Portable gaming has been around for well over three decades, coming in many forms. While the Game Boy was king, it had many competitors to fight for that crown. One such piece of hardware was the Neo Geo Pocket Color, a small handheld from SNK. While the hardware was short-lived, it had a decent selection of games, including fighting games, a specialty of SNK. One such game was 2000’s SNK Gals’ Fighters, a spin-off title featuring a crossover of several of SNK’s female fighters. Now that title is available for the Nintendo Switch, capable of reaching a new audience. How does it hold up after 20 years? To be honest, surprisingly well.
The concept of SNK Gals’ Fighters is that several of the world’s strongest women are invited to compete in the Queen of Fighters tournament. Should they win, their prize would be a talisman that can grant any wish to the owner. The tournament is organized by the mysterious (yet familiar) Miss X, whose motivations aren’t exactly clear. Each fighter tries to claim the talisman for different reasons: some more respectable, but most just plain selfish and irresponsible. It becomes clear that the various character plots shouldn’t be taken seriously, and that’s to be expected with a title like this. It’s simple, but it works with the style of the game.
Like other fighting games on the platform, the game uses a super deformed style for the character designs. Given the color limitations on the hardware, characters are typically one primary color for their sprite, with white and black to fill out the details. Surprisingly, the sprite work in the game is impeccable, not only for capturing small details, but even the animation frames. Honestly, the animation is easily the most impressive I’ve seen for a handheld fighter like this. Since the Game Boy Advance didn’t release until 2001, it would be quite some time before we see more impressive portable fighting games.
Not only is the animation impressive, but the game moves surprisingly fast, and that speed translates very well to the Nintendo Switch. Despite looking like a pixelated fighter, I was pulling off combos, air grabs, burst attacks, dashes and even canceling as if it were a true arcade fighting game. There’s even a stun animation for beating an opponent senseless. Considering that this was developer Yumekobo’s only fighting game, it’s rather shocking to see how much depth there is. Each of the eleven fighters feel unique with their own combos, special moves, and super attacks. The game even has flashy finishers that show your opponent’s hopes and dreams drift away during their defeat.
Controls are fairly simple, with only two attack buttons, one for punches, the other for kicks. Tapping these buttons will deliver a quick but light attack while a longer press will give a stronger attack. Players will build their “Gal Gauge” at the bottom of the screen by attacking and defending. Collecting up to three stocks, they can perform special abilities like Pretty Bursts, Blow-Away attacks, or Mighty Bops. Using a variety of directional inputs, characters can unlock a large variety of attacks. It’s really amazing to see how many kinds of attacks there are in the game. I was regularly looking in the digital instruction manual to experiment with different combos to link with my normal attacks.
It’s hard to say if this is the kind of fighter that manages to achieve balance among its roster. With my time with the game, I found I was best with Athena, giving me a level of comfort with her moveset. Her ability to jump off walls, nimble movements and healing ability made her pretty ideal for me. With that in mind, I could see how that could easily give her an advantage against other fighters. Even so, many fighters have abilities that can seem unfair, including Mai’s Pretty Burst that resets her opponent’s Gal Gauge. On top of that, there are items players can earn by fulfilling special conditions in a match. These items can give temporary power-ups that can put fights in your favor with ease. It’s unlikely that we’ll see high level play at a big event these days, but I would honestly love to see it.
SNK Gals’ Fighters does offer a multiplayer mode, allowing two players to go head to head with their own screen. A nice addition is that playing in the Switch’s tabletop mode allows for some fun screen orientation options as well. Sadly, it’s only local multiplayer, which honestly feels like a missed opportunity for this port. It would’ve been nice to see the team at Code Mystics find a way to get this game online. Even so, to local multiplayer is nice to have, even if players won’t have their own screen. At the very least, the team does still do a good job with other aspects of the port.
Players will have access to many display options in the Nintendo Switch version. Not only are there several Neo Geo Pocket Color skins to showcase, but there’s also a pixel filter option. You can even zoom in to make the Neo Geo Pocket screen reach the vertical edges of your television screen. Code Mystics even implemented a button mapping option, which was much appreciated given that the A and B buttons are swapped on the original hardware. Of course, the Switch has a built in option for this now, but it’s nice to see the team go the extra mile. Finally, the game offers a rewind option, which allows players to go back about ten seconds. This is especially helpful when trying to earn certain items. All these features make for a very accessible port that SNK fans are sure to appreciate.
When it comes down to it, SNK Gals’ Fighters is a pretty fun fighter from an interesting time. It manages to be impressive both in animation and in it’s deep fighting options. The original release might not have lived up to it’s full potential, but with the Switch, it’s given a second life. It even builds a legacy with SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, releasing almost two years ago. Even though there isn’t any online capabilities, this is still a solid port of an underrated fighter. For less than $10, it’s pretty worth it for fighting aficionados, and is great for fans of games like King of Fighters or Samurai Shodown. It might not have a lot of content like today’s fighters, but it has a ton of charm. If you’re looking to try out a retro portable fighter, SNK Gals’ Fighters is incredibly easy to recommend.