Review: Art of Fighting 3: The Path of the Warrior (Neo Geo)

Third time's a charm?

Art of Fighting sprang onto the Neo Geo arcade scene in 1993 and brought with it several innovations that would become a staple of future Neo fighting titles. For one thing the game featured huge character sprites, some spanning nearly the height of the screen. It also introduced the now famous SNK zoom system that would keep the game zooming in and out based on the proximity of the two fighters.

The Art of Fighting series has always had one common denominator — the gameplay system has always been simple and efficient. Art of Fighting 3 is no different. Its simple PUNCH, KICK, STRONG MOVE, and TAUNT system is still in effect and just seems to make everything work quite well together. Perhaps SNK was trying to do something Street Fighter II didn't do when it put the game's mechanics system together, but either way, it offers up a very playable experience that fighting game fans of just about any skill level can get into.

Not to be mistaken, there is depth to Art of Fighting 3. Even with the simple gameplay engine, there are plenty of combos and throws to make use of. Even with the simple punch and kick system, you can still string together combination attacks to take your opponent down, not to mention sidestepping and hitting your foe when they're prone on the floor — a common feature of 3D fighting games in years to come.

There's not a lot of fluff to the Art of Fighting package, but whether you choose to go it alone or take on an opponent, there's plenty of challenge to be had. The story mode is simple, so don't expect a lot of flashy animations and cut-scenes, but you'll get enough to keep you plugging along as you make your way through the game's various fighters.

The improved responsiveness is a nice touch up to an already intriguing fighting game. Art of Fighting has always been about big fighters and intense action, but the smoother touch displayed here — along with the easy-to-access gameplay — make for a much more enjoyable experience. SNK would continue to smooth things out in later fighting game releases, but it's nice to see that they put some time into getting this third and final release in the Art of Fighting series right.

Visually, there's a lot to like in Art of Fighting 3. The same huge character sprites that the series is so well known for are all intact, but this time the developers were able to improve the animations and give the backdrops a bit more life and detail. The zooming function is still impressive and when you take into account the amazing backdrops, it really adds a nice graphical dimension to the experience that fans of the series should appreciate.

There are plenty of great synthesized rock tracks in the game, as any fan of the series will obviously expect. The voice announcer is decent, but it's the individual character voices that start to grate on your ears after awhile. It's nothing too detrimental to the overall experience, but it is one facet of the game that leaves you'll wish SNK had given a bit more attention to.

Conclusion

Art of Fighting 3 does take some chances, but still doesn't deviate too far from the tried-and-tested gameplay the series has featured in past releases. The visuals are impressive and everything is smoother and more responsive than ever, but it's probably not as big a step up as some might expect given the fact that it's the third and final release in the series. While still certainly not up to the standard of King of Fighters '98 or Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Art of Fighting 3 still represents the pinnacle of a series that really took SNK into the same playing field as Capcom — something the developer constantly strived for.