When last we checked in on SNK’s PS2 to PS4 initiative, we explored ADK Damashii, a 5 game compilation focusing on the work of Neo Geo 2nd party developer Alpha Denshi. In a similar vein, but with much less in the way of content and variety, is today’s subject, Fūun Super Combo (originally released on the Japanese PS2 in 2007 and foisted upon the American PS4 Store a few months back with as little fanfare as possible) combines the laughably amateurish Savage Reign with its much improved (almost to the point of being an underrated hidden gem) sequel: Kizuna Encounter.
Savage Reign (Fūun Mokushiroku: Kakutou Sousei) (1995)
Yes Chief Wiggum and Zangief DID have a baby. The 90’s were WILD. And yes this game features a cop named Gordon and a clown named Joker. Originality!
Starting a new fighting game franchise from scratch must’ve been really hard work (probably still is), hence why so many initial installments, your “vanilla” Street Fighter II, Street Fighter Alpha or Street Fighter III: New Generation, your original Fatal Fury, World Heroes and Art of Fighting, felt like what would now be referred to as “beta tests”, with arcade operators and home consumers of the day often paying full price for the “privilege” of helping big name devs like Capcom and SNK iron out the kinks of their fresh IPs. Savage Reign has to be one of the most unfinished feeling of these fighting firsts, to the point that it’s arcade mode is almost unplayable.
Which is a shame, because Reign is a seriously great looking game, with large sprite scaling and zooming putting even the Sega Saturn 2D powerhouses of the day (Guardian Heroes, Dragon Force) to shame, and proving that the Neo Geo very much still belonged on the marketplace at the time even with widespread polygonal gaming beginning to rear its ugly (very ugly in 1995) head.
Production design can’t quite keep up though, with characters ranging from Other Ryu (Sho Hayate) Sort-of Guile (Max Eagle) and even SNK cannibalizing itself, magical girl archetype Carol being a dead ringer for King of Fighters‘ Athena, and be-clawed ninja twins Gozu and Mezu cloning Samurai Shodown‘s Gen-An right down to their identical Blanka-esque rolling attacks. SR‘s one stab at originality, boss character King Lion, is an English style Knight in a Roman Gladiator helmet who inexplicably wears big, shiny, red, modern boxing gloves. You’ll wish they hadn’t bothered at all and long for more evil clowns named Joker.
Gameplay here is where it really falls apart. Move canceling and combos seem to not exist at all, and rather than making the action feel deliberate and methodical (think the original Samurai Shodown) it just feels stiff and unworkable. Special moves are devastating when they connect but they require so much wind up and unorthodox, finger twisting execution that you’ll hardly ever get one out before they’re interrupted by the relentless AI. The Fatal Fury style plane switching is interesting, and the background art is gorgeous in both form and function, but it can’t save the game from the rest of its faults. There’s the germ of something great here, and luckily we get to see it (for the most part) fulfilled, which brings us to…
Kizuna Encounter (Fūun Super Tag Battle) (1996)
The game is 15 bucks, the advice is free.
Kizuna Encounter starts off by shitcanning the plane switching mechanic in favor of a two on two tag system that works much better, speeds up the gameplay across the board and makes for a more rushdown heavy and enjoyable experience. Heavily cumbersome and typically SNK-like joystick motions from the first game have been simplified overall, the more traditional fireball and dragon punch commands now employed being much easier to execute in the heat of battle, against an AI that has been dialed way down from SR‘s brain meltingly cheap difficulty.
KE shakes up the roster slightly, trading two of SR‘s lamest (aforementioned magical girl Carol and weird little frisbee wielding robot kid thing Nicola) for two much cooler, if no less derivative designs, militaristic sword fighting Leona-alike Rosa and staff fighting Korean taekwondo master Kim, implied to be a descendant (SR and KE taking place in the future and all) of his Fatal Fury namesake. Rosa is one of the game’s best, with rushing slashes, projectiles and anti-air maneuvers making her feel almost overpowered, though the changes made to the entire cast make everyone feel dangerous and viable.
Much of the sprite work is recycled from the first game (SNK was never one to fix what wasn’t broken) though the backgrounds are all new, and benefit from a much more subdued, nihilistic, Akira / Ghost in the Shell inspired Sci-Fi color palette, and the recolored sprites follow suit. All these changes add up to an addictive experience, it’s arcade mode a blistering romp much akin to modern anime/airdash fighters, just as much fun to watch as it is to play, that will leave you wondering why SNK never produced a supremely polished third installment to stand proudly alongside Street Fighter III: Third Strike and their own Garou: Mark of the Wolves in thinking man’s late 90’s arcades.
Unfortunately one kind of bad and one sort of great game do not add up to a 14.99 purchase I can recommend in good conscience. It’s on sale for 8.99 until May 9th as part of Sony’s Golden Week sale though, and at that price Kizuna Encounter itself is almost worth the price of admission. Savage Reign is a sloppy collection of decent ideas executed poorly, but Kizuna Encounter is a great looking and playing proto-airdash fighter that deserves to be spoken about in the same breath as World Heroes 2 and Real Bout Fatal Fury Special, the solid B list SNK stuff that isn’t quite on the level of a Samurai Shodown 2 or King of Fighters ’98, but should still have a place in every classic fighting fan’s collection.
Games, Reviews, Featured, SNK