Sunday, October 5, 2014

Days of Future Past: Street Fighter III vs. Garou: Mark of the Wolves

"I knew Street Fighter III. Street Fighter III
was a friend of mine..."
I like SNK. In fact, I probably like the company more than it really deserves. Through the years, SNK has piggybacked on the success of games like R-Type, Final Fight, and of course Street Fighter II, while rarely meeting the standards set by those groundbreaking titles. Sure, they'd stumble across the occasional masterpiece, like the Metal Slug series. However, more often than not, SNK's games would be the RC Cola to Capcom's Coke... perfectly palatable, but not quite up to snuff with the real thing.

Right back at 'ya!
That tradition of second-bestery continues with Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Designed as a direct response to Capcom's Street Fighter III games, Garou is a pleasant continuation of the South Town series and a welcome departure from the messy Real Bout games, but it's no match for Third Strike. The new characters aren't as imaginative, the gameplay lacks Street Fighter III's relentless aggression, and the Neo-Geo shows its age next to the CD-quality sound and buttery animation of Capcom's CPS3 hardware.

Rock Howard: The next generation of
South Town heroes.
However... however. Garou is an excellent game considering the advanced age of the Neo-Geo hardware, and it does a nice job of expanding on the South Town mythos. Characterization has always been the one thing SNK consistently did better than Capcom in the 1990s, as evidenced by the game's star Rock Howard. He's the orphaned son of South Town villain Geese Howard, raised by Fatal Fury's Terry Bogard and possessing the skills of both fighters. Capcom didn't give players much reason to care about its paper-thin characters, but if you've been paying any attention to the South Town series over the past two decades, you'll care about Rock. Does he have the pure heart of his foster father, or is he destined to travel down the same dark path as the elder Howard? It'll be the motivation that drives you to finish the game in spite of SNK's predictably infuriating final bosses.

Mark of the Wolves isn't as good as Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Given the history between Capcom and SNK, I doubt anyone expected it to be. Nevertheless, as a conclusion to the Fatal Fury series and the last truly important fighting game on the Neo-Geo, it's good enough.

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