Fighting Fundays: Garou: Mark of the Wolves

Fighting Fundays is an irregular weekly segment by the Unofficial Fighting Games Guru of TSG, GrimsChild as he takes a look at fighting games ranging from good to bad and old to new.

SNK didn’t exactly have a very good reputation during the final days of the sixth generation of console gaming.. At the time gamers had all but given up hope on SNK with the Neo Geo being overpriced and with the next generation of consoles coming out such as Sony’s new PS2, SNK had every right to be worried about their upcoming competition (didn’t help that the Dreamcast flunked at that time either). However, instead of being melanchloic about the situation, they wanted to go out with a bang creating a game that everyone would remember SNK for. Sadly, the game didn’t sell well and unlike Squeenix’s Final Fantasy move SNK then dissappeared from the home console market leaving behind one last relic of their former glory, Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

The first eight Fatal Fury games changed the fighting game scene while it was still in it’s early days by containing a fighting game roster that didn’t have Chun Li in it, better graphics and an interesting and quirky dual plane system. The game was never really welcomed by the masses though as it was dismissed as just another Street Fighter clone with gimmicky machanics that never really stood the test of time by today’s standards (and the famed “Dual Plane” system was bettered in Guilty Gear Isuka and the Bleach DS games made by Treasure).

For the ninth entry in the series, SNK decided to change practically everything about the original games into a game unlike anything SNK has ever made. The battle system to something that much more resembled their King of Fighters series consisting of four attack buttons cosisting light and strong versions of the punch and kick moves and got rid of the Dual Plane system to focus more on a fast paced style of fighting. Mark of the Wolves also contained the Just Defend system which is akin to parrying in Street Fighter III. The idea is that the moment a move is about to connect with your hitbox, you can hold back to “parry” the move and counter it wth attacks of your own. This makes it more accessible than the SFIII system as if you miss the timing on the parry you can go into a regular defend which makes it good for new players to get the timing right while experts can hone their skills and timing.

Other new ideas included into the games were Break moves that allows you to cancel themove you were using in the starting frames for quick recovery, A super bar allowing you to do light or strong special moves depending on the amount of power your character has and most interesting of all: the T.O.P system (Tactical Offense Positioning) which allows you to segregate a portion of your health so that while you’re in that region you regain health as well as gaining access to a new T.O.P move to add to your combo repetoire.

The story of the game is pretty straight forward. After the end of Real Bout 2 where Terry saw Geese fall from his own tower to his death, he takes the newly orphaned Rock Howard and raises him as his own. 10 years after Geese’s death Kain R Heimlein, Geese’s Brother organises the King of Fighters: Maximum Mayhem tournament for leadership of the city. Generic I know though during each characters storylines you really do get attached to them as they are all each uniquely developed and created that it really gives an emotional connection with the characters.

With the exception of Terry every single character is original to Mark of the Wolves each beautifully animated both in their characters and in their background settings and it is something that truly stands out when playing through the game. This superb animation gives the game a fluidity that deserves to be in the upper echelons of 2D fighters such as Guilty Gear and Street Fighter III (Notice how I’m mentioning this game a lot?). The music is also something that must be complimented as it is probably one of the most fitting soundtracks I have ever heard in a video game from the operatic choir of Dignity Palace to the raw manly machismo of Invinicible Mask and Destruction Maniac as well as Terry’s theme being a remix of Robert Miles’s “Children”.

All of the above statements would make Mark of the Wolves a good game. What makes Mark of the Wolves truly stand out is the exquisite attention to detail. I mentioned how beautifully each character was animated though it’s more than just that. I have been playing this game for practically every day for the last three years and I am still noticing  suttle nuances practically every time I play it such as the haiku said between Kain and Grant as they face off against each other, the Kim brothers monogues with each other before battling with Tae Kwon Do students from each side cheering their sensei’s on, I mean, I even discovered just today that each characters taunt when done on the home stage causes part of their stage to change so that’s something I can sink another 50 hours of gameplay into trying to figure out. All of this would be pointless though without balance which is always a make or break for fighting games and SNK were so obsessed with detail and technical focus in this game they created the game to be what is considered by many to be oneof the most balanced fighting games in existence.

Garou: Mark of the Wolves is not just one of the greatest fighting games ever made, it is a testament to one companies loyalty to their fans and a willing to take risks that has not been seen sicne the early days of SEGA. The game was released on the Neo Geo, Dreamcast and PS2 as well as on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 points though (I know how to get it for free though) and I apologize profusly for the inadequate review of this masterpiece of a game.

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