Those who thought Fatal Fury's small selection of 3 characters wasn't too good will be even more disappointed with Art of Fighting's even tinier selection of 2 characters. Well, kind of anyway; You see, in one player "story" mode you can only play as either Robert or Ryo. However, in 2 player vs mode you can select from all 8 standard characters, as well as two secret characters (the bosses).
Here is a full list of all the characters in the game, as well as a description of their stage:
Ryo is the main character in Art of Fighting, and as mentioned above, is looking for his kidnapped sister Yuri. He is basically what you might call a "Ryu/Ken" clone; his special moves consist of a fireball, a dragon punch style uppercut and a flying kick. He also has a multi hit punch move and a bigger fireball super move (which can only be performed in story mode after completing one of the bonus stages: see below).
Ryo does not have his own stage as you don't fight against him in story mode. If a player picks him in vs mode, you will fight on a random stage.
Robert Garcia plays basically the same as Ryo, but with a couple of minor differences to moves, for instance he does a multi hit kick instead of a punch. I might be the only one, but I've always thought that Robert looks a little like a young Steven Seagal, with that slick-back haircut.
As with Ryo, Robert does not have a stage of his own.
Todo is your first opponent in story mode, also happens to be the father of Kasumi Todo, who made her first appearances later on in Art of Fighting 3 and also The King of Fighters '96. I never liked Todo's character much at all, so it was always a pleasure to beat the hell out of him at the start of this game. Newcomers may recognise Todo as a character from Capcom Vs SNK 2.
Todo's stage is not too bad, although it probably isn't one of the best the game has to offer. I like the music a lot though - it is probably one of the most recognisable tunes from any Art of Fighting game, and one of the ones I remember most fondly from when I used to play this game in the arcade.
Click here to listen to a sample of this music! (25 seconds, 250k)
The biggest character in the game (his sprite is huge!), Jack was originally one of the characters I found most annoying. This was because when I first started playing it I always got stuck on him for some reason, as did a lot of people in the arcade where I used to play it. I'd beat him in the 1st round, and then he would go crazy in the 2nd and 3rd rounds and just destroy me! He also has some powerful moves that are quite fast for such a big guy. I learnt how to get to grips with him quickly though because many of his moves have a lot of lag, and now he is just a big target :)
You meet Jack inside a place called "Macs Bar". This is a nice stage with quite a lot of detail on it (for a game of this era). The music is not too bad either; it's a laid back tune that is ideal for this stage.
Lee is a cool-ish character who wears a mask and has claws that come out of his hands when he does a special move. He kind of reminds me of Vega from Street Fighter, and it can be very annoying to fight a CPU controlled Lee. He has a couple of moves where he spins round and hits you with his claws (high or low) and a flying kick that hits 5-6 times. He also has the same multi hit punch move as Ryo (toward, back, toward + C).
Lee's stage is in the middle of Chinatown. It is very bright, perhaps too bright in fact. It isn't bad, but definitely not the most well-drawn stage in this game. The music here is good though and very catchy.
Click here to listen to a sample of this music! (25 seconds, 250k)
Your 4th opponent in story mode is a character that all KoF fans will recognise: King, the female kick-boxer (the only playable female in the game actually). While some might say she is kinda cute in KoF, she really didn't look this way in her debut appearance! In fact, she is disguised as a man in this game and most players actually thought she WAS a man, - that is, until they saw her get beaten with a special move. Yes that's right kids, AoF was the first game that had King's infamous exploding shirt. Just finish her off with a special move in the final round and her top will open up, revealing her "assets" (and for the perverted ones, yes she IS wearing a bra! ;). The look of shock and amazement on the faces of AoF players when they first saw this in the arcade is one that I will definitely remember :)
Kings stage is set in the fancy "L'Amor Restaurant". It is an ok background, but the jazzy music on this stage does annoy me quite a lot.
Micky Rodgers is a boxer (does not use any kicks at all). He has two fireballs as special moves (one low, one high) and that's about it. Fairly average character who is usually quite easy to beat against the CPU.
Micky lurks in an alleyway somewhere "downtown". Not a bad stage and the music fits in quite well with the general atmosphere.
When you first look at John, your initial reaction will be to say the name "Guile". John is in the Air Force, just like Street Fighter's armed forces guy. He's your average character from this era of games really - a few punches and kicks, as well as a fireball and a flying kick move where he spins through the air like a helicopter.
His stage is also a big rip off of Guiles - it is virtually the same, the only difference is that there are army helicopters in the background instead of planes.
