Garou: Mark of the Wolves is the most famous installment in the Fatal Fury series, and it’s easy to see why. Besides having the distinct pleasure of not bearing FATAL FURY across the front (which automatically pigeon-holed it, for most players), Garou was released towards the end of the 4th generation of home consoles and the beginning of the fifth, which allowed it to perform exceptionally on both planes with equal success. Naturally, as SNK is furiously porting as many titles as possible to the Switch, it would have been a crime to not have this amazing 2D fighter make its way into the hands of modern and new apostles at the temple of the brawler
Garou has two wonderful things going for it that are often forgotten in today’s age of fighting games. First and foremost, the form had been polished in Fatal Fury to a sheen without the expectation of any extra bells and/or whistles to make the experience even better. At this point, things like juggling, combo breakers and counters were becoming common, and Garou incorporated those in with a very special and strategic gimmick: T.O.P. The Tactical Offensive Position gave players a chance to decide where they were going to have their most strength in their life meter, the beginning, middle or end. Basically, you get to gamble on yourself and choose a section of your health where you can hit harder, do more attacks and even slowly recover health. It’s something that other fighting games would offer their own variant of (see different Groove styles of the Vs. series) but never really capture in full, mostly due to also offering other techniques that murked up the core mechanic.
The second thing for Garou was rewarding players a bit of health back and a better chance to counterattack with a successfully timed block. This made matches significantly less one directional; prior to Garou, many of the fighting games (Street Fighter, King of Fighters, even Mortal Kombat) heavily favored whoever got the first punch in as the destined victor. But Garou gave a serious chance for players to turn the tide and re-balance which way a match went, giving the “never give up” style of play a fighting chance. Sadly, you rarely see this even in modern installments of the series, where it’s back to “once you get the pattern going, it’s all over.” Garou allowed for players who were less than proficient to get a lucky break and, miraculously, make potential moves to save the day. Of course, after you get the break, it’s still up to your skill level to actually bring you back from defeat, so it wasn’t wildly unfair
The plot for Garou is about as important as any 2D fighter made in, well, any year. There’s mayhem in the streets, someone decides a fighting tournament is the only solution, let’s see if their right. The big thing for Garou, as far as stories go, is that there is only ONE returning character from other Fatal Fury games, and he doesn’t even look the same. This is another reason that Garou didn’t wear the Fatal Fury patch proudly; Terry Bogard, despite being the perennial hero of the series, looks different, acts different and even has a different signature move, with his original technique going to Rock Howard who, to be fair, was in Fatal Fury 3, albeit not as significantly. The fact remains that, in a time when consistency was key, Garou took such a wild departure in the fighting roster is actually quite refreshing. They took the key fighting idea, a good team of designers and developers and put them onto a silent operation as though this were a totally new game.
Attacks range from melee combos to energy projectiles, with a rechargeable bar that allows for one shot at landing a devastating series of blows that may or may not shift the tide of battle. AI is decent and scales nicely within Garou. Players who feel the first battle went far too easily will quickly see the computer rise to the challenge and completely devastate you if a player has fallen complacent in either sitting on their haunches while throwing fireballs or mashing the kick button repetitively a la Chun-Li (different game, I realize, but still, same approach). The game definitely deserves multiple plays from different characters to discover where your own sweet spot lies. I started with Hotaru and did fairly well with a lot of fast, quick moves, but got murdered to death by Tizoc too many times to want to keep going with her in my corner. Bonne ended up being my key to success, though she was, by no means, overpowered: she just matched my own play style exceedingly well.
I hope, by this point, that SNK is paying attention to the Switch reviews and doing their best to revamp their NEO GEO wrapper. The caravan and time attack modes are great, don’t need any engineering and definitely make these old games worthwhile to a brand new crowd (and to older players looking to gloat in a classic arcade fashion). But the inability to have two players is simply insufferable. This is one of the most iconic fighting games from the end of the 20th century, ported to over nine different platforms, I can enjoy it on my iPhone…but I can’t fight a friend or loved one. Literally a game that made it’s name through forcing kids to spend quarters to beat each other in public, but I can’t hand a controller to my child and then jump kick them into submission. SNK, please, find a way to make two Joy Cons see the games and allow for simultaneous play. I’m sure it can be done. And, by the way, if I’m doing it wrong and I need two Pro Controllers or something, I apologize, but I simply don’t have a way to get to those peripherals at this time.
This is another potentially great piece of nostalgia history that I have to hesitantly recommend due to the format. It runs better than most of the NEO GEO games I’ve played on the Switch, but, if I’m not punching someone I love, then part of the spark is extinguished before the match even begins. Still, I can’t argue; this game has aged wonderfully, and it’s just as enjoyable now as it was 17 years ago.