With Halloween fast approaching, I feel like now’s the perfect time for another article in the Sum of Its Parts series. After all, I often refer to it as them as “Frankensequels”, considering I typically take various parts from old games in an effort to create new life…for an old franchise. Yeah, I know it’s a bit of a stretch to tie it into the upcoming holiday, but I really do enjoy writing these. Besides, I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while: today’s topic is actually the concept I had to push back to talk about MMX9 instead.
So this past August, SNK Playmore has gone on a copyright rampage, regaining trademarks on old titles such as The Last Blade, Beast Busters, Athena Asamiya and even the Maximum Impact subline from the King of Fighters series. Since then, both a new Beast Busters and Athena game have been announced…for smartphones, which seems to imply that there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing something related to the Last Blade and Maximum Impact series at some point in the future. Unfortunately, there was one particular game I was hoping to see on this trademark list that was left off: Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Of course, there’s always the possibility that SNKP still has an active trademark on MotW, considering the game was re-released on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2009. However, if SNKP is planning to extend their fighting game roster beyond their standbys KoF and Samurai Shodown, Garou: Mark of the Wolves has got two major advantages over most of SNKP’s other legacy titles. It’s both a part of one of SNK’s more popular franchises (Fatal Fury) and one of their most popular fighting games overall.
Fun fact for those of you who didn’t know: MotW2 has actually been in development since at least 2002. At 2005’s KOF Year-End Party, SNKP illustrator Falcoon stated that the game was roughly 70% complete by the original SNK team before it was scrapped. Since 2006, SNKP has claimed that the game has been in development on modern platforms, but progress is slow. As of 2009, the game appears to still be in development, though no major announcements regarding the game’s status has been made. The only other piece of information we have about Mark of the Wolves 2 is that one of the characters planned to be added to the roster was an apprentice of popular Fatal Fury character (and long-time member of the “Fatal Fury Team” in the KoF series) Joe Higashi.
So, when we look at the potential paths a sequel to Garou can take, it’s also important to take into account the pedigree of not only the original Mark of the Wolves, but the entire franchise itself. Fatal Fury has gone through many different incarnations throughout the ages. Aside from MotW, perhaps the most popular game in the series is Fatal Fury Special, the third game in the franchise and effectively the “Super” variant of the second game in the franchise. It built upon the base that FF2 provided but through in some additional characters from the first game, including Tung Fu Rue, Duck King and Geese Howard, along with a cameo from Ryo Sakazaki of the Art of Fighting series.
From the first game, the Fatal Fury series actually had a fairly unique background interaction system. Characters could jump into the background (and occasionally, the foreground) to avoid attacks and get the jump on their opponent. Of course, this could be easily countered, but it was still an interesting mechanic. To me, it almost seemed like a predecessor to “fixed axis” 3D fighting games, like Virtua Fighter and Tekken, which allowed combatants to sidestep around the entirety of the stage. Aside from that, however, the series was your typical 2D fighting game with special moves, combos and super moves. One other point of interest, the fifth game in the series, Real Bout Fatal Fury, actually introduced the ability to ring-out your opponent by breaking down walled barriers. This wasn’t exactly a popular feature (due in part to the potential for self-inflicted losses), but it was an interesting gameplay mechanic to see in a 2D fighting game, considering that ring outs are common in 3D fighting games like Virtua Fighter and especially the Soul Calibur series.
Mark of the Wolves ditched the ability to move into the background, opting for a more traditional single-plane fighting environment. It did manage to add some new ideas to the mix though. First up, there was the “Tactical Offense Position” (T.O.P.) system, which allowed combatants to choose a third of the life gauge to activate special abilities like increased damage and regenerating health. These buffs were not unlike the X-Factor system from Marvel vs Capcom 3, with the added benefit of automatic activation determined by the player before the match to fit their playstyle. The T.O.P. system could act either as a comeback mechanic or an early boost allowing for quick victories, depending on when it’s used. (I personally set it to the last third of my health as sort of a last ditch effort.) There was also the Just Defend system, which was not entirely unlike the parry system from the Street Fighter III games. By blocking an attack at the last possible moment, players regain a small amount of health and gain the ability to counterattack immediately in block stun.
Both of these mechanics should stay in any sequel, that’s for sure. Frankly though, I’d like to also see a return of the multiple-planed gameplay from the older Fatal Fury games. I always thought it was an interesting mechanic and it would further cement Garou 2’s (and by extension, the original MotW’s) place as the true successor to the Fatal Fury series. The only potential issue would be muddying up the sleeker gameplay the original Garou offered. The ring-out system from the first Real Bout, however, should probably stay buried. It was an interesting concept, but ultimately doesn’t work. So aside from possibly throwing in the background mechanics from FF games past, I’d want the engine in this one to stay as close to the original MotW as possible.
As for the roster itself, well, the first step would be to keep everyone from the first game. It doesn’t look like Tizoc, Gato, B.Jenet and the rest are gonna show up again in any upcoming KoF games. Aside from that, bringing back any conceptual characters from the original MotW2 development, especially Joe Higashi’s apprentice. I guess the real question is whether or not there should be more expies or bringing back actual old characters from the original Fatal Fury series. The original game only had Terry Bogard from the original series of games. Bringing in some more old blood could be interesting, especially with younger characters like Li Xiangfei, who only appeared in the second Real Bout game and Wild Ambition (a 3D retelling of the original Fatal Fury for the Hyper NeoGeo 64 and original PlayStation). Considering she was only 17 in her original appearance, she’d still be young enough to kick butt, even if we go by the common rules that women over 40 aren’t playable in fighting games. Billy Kane would be another big pick for a returning character on my end, though he is still relevant in the KoF games as of XIII. I’d also love to see a spiritual successor to dance fighting characters, like Duck King, Bob Wilson and Richard Meyer show up in a second Garou game. Aside from that, SNK Playmore should feel free to go nuts. It’s their game, after all.
As for the graphical style, I’d like it if SNKP went with the 3D model to 2D high-definition sprite rotoscoping method they used in KoF13. However, it seems like Playmore is focusing more on 3D modeling, especially due to various job listings for modelers. As long as the game maintains its 2D gameplay and the graphics themselves don’t look as awkward as they did in the Maximum Impact series, I guess I wouldn’t really mind Garou 2 being a 2.5D fighter.
Regardless of what kind of artstyle they choose, more diversity in SNK’s 2D fighting offerings would be great. It’s not like I don’t like King of Fighters or Samurai Shodown games. Well, aside for Samurai Shodown Sen, that game was objectively terrible. Still, back in the old days, SNK made way more than just those games and Metal Slug. Considering that, as I mentioned earlier, The Last Blade’s trademark was regained, I’ve got a good feeling we’ll be seeing at least a compilation re-release from that series. Garou: Mark of the Wolves 2 , however, has been in development for over a decade now. Seeing it come to fruition would be amazing.