When you consider the sheer volume of one-on-one fighters produced by SNK over the past decade or so it's amazing to think that 1991's Fatal Fury was the first time they'd attempted such a game since the company's inception in 1978. Produced to compete with Capcom's legendary Street Fighter II, SNK's game was very similar, relying on 'special' moves and various combos.
As far as first attempts go, Fatal Fury is highly commendable. The visuals are fantastic – big, bold and colourful sprites duke it out against extremely detailed and vibrant backgrounds. Graphically and sonically Fatal Fury is arguably more impressive than Capcom's brawler.
The gameplay is also of a high standard. Special moves are executed in almost exactly the same manner as the ones found in SF2 (lots of charging and quarter-circle motions, basically) but the unique 'plane switch' system – which allows players to jump 'in' and 'out' of the screen and outflank their opponent – is what really makes this game stand out from the flood of imitators that appeared around the early '90s. It certainly adds an extra tactical level to play, but unfortunately it often breaks the flow of combat. Initiating an attack when on a different plane than your foe causes your character to switch planes again, albeit rather clumsily. It's an interesting touch regardless.
At the time of release many fans were adamant that Fatal Fury was better than SF2, but playing both games now show just how superior Capcom's game is. It's far more balanced and playable; SNK couldn't really compete until the sublime Fatal Fury 2 was published a short while later.
As it stands, Fatal Fury is one of the better SF2 clones out there. If you've played Capcom's title to death and want some more one-on-one fighting action then you really should give this game a chance. It may not grant the same level of enjoyment but it will certainly provide plenty of entertainment regardless and should keep SNK fans happy until some of the higher-profile games arrive. Fatal Fury 2, anyone?