Between 1994 and 1998 Takara Co., Ltd. brought some of SNK's most successful Neo Geo arcade hits — Samurai Shodown, The King of Fighters, and Fatal Fury 2 — to the humble Game Boy via a series of 'demakes'; streamlined and simplified releases of the infinitely more powerful arcade originals rebuilt from the ground up exclusively for Nintendo's world-conquering handheld.
A quick glance over some screenshots reveals a strong similarity to SNK's fantastic Neo Geo Pocket Collection of fighters as both share a preference for clean lines, big pixels, and cartoonish graphics over a vague stab at crunchy arcade Neo Geo stylings. But these Game Boy titles by-and-large predate SNK's own portable efforts by several years and officially include one major feature their Neo Geo Pocket neighbours lacked until modern-day emulation stepped in: single-cartridge multiplayer support.
You need a Super Game Boy to access it but if you've got one at home, Takara's games not only display pretty borders and colourised character portraits, they also allow a friend to play against you using nothing more complicated than a second SNES pad.
But how good can these ports really be? The Neo Geo was famed for its graphical prowess; there's just no way battery-powered hardware that could only handle four shades of green was ever going to come close to the look of the the originals. Cleverly, the developer's didn't even try and instead hoped to capture the spirit of the games they were porting rather than aiming for a level of accuracy they could never hope to achieve — they aimed to represent rather than recreate.
Thanks to this novel approach everything from Ukyo's cough to Joe's Tiger Kick and Ryo's distinctive fighting stance are still instantly recognisable even though their entire bodies are made up of fewer pixels than their arcade equivalents spent on someone's hair (probably). Samurai Shodown's flag-brandishing referee is still present (and working) even if they have to be squeezed in between health bars at the top of the screen, and although these handheld titles were never going to have mid-battle speech samples, Nettou Garou Densetsu 2 (AKA the Game Boy port of Fatal Fury 2) gets around this limitation in the most adorable way possible by giving each character little speech bubbles instead. Seeing Terry 'say' "HEY COME ON" as he taunts his opponent is a lot of fun on the Game Boy's small screen, even if it is, strictly-speaking, 'wrong'.
Embellishing these battles are miniaturised takes on all victory poses, character portraits, minor touches and fantastic full-screen artwork you're already familiar with, the developers well aware that SNK's arcade games are brought to life not just by raw quality but fine detail, too. It's just incredible to think how they were able to have Nakoruru's faithful hawk Mamahaha and Galford's dog Poppy present on screen at all times, or for a squished-down port of Samurai Shodown III to bring the beauty of the Neo Geo's lantern-lit cherry blossom stage to on-the-go gaming at a time when portable colour screens — though available — were a battery-devouring joke.
Inevitably, compromises had to be made along the way, and some characters were lost in the transition to Nintendo's thin grey carts. It is disappointing but on balance it would be unreasonable to expect a Game Boy cartridge — their files sizes so small that there's a very real chance you've casually snapped single Switch screenshots that take up more memory space — to faithfully reproduce every member of every game's cast, especially when some of them, such as The King of Fighters '96, have well over twenty different participants in their arcade versions.
Although the rosters have been trimmed down, the characters available are unlikely to leave anyone feeling short-changed, offering anything up to fifteen fighters by default and a few unlockable bonus faces too, from good old playable bosses to unexpected crossover characters from other games. You'll find The King of Fighter's Iori squirreled away in Nettou Real Bout Special (the GB version of Real Bout Fatal Fury Special), and Samurai Shodown's protector of nature Nakoruru within the Game Boy port of The King of Fighters '95. Their presence may not entirely make up for what was lost in translation, but there's still a certain specialness around playing as someone you feel you were never supposed to have at all — a true extra rather than just one more person pulled from a box-ticking list of expected features.
Once you've decided what to play and who to play through it as (or which team to play through it as in the case of The King of Fighters), the only thing left to do is dive in and get on with pummelling a game's worth of opposition into submission. Experienced SNK players will find the first few battles flying by on muscle memory alone, the Game Boy's two-button system doing an admirable job of standing in for Neo Geo's four and making special moves, rage gauge charges, taunts and Real Bout's retained ability to shift lanes — something SNK didn't manage to keep in their own handheld port — a breeze. The end result is consistently fluid gameplay that, just like the graphics, accurately captures the sensation of their arcade equivalents' throws, slashes, and fiery punches. It's pick-up-and-play action that, appropriately enough, always feels like it's punching above the humble Game Boy's weight.
