The early nineties were a turning point in VS fighting. Capcom draws first in March 1991, and invades arcades with Street Fighter II, featuring a revolutionary gameplay and premium quality graphics. SNK's answer doesn't make players wait too long, since in December of the same year the editor releases Fatal Fury, direct competitor of the hit. Editors' systems CPS and MVS are the two great rivals in the arcades in the era, and their hardwares are often competing in dark halls. Capcom's system, two years older, grants the technological advantage on almost all points to the younger SNK one. Only its resolution is a bit higher (384x224 against 320x224), but seems not a big advantage given the displayable colors of the Neo Geo (4096 against 256). By cons, Capcom programmers have some experience on that platform, and this may be a good point over its competitor.
SFII offers twelve stages, one for each character. We travel around the world, with backgrounds that are varied and finely drawn; apart from some simple and symetrical ones less worked than others (Dhalsim, Zangief or Vega). The sensation of depth is great, as well as the drawings. Fighters are also successful, colorful and detailed. The scenario of Fatal Fury takes place in Southtown, during the King of Fighters tournament. The stages are fewer (eight total) and the style is in its infancy, less successful than Street Fighter. Despite this, the backgrounds are nice and SNK had the foresight to make evolutive stages. That is to say, that round after round, time of day or the meteo changes, and we find ourselves fighting in the same places in the morning, afternoon or night. By cons, you meet the same spectators from one place to another. The characters are slightly larger than these of its competitor, but not as finely detailed.
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Le'ts be clear: our two rivals offer the best animation in fighting games back in 1991. Anyway, we are still far from the decomposition of a Garou or Street Fighter III, but it's still pretty decent and pleasing to the eye. Street Fighter II features a more decomposed and smooth animation than its rival, and a line by line scrolling for ground. The characters move at a good speed and it's also the case for Fatal Fury, which gives the impression of moving a little bit faster, but provides less violent impact sensations. As for the scenery, the SNK game is a bit more lively and worked with some great ideas, such as rain, passing trains or simply reflections of the water. But on the essential, namely the characters, Capcom takes advantage.
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Richard Meyer's sung theme, Zen atmosphere at master Tung's place during the storm, hard-rock rhythms at the top of Geese's Tower... Fatal Fury themes are inspired and good quality, but Street Fighter II ones are a cut above. If the capabilities of the CPS are a limit for quality, melodies are great and the sounds of this album remain part of the best in the whole saga. Characters' themes are legendary, just think about Guile's, M. Bison's, or even those of Ryu and Ken... SFII sound effects are made of different impact noises, depending on the strenght of blows. The range of effects is broad, with a powerful striking feel! In Fatal Fury, overall sound quality is higher, while using quite different effects. Digits features nice various voices, but far from what we have seen best on the Neo: anyway, it's way better than the CPS, that sizzles at will with vocals and even with some effects.
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While Fatal Fury offers a thin roster of three playable characters, Street packs eight fighters, five more than its rival! With such a difference, there's no real match. In addition, to clear Fatal Fury's story it will take to fight eight opponents, against eleven for Capcom's game - since in this version, we don't have mirror matches yet. Two against three bonus stages, and combos to discover for SFII where FF only offers a few more special moves. In fact, the only point where SNK takes over is the immersion and "scenario" (everything is relative, of course). The story of Fatal Fury is more involving: the revenge of the Bogard brothers and the evolution in the tournament - punctuated by the interventions of Geese Howard - is particularly taking. The game exudes a real atmosphere, where Street Fighter II is more impersonal. This makes the game engaging, of course, but still doesn't have it competing with its opponent, who wins this round hands down.
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Street Fighter II gameplay uses a six-button system with three power levels for punches and kicks. The throws can be made with the strong punch or strong kick, plus more buttons for some characters (Zangief, Guile and Honda). The special moves require combinations, such as charging a direction, or perform quarter or half-circles with the stick, etc.. Fatal Fury takes this principle, but in SNK's game the geometry and timing for the moves require much more accuracy, and specials are hard to execute. If the SF characters have two or three specials, each FF fighter packs at least four. It's still a bit light, compared to its opponent variety and their few combos. FF inaugurates a three buttons gaming system with A = punch, B = kick, and C = throw. It's quite outdated and C is difficult to use and not very intuitive. Another new idea in FF, we're fighting on two planes: a concept that is not convincing, since no control allows to switch voluntarily beetwen those planes. Only the CPU decides to go there and have you following him, or not. A much funnier idea, is that the second player can join a game against the CPU, having us fighting two against the machine! Nice feature, but that does not weigh heavy enough in the balance. Gameplay is not yet developed in FF, and if there are good ideas and the action is still nice and pleasant, it's still very light against its competitor, which drives the final highlight here.
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Capcom is light-years away from its competitors in 1991. When Street Fighter II was released, no firm can claim to match with the editor standards in this area, as the game is particularly ahead of its time. Just keep in mind that back in those days, Fatal Fury was by far its most serious rival... and yet it loses the duel soundly. The SNK game stands as a good production with a nice realization and great characters, but does absolutely not compete in terms of life and gameplay. The editor will seriously get back to work with Fatal Fury 2, and will come back closer of its opponent the following year. But for now, Street Fighter II reigns supreme in the arcades.
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