyond amassing high scores: successfully completing one bestowed harder-hitting attacks, an expanded spirit gauge for special moves, or the coveted Super Death Blow ability. If you decide to embark on this journey, prioritizing the Super Attack is highly advised.
Failing to do so might necessitate restarting the game, as the difficulty, while technically adjustable, borders on the insane. AI-controlled adversaries frequently unleash a barrage of special attacks, making upgrades through mini-games crucial.
Unfortunately, the options menu only offers two difficulty settings, normal and hard. Even on normal, only the most seasoned players will make headway into the later stages.
A Glimpse at the Narrative
The Genesis port, however, encountered a major setback—much of the original’s style was lost in translation. The gameplay lacked the smoothness seen in other titles within the same genre.
Even SNK’s prior Genesis release, Fatal Fury, exhibited tighter controls and superior gameplay flow. The incorporation of a flawed options menu further hampered the gaming experience.
The sole original feature that remained (besides the spirit gauge) was the storyline. Regrettably, at this point, it worked more to the game’s disadvantage. In single-player mode, you could only select from two characters, Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia, who played nearly identically.
The cut scenes only featured minor alterations in dialogue and the fact that Ryo rode a motorbike while Robert opted for a sports car. The linear storyline progression meant you always faced opponents in the same fixed order.
This severely undermined the game’s replay value, especially considering the narrative was not particularly compelling to begin with.
Conclusion: A Lackluster Port
Art of Fighting on Genesis fell short of capturing the essence of the original. Control issues, combined with a lack of polish, relegated it to the ranks of mediocrity, particularly when juxtaposed with other SNK offerings on the platform.
For a taste of SNK’s fighting prowess, there are superior alternatives. Sega’s attempt at porting this title left much to be desired. It was a regrettable misstep in the otherwise illustrious history of both the franchise and the console.
Master the Art of Fighting or be swept away in its shortcomings.
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