HAMSTER’s ACA Neo Geo series has brought a number of one-on-one brawlers to the Switch, and now here’s another one. The first Art of Fighting game may have been visually impressive for its time, but it was lacking in the gameplay department meaning there was little reason to pick it up on Switch. Laughing in the face of sequential order, HAMSTER now skipped the second game in the series to bring Art of Fighting 3: The Path of the Warrior to the eShop. That’s no bad thing, however, as it improves on the formula considerably.
The visual presentation of Art of Fighting 3 is superb. The gritty look of the first two games has been ditched in favour of an animated one that works wonderfully thanks to good detail in the surroundings and the smooth animation of the fighters. The zooming camera (based on the relative positions of the fighters) still features - which enhances the experience - and stages are varied with good touches such as scenery distorted behind flowing water, grass gently swaying in the wind and impressive shadow effects in one particular level.
There’s a good range of sound effects along with rocking and jazz-like music tracks that add to the atmosphere, but the most effective stage from an audio point of view is the one that takes place in a street some distance away from carnival-like celebrations. Lights and fireworks can be seen far away as you fight in a quiet street (a lone dejected-looking man at a bar the only other visible person), and here the music is provided by a distant band, rather than featuring prominently in the sound mix.
As before there is a button for punch and a button for kick, with a third button providing strong attacks (what these are depend on your current position). Once again your ability to perform special moves is dependent on your spirit gauge, but thankfully it doesn’t decrease too much with performed specials, though should your opponent taunt you it does take a big chunk away. You can of course recharge it by holding down an attack button.
The lack of attack buttons could be limiting, but there are still a number of moves you can perform and the new rush attacks add to the excitement of battle; these are performed by simply holding forwards and mashing the punch or kick button. Should you find a good opening these can prove to be very effective, particularly as you can also combine these with special moves.
Your fighter has a number of other moves too, such as a throw and the ability to attack your opponent when they are lying on the floor. Attacks can be sidestepped and with careful timing of your moves you can juggle your opponent in midair to deal lots of damage. It feels quite different to other games, more Virtua Fighter than a typical 2D brawler. Should you be the one who has received a lot of damage you can turn the tide of battle with a devastating Desperation move when low on energy. All of these elements fit together well, with fast paced and smooth gameplay that leads to plenty of enjoyable fighting.
The only returning characters are Ryo and Robert (plus Yuri as an NPC) and disappointingly they are joined by just eight others. There’s some good variety in the fighters however, with various spinning, jumping and projectile attacks giving a different feel to each of them, as does the fact some have weapons. Sword-wielding Sinclair and hulking end-of-game boss Wyler are not visible on the character select screen, but picking them is simply a matter of pushing the cursor past the edges of the screen.
Aside from Sinclair and Wyler each character has an ending, so there’s some replayability in trying to see them all. On the default difficulty setting (4 of 8) this is not too difficult, as whilst the fights get tougher as you progress there’s a lot of opportunity for rush attacks, a very useful strategy to master. Increase the difficulty, however, and the CPU opposition will counter many of your button-mashing attempts at victory, providing a tougher challenge as you learn new ways to fight.
As standard, games released in the ACA Neo Geo series come with some nifty features such as button remapping and the ability to add scanlines (and even a scrolling video line) to the image for that old-school CRT look. There’s also two extra ways to play the games thanks to the one-credit Hi Score and five-minute Caravan modes. Typically you try and see how many points you can rack up with these limitations and then replay to do better as you try and move up the online leaderboards. These modes work better in some games than others, and in Art of Fighting 3 they work very well indeed.
When playing a one-on-one brawler the focus is more on winning than on how many points you’ve got. SNK seemed to realise this and here it's ditched the score and added a timer to keep track of how quickly you can clear the game. The faster you are, the higher you are on the game’s leaderboard and subsequently this has had an effect on the additional ACA modes.
For example, the five minute Caravan mode now challenges you to see how many wins you can get in that period. Is it possible to clear the game in that time? At the time of writing the best anyone has managed is seven wins. With only nine fights in the game, possible placements on the leaderboard are limited, but there’s an addictive quality when you miss out on a win by a few seconds, then go again as you hope to manage it the next time around to increase that win tally.
Hi score mode is simply about clearing the game as quickly as possible, with the 1-credit limit adding some additional challenge. There’s also an online leaderboard for the regular arcade mode, and whilst that too is about beating the game quickly it allows continues. As continuing sets the timer back to what it was at going into the fight it doesn’t matter if you mess up as (unlike in Hi score) you have another attempt at it rather than heading back to the beginning. If looking to set super-quick times in the arcade mode you can also dive into the options menu to set the game to single-round brawling.
Trying to improve your placement on the leaderboards adds a lot of replayability to the game, but the multiplayer is another reason to keep returning. As always a second player can buy into the arcade mode at any time and challenge you to a fight, and here the game shines as you attempt to string combos together against each other, dodge attacks and look for new ways to be victorious. The only downside being the paltry ten-character lineup that is considerably less than other games, including some HAMSTER has already brought to the eShop.
Characters would continue to turn up in the King of Fighters games, but this was the final instalment of the Art of Fighting series - and it goes out on a high. Despite the limited three attack button setup there's a lot of enjoyable and fluid fighting provided thanks to the rush attacks combining well with special moves. Juggling and dodging attacks adds to the fun and the animated look of the game works well. The low number of fighters included is disappointing, but trying to set a new fast time is addictive, particularly with the standard ACA online leaderboards. The first game may have been one to skip, but Art of Fighting 3: Path of the Warrior is a welcome fighting option for the eShop.