The resident "pimp" of the Art of Fighting universe, at least that's what he looks like anyway. Mr. Big is the sub-boss of the game and presumably the guy who kidnapped Yuri. He cannot jump, and has a fireball special move as well as a "Superman" move where he flies across the screen, much like M.Bison of Street Fighter. You can only play as Mr. Big in Vs mode after reaching him in story mode.
Mr. Big fights in a factory of some sort. The background isn't particularly special in any way, but has some reasonable music.
Your quest to find Yuri eventually brings you to the door of Mr. Karate. This guy fights like a supercharged Ryo/Robert and has exactly the same moves. He hides his faces behind a mask with a huge nose... what is the true identity this mysterious man??? As with Mr. Big, you can only play as Mr. Karate in two player after reaching him in story mode.
Set inside a "Karate Gym", this stage is one of my favourites and is accompanied by some good dramatic music.
Way back in 1992, Art of Fighting was a very impressive game graphically, and introduced a few things that hadn't really been done before. I remember that the first thing I noticed was that the camera zoomed in and out a lot, depending on how far apart the on screen characters were. This was a nice effect, although it was a little disorientating at first. This sort of camera was used to a much better effect in one of SNK's later games, Samurai Shodown, but AoF was the first.
The most impressive aspect of the graphics however was the size of the characters sprites (very big) and also the damage effects. Certain characters had minor details like sunglasses that could be knocked off with a well placed hit (Mr. Big and John), but the best part was that every time you hit someone in the face you could actually see the blood and bruises building up on them. It may not seem like much now, but back then it was very cool! Here's a handful of Ryo screenshots as an example:
Ryo goes from having a slightly cocky grin, to looking totally beat-up. Man, that's gonna be sore the morning after huh? :)
Unfortunately there was one problem; the animation wasn't really up to the same standard and was very stiff even when compared to games of this time. No one really noticed it back then, but nowadays it stands out like a sore thumb and does detract from the otherwise nice graphics. There are a couple of good points though. For instance, when you KO someone, they don't always fly through the air before hitting the floor like in some games; if you hit someone when they are on the floor they will just slowly keel over (although again the animation is lacking). Not amazing, but a nice touch.
On the whole the music is very cool and adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game. Standout tunes include Todo and Lee's stages, as well as the classic character select screen music; for some reason this is something that always stood out to me. One or two stages have music that isn't too great though, like Kings stage.
AoF did have some decent sound effects, especially the noise that is used for some of the more powerful hits (they also added this sound to KoF on certain AoF characters moves as well). There is a fairly large amount of speech too, and there are cut scenes in between each stage in story mode where Ryo and Robert say something. Some of these cut scenes are unintentionally hilarious in fact, especially Roberts. Robert seems to speak in a voice that sounds like it was ripped out of a 70's Hong Kong movie dub! Here's a couple of choice pieces of wisdom from Robert:
"Rats! Let's mix it up!"
Click here to listen!
"If any master exists, I'll pulverise him!"
Click here to listen!
Speaking of quotes, there are some other very funny things that get said on the continue screen, like King's "Come on weeniemeister. I'll show you my stuff". Classic ;)
Art of Fighting utilises a 3 button setup for attacks. A is used for punch, B is for kick and C is used for fierce attacks. Whether that fierce attack is a punch or kick differs depending on what range you are at and also depending on what button was pressed before it. Some Characters like Micky have only punches though, so it won't make any difference with them. Pressing C while jumping against a wall will make your character jump off it and perform a flying kick, although not all characters can do this.
The D button is used too, but only for taunts. One thing about using taunts is that each time one is performed, it reduces your enemies "chi" meter. You will find the chi meter underneath your energy bar; every time you use any kind of special move, this will be depleted. Once it is completely gone you will not be able to do any more special moves (and the lower it gets, the less powerful your moves are). Although it does recharge slowly on its own you can also top it up by holding down the A and B buttons together... this is a slow process though and it does leave you wide open.
One of the main areas where this game falls down is its controls. They are quite stiff and awkward, and not really all that responsive. Most of the characters are quite generic too (most have the same basic special moves etc) and only one or two of them really stand out (for a 1992 game it is above average however). There is no scope for any kind of combos either, so the game plays in a very basic fashion. It is also very unbalanced; some moves take off huge amounts of energy, and sometimes it is possible to stun an opponent with just one well placed blow - I've done this loads of times by just hitting someone as soon as the round starts. I suppose you could say this is more realistic (which is what SNK were aiming for I think), but total realism does not always equal a good game.
