Fighting games have always had a welcome home on handhelds – even if the genre has served up a fair share of turkeys over the decades – and 20 years ago, Japanese powerhouse SNK was doing wonders with its plucky little Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color systems. One of those little gems was SNK Gals’ Fighters, a pint-size punch-up that gathered together the female competitors of the King Of Fighters series for its own tournament, the – you guessed it – Queen of Fighters. Now it’s been given a surprise lease of new life on Switch, and this fun little arcade beat-em-up is just as enjoyable and easily recommended as it was in the year 2000.
For a two-button fighter, it might be easy to assume SNK Gals’ Fighters is a fairly simple affair, but there’s a decent-sized move set to be found within its diminutive dojo. There are combos, super combos, reversal and counters that use all manner of half/quarter turns in this direction and that, and while fighting game purists might scoff at the understandably smaller collection of moves, it offers an easy to pick up system that less experienced players will enjoy instantly. Even character-specific special moves – known as Mighty Bops, which replace King of Fighters' more traditional Super Specials – are easy to pull off so most players, new or veteran, will be coming up with their own unique chain attacks in no time.
There eight heroines available from launch, with a further three to unlock through play. It’s a surprisingly large number to choose from, especially for a Neo Geo Pocket Color game from the start of the millennium. Each one plays noticeably different – such as Whip’s medium-range combos and Leona’s heavy-hitting strikes – so there’s plenty of variety to master. Mode-wise, it’s quite slim pickings, with Queen of Fighters mode serving as a story mode of sorts (it’s super-light on actual story, though), a training mode and support for local multiplayer play with a split Joy-Con – although, given the smaller screen size, two-player matches are far better suited to playing in docked mode.
SNK Gals' Fighters' item system also returns, as you might expect. Playing through the story of each character will eventually unlock special items that alter the flow of a fight. There are 16 in total to collect, with conditions ranging from defeating certain characters on the roster to even losing to certain ones. These items can prove incredibly useful, such as the Explosive: Gauges that fill up your Mighty Bop meter, so they’re worth seeking out if you want to go into a fight with a little extra edge on your side.
Despite being a Neo Geo Pocket Color released a good two decades ago, SNK Gals' Fighters holds up quite nicely. The squat character models and cartoonish vibe retain that magical arcade quality of yesteryear and while a fair few of those animations have been reused for previous SNK titles of the time, transitions are still smooth as you’d expect from a retro SNK fighter. The soundtrack is great too, with each stage featuring its own chiptune that’ll have you tapping your feet while you’re throwing, countering and combo-ing your way to victory.
There are some nice little touches in terms of additional ‘back end’ features, such as the ability to rewind the game frame by frame. For newcomers, it’s a great way to undo a costly mistake – especially if you’re playing through story mode and have reached the challenging Miss X. Alongside this feature, SNK has also included a few different styles to customise the Neo Geo wrapper that surrounds the screen. It’s a cute touch, but it’s a shame these are just static pieces of art that don’t animate in relation to the D-pad/analogue stick and the face buttons. The game also suspends and resumes play, even when the game is closed, so you can resume your quest in Queen of Fighters mode even when you rage quit.
20 years before it was spiritually reawakened as SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, the Neo Geo Pocket Color added another fine string to its bow with the enjoyable handheld combat of SNK Gals’ Fighters. With a few extra changes for Nintendo Switch – namely support for far easier to set up local multiplayer and a handy rewind feature – this classic portable fighter is now in the rudest of health. It’s not the deepest of fighting games, but with an already strong Neo Geo presence on the platform, this cutesy battler is a fine way to perfect your combos on the go.