Retro is all the rage these days, and nary a month goes by without a new collection of games from yesteryear being given a fresh lick of paint (or new box-art) and sold on to unsuspecting consumers as an exercise in value. It can be a minefield, often you’ll find any old tat lurking on these ‘Best of’ compilations, the ethos being ‘strength in numbers’.
Enter stage left, the Art of Fighting Anthology, a one disc, three game set collecting the titular first beat ‘em up in the series, its sequel (the predictably-titled Art of Fighting 2) and the third episode, The Path of the Warrior: Art of Fighting 3. It’s the last of these that will be of most interest to collectors as the game scarcely saw the light of day in Western territories.
Back in the early 1990s, everyone wanted a slice of the beat ‘em up pie. Capcom had just nigh-on single handedly re-energized the one-on-one format with the legendary Street Fighter II, and a legion of copycats sprung up to capture some of the market. SNK (who later cemented their position in the beat ‘em up pantheon with their King of Fighters games) started out less than honourably with a number of clones that went on to include World Heroes and Fatal Fury.
Art of Fighting was, on the surface of it, another such identikit fighter but SNK games were, if nothing else, distinctive. Chunky, well-animated sprites doing battle across well-drawn backdrops, the camera scaling out on the action as the characters moved further apart, demonstrating the power of the Neo-Geo arcade hardware on which the games principally ran.
The first Art of Fighting was still a misfire, allowing only two selectable characters, Ryo and Robert, in one-player mode (the rest of the eight characters on the roster were open in the versus setting). Capcom took such umbrage to the rather shameless copy that both Ryo and Robert were amalgamated into Dan Hibiki, the pink-suited Shotokan parody who debuted in 1995’s Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior’s Dreams.
That isn’t to say the games on offer here didn’t try and offer some innovations. Art of Fighting boasts a ‘spirit meter’ which depletes the more a player uses his special attacks, weakening their own offensive capability.
It’s sequel proffered a ‘rage meter’ allowing devastating special attacks as the characters became less and less enamored with their opponent. It also featured each character being able to learn a ‘death blow’ (akin to Capcom’s ‘super combo’ but first in time) during the course of the game which became available from the outset in the last outing for the cast.
The games still all look gorgeous but certainly feel like they’re from a simpler time. As a nostalgic quick-fix this compilation will do the job and for the completist and/or hardened gamer, the nods to later SNK games like Fatal Fury give it a certain sense of place. For anyone else, the beat ‘em up has moved on. It’s hard to believe only a year separated The Path of the Warrior and the seminal Street Fighter III. DLNY
Buy it here my pretties.