The CPU in this game can be quite annoying at first, although when you master the tactics it is not that hard to beat most of the time. Well timed flying kicks (especially the ones where you jump off the wall) followed by a crouching kick work most of the time. Fireballs are also the order of the day if you want to cheap the CPU to death... a good tactic that usually works for me is launching a projectile as your opponent gets up off the floor. A lot of the time it won't block it, and even if it does it still takes off a bit of energy. Cheesy? Yes. Effective? Hell yeah... ;)
I did like the bonus stages that you encounter every couple of stages in Story Mode. There are 3 in total and you get to pick the one you want to do each time:
This is basically a test of your reflexes where you have to cut the tops off of four beer bottles. The power bar builds up and you have to hit your button when the bar is at max. If you don't get it high enough you will not break all the bottles and fail the training. If you succeed, your "spirit" will be increased, which I think is to do with your chi meter.
Ice Pillar Smash:
In this bonus game you will have to smash a few pillars of ice. You need to bash the A button to build up a power bar. If you don't build up enough power before the time runs out, you will not break all of the ice pillars. If you manage to do it however, your strength will be increased.
Initiate Super Death Blow
This game gives you the opportunity to gain the "Haow-ken super death blow". To achieve this you must perform it 5 times on a training dummy (the joystick motion is f, b, db, d, df, f + A). If you manage to accomplish this before the time runs out you will be able to use the move in any matches in story mode after that (but only for the current game). If you are playing in Vs mode you can use it anyway. The Hoaw-ken is a powerful fireball that can take off around half your opponents energy bar.
This is another one of those games that I used to spend a lot of money on when it first came out. At the time I thought it was great, and I even went as far as to say it was the best fighting game available, but in reality it wasn't... I guess back then the graphics were the thing that got people playing the game. I did say once that I preferred this to Capcom's almighty Street Fighter II, which was the most popular fighting game at that time; but whether you like SF or not, you have to admit that this game (along with a few other early SNK attempts) was not up to the same standard as far as the game-play goes. Samurai Shodown was probably the first game that TRULY beat Capcom at their own game in my opinion, and was the start of many great things to come from our favourite company.
Having said that, maybe I am being a little too harsh. Art of Fighting did do some innovative things and showed that SNK were willing to try something a little different. I still LOVE to play this game even after all this time because it always gives me a huge feeling of nostalgia and brings back a lot of fond memories of the arcades back in the early nineties. As I mentioned above, I can still remember the look on everyones face when a group of us were playing this in the arcade in 1992 and we saw Kings shirt open up for the first time. Up until that point we were all saying "this guy is quite a good character"... I mean, even in her character select picture King looked like a guy; in fact, the only time she really looked female was when you beat her with a special move:
That is just one of the fond memories I have of this game... and there are a lot more, especially considering how much I used to play Art of Fighting "back in the day".
Art of Fighting is a classic game in many respects, and although it looks very bad by today's standards, it is still enjoyable. Fans of the game will want to go back and play it because of the nostalgia, while newcomers might get a kick out of it if they keep an open mind. The main problem is the lack of replay value though - because you can only go through story mode with the two main characters it really does take a lot of enjoyment out of the single player mode. Both characters endings are very similar too, although the cut scenes are slightly different. The ending is disappointing too; the game ends with a cliffhanger, although it wasn't very hard to tell what was going to happen next. It all revolves around the true identity of Mr. Karate and I'm sure you will be able to guess... for the newcomers that haven't played AoF before, if you have played any of the King of Fighters games you will already know who he is ;)
The game can be limited fun in vs mode, however you would really be better off playing the sequel to this game. While the sequel isn't perfect, it is a more solid game overall and there is a lot more fun to be had in two player. You would also be well advised to try the vastly changed Art of Fighting 3 which is almost a totally new game.
Whichever way you look at it, it's still worth having this game in your cart collection as a piece of SNK history - both the MVS and home carts will cost you very little. As a side note, this was actually the very first MVS cart I ever bought! :). Anyway, if I could give this game 10/10 for the memories I would, but realistically I have have to give it the following ratings:
Game play: 5/10
Replay Value: 4/10
Overall Rating: 5.5/10
Reviews @ Neo-Geo.com:
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Art Of Fighting 2
Improved sequel, but INSANELY difficult against the CPU!
Art Of Fighting 3
Vastly improved animation, different game-play and the character roster is almost completely changed. AOF3 is worth a try even if you dislike the first two Ryuuko No Ken titles.
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