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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Art of Fighting Anthology
(SNK Playmore for PS2)

By Michael Palisano

Bringing a fine collection of classic brawling action to the PS2, SNK Playmore's Art of Fighting Anthology offers a selection of three classic fighting titles to the PS2. While the games aren't nearly as elaborate or complex as some of SNK's other series, Art of Fighting's streamlined play mechanics and balanced play makes them some of the most enjoyable and accessible titles that the company created. These titles have been faithfully translated for the most part, with the animation, music and controls emulated expertly. Several bonus features, such as an art gallery complete what is a superb package that should appeal to fans of classic 2D fighters.

Players that are lucky enough to own a Neo Geo system are probably familiar with SNK's Art of Fighting series. What began as yet another somewhat generic Street Fighter II knockoff evolved into an interesting and unique fighting series with a personality all its own. While the games seem unremarkable now, they did innovate with some interesting features, such as the Auto-zoom that let players see the action from a close-up angle and an interesting variety of mini-games between rounds. This collection features all three titles in the AoF trilogy and allows players to select from any of the games from the main menu. Art of Fighting's play mechanics and fighting system are fairly straightforward, and most players should be able to get the basic moves and techniques down with little effort. Each fighter has a standard array of kicks and punches, along with some super moves and combos that can be activated by filling up the Rage Gauge directly underneath your main health bar. When this is full, you can perform a series of special attacks designed to keep your opponents at bay. In addition to the standard moves, you can sometimes use taunts to lessen your opponents' resistance, but these leave you vulnerable to attack. Each of the three games plays similarly, though the special moves and combos you can use becomes increasingly elaborate as you work your way from the first to the third game. During each battle with the computer opponents, players will also encounter a series of bonus stages where they can build up their player attributes by completing simple tasks such as knocking down trees. These serve as interesting diversions, but don't detract from the main thrust of the fighting game. All of the games include both single player and versus modes along with the ability to change numerous options such as time, difficulty and number of rounds per fight. In addition, players have the ability to change the color of each fighter to create their own custom brawler as well.

Going a bit deeper into the mechanics of each game shows that SNK's developers put a lot of effort into refining and tweaking the series' fighting engines. The original AOF title makes a good training ground for its sequels, since its relatively straightforward moves and simple combo system makes a good foundation to build from. The game features some interesting combos and attacks, but its roster of players is somewhat predictable. One of the more interesting aspects of the game during single player mode is the ability of a second player to jump in using Burst Play. AoF 2 offers a much better roster of more varied characters adds several layers of new moves like Super Special and Hidden Attacks, Fall Breakers and a refined, smoother engine to make for a more enjoyable experience. The second installment also changes the power of each move depending on how long the buttons are pressed, which makes you master the timing as well as technique behind each fight. So far, the first two games offer a decent, if unspectacular selection of fighters and moves, but SNK really seems to have gotten it right with the third installment.

Things get really interesting when you select Art of Fighting 3 which implements several unique attacks and more elaborate moves. This game's fighting system allows you a great versatility and style because it gives you the ability to accurately target your opponents from mid-range, alternate kick and punch combos to create Rush Attacks and a special Heat mode, which allows you to perform Super Special Attacks when your opponents is at their weakest for a cool finishing move. The differences between the games might seem subtle, but they make a huge difference in the strategy and techniques you'll use during each battle. These combo systems and super moves add a strategic element that becomes more pronounced in the second an third games and makes the gameplay even more engaging. Between it's refined fighting engine and the vastly improved character roster, AoF 3 is probably the deepest and most rounded of the three games and the one most players are likely to spend the most time playing. One of the great things about SNK fighters has always been their depth and balance, where you don't really have to worry about which fighter you use and can instead focus on the technique and skill with your moves. Of course, there are subtle differences that can be exploited depending on your playing style, which makes playing the games even more challenging. All the games on the disc have an excellent selection of fighters, who each bring a unique style to the ring, but seem to complement each others' strengths and weaknesses to make Art of Fighting one of the more enjoyable titles in its genre.

For PS2 owners, this translation is nothing short of excellent. The games themselves has come over beautifully with all their detail and color intact. One of the interesting things about this compilation is that you can see the evolution of the fighting engine unfold before your eyes, from the relatively simple animations of the first game, to the more detailed and fluid frames used in the third, comparing these games directly can be an eye opening experience. Each game's soundtrack is also faithfully reproduced, and most of the games play with almost no load time between rounds, allowing the games to flow truly and faithfully to their arcade counter-parts. As you'd expect, the controls are fluid and responsive, and allow you to perform moves expertly using the standard PS2 controller. As you'd expect, Art of Fighting plays even better using an arcade joystick, which increases the authenticity and accuracy even more. While the games themselves look slightly dated these days, they play beautifully and for those who don't want to invest in expensive cartridges for a Neo Geo, this package offers a great alternative. Art of Fighting Anthology offers gamers a great value and contains many solid hours of challenging gameplay that should appeal to hardcore 2D fighting fans.

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