Brace yourself because I'm about to wax nostalgic here. I can still remember being a tike, and nervously approaching that big red arcade machine with its basic SNK logo and colorful buttons, promising of three whole games to choose from in their own little eye-catching boxes. One of those games was either Fatal Fury 2 or Special, though I'd soon be playing through the entire series of Terry and Andy Bogard's adventures, popping quarters and wearing down joysticks to avenge the death of their master at the hands of the smug evil that was Geese Howard.
To come crashing back down to reality, the original Fatal Fury hasn't held up at all. The game looks better than I really expected it to with its colorful sprites and animated backgrounds (complete with night and day variants), but the gameplay is basic to the point of boredom, using one special move over and over to pummel your way through challengers, only to be destroyed by the final boss. The cooperative play is worth jumping in with a friend once or twice, but you're better of breaking out the Alpha series instead. The plane changing feature that the series is famous for, adding a touch of 3D to a 2D experience, is refined later on, and the win quotes in mangled English can only be amusing for so long.
There's so many characters with so many ways of kicking ass that it'll keep you entertained for a long time.
Fatal Fury 2 is the complete overhaul that would define the series all the way up to Mark of the Wolves, ditching the "punch, kick, throw" setup of FF1 for the light punch, strong punch, light kick, strong kick that became an SNK standard. It's also still great fun. Characters now have plenty of moves to really mix it up, with little hop evasions and dodging in and out of the background to keep your opponent guessing. There isn't a wide range of characters to choose from just yet, but the sprite quality has been given a bump, moving away from the more cartoonish for a more detailed feel. It also features the introduction of sexy Mai, a ninja girl with a very skimpy sense of modesty, and not just in always shouting "Best in Japan!" either.
Fatal Fury Special is really just a revised version of FF2, including a expanded roster of playable characters. So players can strike fear in the hearts of their friends by smacking them around with Geese of Krauser, but best of all my favorite SNK character of all time, Billy Kane, is now playable. It takes real class to jab people around with a bright red pole while taunting your usually unarmed enemies. The fact he isn't playable in Fatal Fury 3 verges on insult.
SNK more than makes up for it though. FF3 is another minor overhaul. The King of Fighters series had been unleashed on arcades, and taking from that the Fatal Fury series became faster, harder, and more technical, where a mix of special moves and refined plane shifting separated the winners from the whiners. The sprites received another boost in detail, and improved animations, while the backgrounds were the beginning of the BG golden era. Easily the gem of this collection, there's so many characters with so many ways of kicking ass that it'll keep you entertained for a long time, especially if there's another fighting fan to face off against.
All the menus and features are pretty much identical to the Art of Fighting Anthology, from the ability to smooth out the graphic edges to sprite editing for all four games in the series. The arranged soundtrack is the greatest gift this collection has to offer. All four games feature a mind-blowing score that really gets you into the fighting groove. I'm not exaggerating to say it's almost worth the bargain basement price for the soundtrack alone. Sadly, the sound effects and voices don't fare nearly as well, with low quality samples that are downright jarring. Of course, the one thing lacking is online play that was present in the Japanese version, but for $15 you can't expect SNK to maintain matchmaking servers. Fatal Fury fans desperate for online thrills can face off in the XBLA version of Fatal Fury Special already available.