Commonly referred to as Fatal Fury 4, Garou: Mark of the Wolves is one of SNK’s defining fighting games. This claim is not made lightly considering the studio is also responsible for The King of Fighters series.
Released in 1999 to arcades before making its way to the Dreamcast, Garou: Mark of the Wolves has been ported to countless consoles over the years. In fact, the fighter is available on all three current generation consoles.
Now, the question remaining is whether this nearly 20-year-old title holds up in this day and age. As long as the unsurprisingly dated visuals are not too off-putting, Mark of the Wolves should be an easy sell for anyone slightly enamored with the genre.
The End of the Beginning
Considering a new Fatal Fury seems unlikely to ever materialize, revisiting SNK’s original eight projects is the only real option for those seeking to experience one of the fighting genre’s most prominent early licenses.
While the earlier games and the Real Bout spin-offs are worth seeking out, Garou distinguishes itself by introducing an almost entirely new cast. The story takes place a decade after the conclusive events of Real Bout Fatal Fury Special. The only returning character is the series’ de facto poster boy and hero, Terry Bogard.
Even though certain characters are inspired by previous personalities, Garou: Mark of the Wolves stands on its own.
How does the new roster compare with the oldies? In order to fill the void left by Geese Howard’s departure, Mark of the Wolves adds the villain’s own son to the roster. Unlike his father, Rock Howard is actually a heroic character and shares the game’s lead character position with Terry, who basically adopts the kid after Geese’s demise. Blending Terry and Geese’s fighting styles, Rock is a fantastic protagonist and an ideal option for those seeking a well-rounded fighter.
The rest of the roster is not too shabby either, and SNK clearly had a ton of fun designing these characters. Among others, the roster has a pirate, a wrestler, and even a serial killer. Crucially, each and every fighter has their own specific strengths and weaknesses. Overall, SNK balanced the roster well.
While the graphics may not look like much nowadays, Mark of the Wolves was among the most visually-striking fighters during its heyday. Even after all these years, the detailed sprites and smooth animation remain a sight to behold.
Regardless of the version being played, nobody is going to mistake Mark of the Wolves for a contemporary title. With the exception of a handful of options to slightly tweak the presentation of the fighters, SNK barely touched the visuals. Mark of the Wolves is closer to a port than a remaster.
Putting aside the dated graphics, the gameplay mechanics remain as satisfying as ever. Wisely opting to eliminate the previous entries’ two-plane system, the 2D combat blends fast reflexes, combos, and a hint of strategy to create an accessible albeit difficult-to-master overall package.
The basics should be immediately familiar to those intimate with SNK’s other titles. Players have access to four types of basic attacks that can be strung together to form limited combos.
Combining an attack button with a directional input produces Special and Super moves. The input time is quite short for the majority of the moves, but executing the simpler attacks should be manageable for most people.
That being said, the combat has a lot of depth and the fighters are unique enough to require each one to be mastered individually. If battles prove too challenging, there is always the option to reduce the difficulty, even in the middle of the Story Mode.
The combat’s two standout features are the T.O.P. and the “Just Defend” systems. Prior to a match, the T.O.P. is allocated to a specific section on a fighter’s life gauge. As their HP falls within this zone, each fighter unlocks a special attack and some other benefits. T.O.P. sprinkles a touch of strategy into proceedings, especially since the A.I. has access to the same benefits.
“Just Defend” is essentially a perfect block. The block replenishes a bit of HP and produces a counterattack. These are small additions to an already robust fighting system.
In terms of content, Mark of the Wolves offers two main modes in Story (Arcade) and Survival. With the former, a memorable introductory cutscene establishes the commencement of a new King of Fighters tournament.
Each character has their own unique ending, presented in gorgeous still frames. Survival tests the player’s endurance by flinging random enemies at them. Mark of the Wolves’ practice mode lacks tutorials but at least allows the A.I.’s actions to be adjusted.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves is a product of its time. There is no point denying that. As the final entry in the franchise, Mark of the Wolves may sound like a strange starting point to start.
But after all these years, SNK’s ancient fighting game still delivers the goods. Fatal Fury is gone but not forgotten.