Which ones would we recommend from the ones we've mentioned? Well, all of them, really — they're all remarkably faithful to the amazing arcade games they came from in their own miniaturised ways, and even though some of these are Japanese exclusives, much of the menu and setting text is still in English, and the rest will only take a few jabs of the 'A' button to get through. Most importantly of all, they're different enough to be worth a look even if you've already long exhausted the Switch's impressive range of arcade and pocket-sized Neo Geo titles. They're good quality portable fighters whether you're familiar with the source or not, making fantastic use of limited hardware and fitting the pick-up-and-play nature of the Game Boy like a glove.
You forgot World Heroes 2 Jet
I remember playing KOF 95 at friend’s SNES. It used the Super Game Boy and despite its shortcomings, we had lots of fun.
Wow, I knew some SNK were on SNES and Genesis back in the day but this is actually the first I’m hearing about SNK games on GB.
Their KOF GB games are super impressive. I also really like their port of Real Bout and am surprised I never saw a NES version.
Speaking of the NES, check out the port of Final Fight 3. It kicks like ten kinds of a.s.s.
I had no idea these were a thing! One of the first fighters I ever got addicted to was Battle Arena Toshinden on Game Boy, which is also a Takara game. I actually didn’t know until years later it was a port of a PlayStation game. I was introduced to SNK through my Neo Geo Pocket Color and those are the versions I enjoy most from these series. I would love to try some (or all) of these out. Thanks for the feature!
These were some of the best ports to ever come to the Game Boy. Some even retain their entire roster and then some such as Samurai Shodown, something even the mighty Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat games couldn't achieve on the same platform.
One thing I always liked was how the Game Boy versions of the KOF games included surprise hidden fighters who weren't in the original arcade/Neo Geo versions, like Nakoruru and Mr. Karate.
Like Drewtoo mentioned as well, Takara did a conversion of “Battle arena Toshinden” (A popular PSX series at the time, sadly forgotten now) as well.
Toshinden is not a SNK game, but it’s worth mentioning due to the similarity in style.
I really, really loved these games. Some of my favorite GB games ever.
@Papichulo lmao kicks like 10 kinds of a, s. S I like that and gonna steal it once in a while 😎😎🤫
@drewtoo26 I too had (still have) Battle Arena Toshinden on my gameboy. I have good memories playing this game.
I also had Fatal Fury on my Gameboy, but it was a pirated copy sold on the streets.
It’s a shame that these games were never given a second chance on the 3DS Virtual Console.
@DK-Fan World Heroes 2 Jet came to mind as soon as I saw the article. I am surprised they didn't mention it. I spent many hours playing that on my Game Boy... interestingly enough I hadn't played the others.
I loved the idea of simplifying the games while maintaining the spirit of it. It's a good lesson for creators who think they need to have every option and bell and whistle available to get their goal across. Proves that you don't necessarily need the strongest hardware or the brightest colors to make a good game. Shame many larger developers don't think like this anymore. Rather than make something for the hardware, they'd rather just skip it and focus only on the high end.
@ecco6t9 Yeah, Takara didn't do much with VC, I don't think. Except by allowing Japanese Wii owners to experience the endless fun of Transformers: Convoy no Nazo (along with a Famicom Zoids strategy game. The one-two punch of old games based on toys owned by the same corporation. )
I always heard good things about the SNK fighting games on the Game Boy. I didn't get into SNK until a bit later, a bit before the original Neo Geo Pocket came out, but I was sold on the way they converted the fighting games, which seems to be similar to what Takara's GB games were. Also worth noting that Takara's port of Fatal Fury Special for the Game Gear was also well received. I had it and enjoyed it. It was also simplified, but used an art style that was not super deformed, but it also worked because it was designed with the limits of the hardware in mind.
Funny enough the Game Boy versions of Samurai Shodown & Battle Arena Toshinden actualy had bigger character rosters via unlockables than their originals.
I never even knew about these, despite owning both a Game Boy and a Neo Geo Pocket Color. The latter was where I played my SNK games on the go.
@MysticX yup. Toshiden on gameboy is soooooooo much better than the arcade, playstation and saturn version. And I think I was done by the same crew who did these snk ports.
