You don't need much to make a great fighter. Sure, it's exciting to rip out the spines of your enemies in Mortal Kombat, but it isn't absolutely necessary to make a match fun. You can strip a good brawler down to its essentials and still have fun.
The Neo Geo Pocket Color's SNK Gals' Fighters is a great example of this. It's a simple, direct approach to the genre that means it's not only accessible for new players, but it's challenging enough for veterans as well. Now that it's come to the Nintendo Switch with a fun new port that feels much like playing a virtual console, is it worth checking out? In a word, definitely.
SNK Gals' Fighters is the precursor to the glamorous SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy that appeared on PlayStation 4 and Switch back in 2018. It gathered together some of SNK's iconic female fighters for a brawl sprinkled with cute costumes and magical girl-like transformations for a glitter-laden fighter. While that game was laden with the modernities that earmark titles on newer consoles like 3D graphics and environments, SNK Gals' Fighters is a 2D 1-on-1 versus fighter that originally debuted on the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 2000.
Now, 20 years later, it's been ported to the Switch by way of the Nintendo Switch eShop in celebration of the Neo Geo's 30th anniversary. As such, it's a stripped-down affair that was impressive for the time, and in many ways still is today. It gathers eight main fighters, all female brawlers from throughout SNK's various franchises, as they complete in the Queen of Fighters tournaments, organized by "Miss X."
You've got Fatal Fury's Mai Shiranui, Samurai Shodown's Nakoruru, The King of Fighters' Shermie, and plenty of other familiar faces plus two additional hidden characters for those who can unlock them. They're all drawn in the "super deformed" art style, so they're tiny, chibi versions of their normal selves created with one or two colors for each sprite.
Despite the obvious technical limitations of the Neo Geo Pocket Color, the game handles like a dream. You can jump right into Queen of Fighters Mode (Q.O.F. Mode), try out a 2-player versus match between the fighters of your choosing, indulge in some training, check out the items you've acquired throughout the game, and adjust in-game options. I'll be honest: There isn't a lot of content here in comparison to modern fighters. But for an on-the-go brawler, this is really all you need.
Queen of Fighters Mode drops you right into the thick of things. The girls must compete against each other in a tournament organized by the mysterious "Miss X," with no rhyme or reason as to why except for the reward for the winner. The "K' Talisman" will go to the victor, and they may use it to grant any one of their wishes.
This mode plays out just like any other arcade course would, with you completing two matches and moving on to the next character after you win twice. Fighting is surprisingly fluid, with plenty of special attacks and combos that are fairly simple to pull off. You can check out the character move list in the manual at the main menu's option list, but it's fairly simple. You're encouraged to string together combos, as the CPU-controller opponents have a tendency to block special moves. For this, you'll need to ensure you string combos together laced with special moves in order to emerge victorious.
You've also got your super gauge at the bottom left of the screen (mirroring your opponent's on the other side of the screen). This enables you to pull off your dazzling super moves, which result in cute animations from your chosen fighter. Even though they are tiny, it's fun to watch Nakoruru, for example, totally wail on her enemy with a flurry of punches and kicks.
Plus, if both characters run at each other during a match, they'll get tangled up in a cloud of dust that's meant to be a funny little button-mashing scuffle. If you keep tapping the buttons fast enough, you'll win and they'll be stunned for a moment. That's enough time for you to pull off a super attack or air throw if you can do it quickly enough, if your character can.
There are various items you can pick up over the course of the Queen of Fighters tournament as well, such as the Hairpin. It will make your enemy's super attack bar fill up slower. The Tattoo will remove 1/4 of your enemy's life force at the bottom of the match. There're several additional items to collect, from a School Uniform to a Family Photo, each with their own unique effects – though some of them do nothing at all.
This can make for a good reason to go back and play through the tournament again to continue collecting items until you have a formidable cache of them. They're fun to experiment with, and even more fun to collect.
There are plenty of fun changes that this port brings to the Switch, but the presentation is the most fun (and important) part. You can press the minus button on the Switch at the main menu to bring up a modern sub-menu with control options, a display selection, the game manual, and a handy rewind feature that can get you out of a jam if you don't want to replay an entire match. It's all easily accessible and reliable with resets unless you want to go home to the Switch menu and come back into the game, but there's really no need to.
The choices of displays are fun to cycle through, because you can change your onscreen Neo Geo Pocket Color to the different color varieties that the system originally came in. I was partial to the transparent blue and yellow varieties. You can also zoom in and out at your leisure to focus on the screen or see the entire system. The on-screen buttons are even functional, should you want to use those instead of your Switch. It's a fun touch that really acts as a stark reminder that we still don't have anything like a Virtual Console on Switch (except for the NES and SNES games on rotation). But it's also a fun throwback and a great replacement for having to drag my own Neo Geo Pocket Color out from time to time to play it.
SNK Gals' Fighters is a pocket-sized triumph with exciting combat, a fun selection of female fighters from throughout SNK's various franchises, and collectible items to keep coming back for. It may be a very short play and there's nowhere near the amount of mods you'd find in a modern brawler, but it's a fun distraction and absolutely adorable throwback that you can throw down a few bucks for on Switch – especially if you're an SNK Heroines fan.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher. SNK Gals' Fighters is currently available on Nintendo Switch.
SNK Gals' Fighters
- Snappy fighter with fun moves.
- Smooth animations.
- Varied selection of characters.
- Fun Neo Geo Pocket Color overlays.
- Useful rewind feature.
- Short story mode.
- Very little content compared to modern fighters.