The third Fatal Fury game may have been subtitled 'Road To The Final Victory' but the Legend of the Hungry Wolf was far from over. The first game to follow that third instalment (released in the same year, in fact) was Real Bout Fatal Fury, a game that feels in part like an upgraded Fatal Fury 3. Using the same three-plane fighting system (the only other game in the series to do so), the cracking music returns as do all 13 characters - including the bosses who are now playable. New tunes also feature and the fighter lineup is expanded with the inclusion of Kim Kaphwan, Duck King and Billy Kane – all returning from Fatal Fury Special, though now with redrawn sprites.

As always, the aim of the game is to win a series of best-of-three round fights (13 in total) and to do this you’ll be performing combos or single punches, kicks throws and special moves; a partial movelist is included in the electronic manual. To avoid getting hit you can block, jump/hop away or make use of the multiple planes to stay safe. Being able to move into the foreground as well as the background may provide more options than are really necessary, but the temporary trips out of the centre lane work well for avoiding a beating (and maybe put you in position to launch a counter-attack).

So far, so Fatal Fury 3, but there are some differences, such as the number of attack buttons used. Real Bout ditches the four-button approach for a single punch, a kick and a strong attack button; positioning determining what this is. The fourth button is now dedicated to changing planes (press with down to move into the foreground) where previously button combinations were required. Coming off Fatal Fury 3, this similar-but-not-quite-the-same gameplay style can take a moment to get used to, but it works well.

A new introduction is the power gauge, which offers a few different options during the rounds. Once it turns yellow (half-way) certain special attacks can be used as a guard cancel move to quickly go from a defensive position to an offensive one, even breaking through your opponents own guard. More powerful are the moves available should the gauge fill up, such as your Super Special move and (should your life bar be low) a devastating Potential Power move – much like the desperation moves of previous games.

Fights take place across four main stages (Geese has his own), with you having three fights in each location. Though a low number, each is full of the detail typical of a SNK game and changing times of day provides some visual variety; the subway station at night in particular having a much different feel. As with Fatal Fury 3, the final blow of the match can knock a defeated fighter towards the screen, but they can no longer be flung into the background scenery. What you can do, however, is knock your opponent off the sides in the main stages for an Out of Bounds victory.

Not just a spectacular finish to a fight, these can be used to end a round early. Barriers such as crates, doors and even people are at the edges of the screen, but hit them enough and they’ll disappear, enabling you to send your opponent flying from the designated fighting area. Defeated foes may crash into electrical equipment, fall from a platform or land atop an elevator and one amusing finish sees the defeated fighter land on a train, which then departs with them still aboard. Some characters look suitably dejected when deposited in water while somewhat ominously others fail to resurface.

The potential for out of bounds victories gives you more options to consider during a fight. Barrier damage is carried over between rounds so even if it doesn’t come into play in the current round you may be able to get a quick victory in the next. When the barrier is gone you have to be careful not to jump past your opponent and gift them a victory, yet similarly if you are taking a battering against the edge of the screen but manage to get the other side of them, you can snatch a win. With the various ways fights can play out, barriers won’t always disappear during your fights, but it’s a fun inclusion that works well and it’s surprising it didn’t appear in future instalments.

Although not as tough as some fighters, the usual eight difficulty settings are available to adjust the challenge of the CPU fighters to your liking. As usual HAMSTER have included online leaderboards so you can try and improve your standing in the regular arcade as well as one-credit Hi-score and five-minute Caravan modes. Of course most of the replay value in a fighting game comes from just fighting rather than point scoring and a second player can buy into the arcade mode at any time. Though not ideal, the new control scheme works quite well with detached Joy-Con should you be out and about and have no other option for an impromptu two-player showdown.

Conclusion

There's been a tweak to the controls, but Real Bout Fatal Fury offers similar fast-paced fighting thrills to Fatal Fury 3. This game builds on that with some extra characters and the introduction of a power gauge to give you a few different things to consider during battle. It also features fun sights such as a defeated fighter somehow finding themselves trapped aboard a ship, hammering desperately on the hull in the hope of getting free before it leaves. The Real Bout games that followed would make some changes, including more character additions, but this is still a well put together entertaining fighter.