Overall pretty good story, a little short on detail or off in a place or two. I'm only speaking from experience, and seeing that some imports were brought into this I'm surprised what got left out.
Samurai Spirits 3 for one it has digital speech between stages for their victory comment (GB or SGB), and so does KOF 96 (or Heat of Battle in the UK, talkie too in battle.) Most games haven't lost any fighters, 96 might have due to the size, but SS1+3 don't and nor do most the others. A fun side thing, beyond World Heroes 2 Jet, SS1+3, both Fatal Fury's, both KOF games, they also used that engine for a nice cute conversion of Battle Arena Toshiden, and a GBC cart for Transformers Beastwars which has a really massive roster because transformations mean 2x the characters and move sets.
Takara reallly knew their stuff, and they kept in all the charm, moves, etc of the big versions which was no small feat. And thanks to the NG stuff using 4 buttons, they covered it too by using a tap(light) vs press(hard) hits so none of them are lacking for moves or re-worked moves.
Indeed, I had them all and really enjoyed them!
The GameGear version of Virtua Fighter was really fun and impressive too and I played it more than my Saturn copy because of the goofy anime story and portable.
I forgot about them all once I got my NeoGeo Pocket Color in late summer 1999.
God I wish I could go back and relive August 1999-Dec 2002 again. So many good games and remakes across the NGPC, GBC/GBA, DC, and GC.
Fatal Fury was super impressive on Game Gear too. I used to spend hours on KoF 95 on a GBP a friend brought over from Hong Kong (they were yet to see an Australian release).
Back then when Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat failed on handheld, you could always depend on SNK and Takara. From Samurai Shodown to King of Fighters, World Heroes, and Battle Arena Toshinden, you'd be hard pressed to find better fighters on a Game Boy.
I got them all on gameboy original japanese imports. They were still some of my favourite fighting games on the gameboy, along with Street fighter 2 and killer instinct. Not really a Mortal Kombat fan of those days.
Great feature. I only played "King of Fighters - Heat of Battle" ('96) and the non-Neo Geo, but technical similar GB Version of "Battle Arena Toshiden". The latter was very good, but "Kof-Hob" as my brother and I used to call it, was simply a miracle. Probably the best fighter on the system.
I never knew a Game Boy "Fatal Fury" existed, which absolutely amazes me. I love it, when I make such discoveries about retro games through articles like this.
I still remember how Takara used GB sprites to make their SNES Samurai Shodown port. It's impressive how small they were!!!!!!
@John_Deacon They didn't use the Game Boy sprites, they used the zoom-out sprites as Samurai Shodown had two visual aspects during gameplay. The camera zoom-in when both fighters are in close contact resulting in bigger sprites, then when the fighters move farther away the sprites got smaller and the camera zoom-out. The Super NES version used the zoom-out aspect whereas the Sega Genesis version used the zoom-in aspect. Because of that SNES retain all the characters but had a very unprecedented gaming mechanics and losing details on the characters.
Genesis version got the better gameplay and detail of the fighter but lose one character in the process. The zooming and scaling feature could be done on both versions of the game as evident by Art of Fighting which used the same engine and retain that feature for both platforms but in Samurai Shodown's case retaining the zooming and scaling feature means both games will struggle and had slowdown. To prevent that Takara took out the zooming and scaling altogether and just give both versions one aspect over the other, Genesis got zoom-in and SNES got zoom-out. You'll have to play both versions for the full experience.
hands down some of the best Game Boy games ever crafted.
Takara made the best Game Boy fighting games. All of them, even those that were rather mediocre on Neo Geo or PlayStation received a fantastic Game Boy version.
If you were a handheld gamer in the mid-90s and picked Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat over Takara's stuff you chose wrong. I had tons of fighting games for the Game Boy back in the day, and I liked Killer Instinct and MK2 too, but Takara was the king. They created Game Boy fighting games that were on the same level as their Neo Geo Pocket counterparts.
Great times playing these in 2 player mode, on a big screen in color on the Super Game Boy. Samurai Shodown was my favourite since you could smash away your opponents weapon and it had great music and art.
@Specter_of-the_OLED Of course they didn't use the same sprites as the GB. I just tried to make a joke given how small the sprites were on the SNES.
And thank you for your explanation comparing Genesis and SNes versions. I didn't know that was the choice the devs made for each of those versions
Tap here to load 29 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...