There were two major series of early 2D fighters that SNK folded into their most successful franchise of all time, the King of Fighters. One was known in the US as Fatal Fury, which carried the legendary rivalry between the Terry Bogard and Geese Howard, earned a number of sequels, the spin-off Real Bout series, and eventually modernized in the truly excellent Garou: Mark of the Wolves.
Then there's Art of Fighting. Just kidding, Mr. Big.
Art of Fighting was mainly the story of the Sakazaki clan, particularly the stoic martial artist Ryo Sakazaki and his wealthy foreign friend / rival Robert Garcia. Capcom thought this sounded a wee bit familiar, hence melding the two fighters to create the iconic master of the fist, Dan Hibiki. Though Capcom's own Sakura is a little too much like Ryo's sister Yuri, so I think they're pretty much even. To say the Sakazaki are eccentric is like saying Iori is a bit disturbed. Yuri always seems to be getting herself in trouble (getting kidnapped, attacked by pelicans), dragging her brother in to bail her out, while their father dons a tengu mask to fight evil under the guise of Mr. Karate...still wearing the same tattered gi he always does. Nice disguise, dad.
If you have a friend into this sort of 2D mayhem, these games are a blast, involving whole new strategies from the mold of other fighters.
For those who never played the Art of Fighting series, there's an easy analogy. The original AoF is like the original Street Fighter, which makes it more or less unplayable. Only two characters are available in story mode (ten in versus), and the controls are so stiff you're lucky to pull of a single special each round. Unless you're a fiend for cut-scenes of Ryo riding his hog, you can ignore this game altogether, because Art of Fighting 2 is this series' Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. It's fast (with an adjustable speed setting), it's far more refined, and the controls respond to split-second reflexes. You can even buffer commands to score better combos, and fake out your opponent. Animation is still a little stiff, but the visuals are looking pretty solid (if slightly odd), and the arranged soundtrack adds a nice feel to getting your head kicked in. Did I mention the AI borders on abusive? It's tough no matter what difficulty you set, so if you don't know your character cold, forget about even reaching the final boss. Though Art of Fighting 3 is the real gem of this collection, and the Street Fighter Alpha of the series. All new sprites slug it out with near-fluid animation, and backgrounds that impress to this day. This comes with a complete overhaul of the gameplay systems, allowing for longer combos, deeper mind games, and more technical matches. The AI has also been toned down to make it a bit more of a fair fight, at least until you reach the final battle, when you're going to see the continue screen a whole lot before the final ending cut-scenes.
While I've compared Art of Fighting to Street Fighter for the sake of brevity, they're actually two different beasts. AoF is based on a four button system for punch, kick, body toss/blow out, and taunt. Taunting is more than just a rude gesture, it'll deplete your opponent's rage gauge. This gauge is essential for unleashing the full power of special and super attacks, for when it's gone a screen-clearing fireball becomes little more than a fizzle. You can hold down any button (in 2 and 3) to refill this gauge, but be careful when you do, since it leaves you wide open for attack. Getting near death leaves you flashing red, doing more damage and allowing you use of the all powerful hidden special attack. So it ain't over until it's over.
As far as I can tell from my childhood memories, each game in this collection is "arcade perfect." I'm pretty sure they're the AES home versions, but it's still coming off the same Neo-Geo hardware. Though the PS2 all of the games suffer from some rather noticeable field separation. To get a little technical, non-HD signals are interlaced, where half the rows of one frame are drawn and half the rows of the other, merging these in motion in a way the human eye usually doesn't notice the difference. So if there's a large different in these frames, like when a fighter is hit and knocked back, these fields become separated, resulting in a jagged picture that's out of sync. For those lucky PS3 owners, they can force this game to display in progressive scan, which I imagine clears up this problem completely, though I can't put it to the test.
If there's one other issue with this anthology is it's pretty sparse. The history of the series is regulated to a small paragraph in the instruction manual. There's no gallery, no scans of arcade flyers, no practice mode, no AoF-related bonuses...really no extras outside of the arranged soundtrack and sprite color editing. Saddest loss is the removal of online play from the Japanese version, though unavoidable since the service it uses doesn't exist here in the States. If you have a friend into this sort of 2D mayhem, these games are a blast, involving whole new strategies from the mold of other fighters, but if you're stuck playing alone, don't expect to get more than your $15 out of it.