Garou Mark Of The Wolves
The Fatal Fury series began in 1991 with eleven games in total across different generations. The first game in the series Fatal Fury: King of Fighters, was released around the same time as Street Fighter 2 the same year. By the time Garou: Mark Of The Wolves was released in 1999, its direct competitor was none other than Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. Even for today's standards, Garou was considered a technical marvel. SNK pushed the Neo Geo console, released in 1990, to its absolute limits.
When Capcom released Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, it was one of the few games released on the CPS-3 arcade board alongside Red Earth among others. To put things into a closer perspective, this was Capcom's most advanced arcade board yet, before they moved on to Naomi. Garou was released on a system that was approaching a decade, outlasting three different Capcom generations. The quality was phenomenal for a console that was expected to produce graphics "up to par" with SF2.
Unfortunately, Garou would remain the last game in the Fatal Fury series. Not in terms of main series or spin-offs, but it was literally the last game in the franchise. The majority of its characters remained SNK and King of Fighters staples, which replaced Fatal Fury as its flagship fighting game series. Several characters from Garou would appear in other fighting games, including Tizoc, B. Jenet, Gato, and the protagonist, Rock.
Rock Howard was the main protagonist of Garou as well as the new protagonist for Fatal Fury as a whole. Much like how Alex became the central protagonist of Street Fighter with Ryu stepping away from the spotlight, Rock filled a similar role as Terry took on a mentorship role. Rock is the estranged surviving child of Geese Howard. His mother, Marie Heinlein, goes missing and Rock receives an invite to a new tournament.
In Rock's story, he realizes that the tournament organizer, Kain R. Heinlein is not only the uncle that he never knew he had, but he also knows the "truth" about his mother's fate. Rock's ending hints that her mother is alive and against his will, he aligns himself with Kain to discover the truth. Terry comes across the two and allows Rock to pursue the truth, knowing he wouldn't be able to stop Rock even if he tried. While other characters have their endings, it's considered by fans to be the canon ending.
It's a shame that the ending for Garou Mark Of The Wolves ended in a twenty-year cliffhanger. As mentioned, Garou was the final game in the series although SNK director Nobuyuki Kuroki had expressed interest in developing a proper sequel. With the latest "Team Garou" added in King of Fighters 15, the future does seem bright. Personally, I'd want the game to follow the Fatal Fury formula over the King of Fighters format.
Garou's gameplay follows the iconic four-button layout. Light attacks and heavy attacks are separated including evasion rolls and defensive tactics. Unique to Garou are the "T.O.P system" and the "Just Defense system." Before each match, the player can select a section of the life bar to activate T.O.P. Upon activation, the player's damage increases as well as granting them access to their T.O.P move, a unique attack that becomes a core part of their gameplay for some players. Just Defense is simply guarding an attack just before it lands, giving better benefits for doing so.
There are other advanced techniques that are included in Garou such as "feint canceling." Each character has two attacks they can "trick" their opponents into baiting as they use the start-up animations of an attack but not the full animation. These are similar to the "fake fireball" in some versions of Street Fighter 2, but certain moves have their frames canceled by using these "feints," hence "feint canceling." For advanced levels of Garou play, this is valuable to learn but it's notoriously difficult to pull off consistently. Learning this makes certain characters an undisputed threat. I couldn't pull one off consistently during recording so here's a clip of when I could, once upon a time...
Overall, Garou Mark Of The Wolves is a piece of history well worth the "five stars" and then some. The PS4 port is near-arcade perfect and comes with several gallery images for those interested in the "behind-the-scenes" aspect. The physical version of the game also includes a reversible cover that's closer to the original box design. If you haven't played any game in the Fatal Fury series, Garou is more of the "dark side" of the moon. Most of the craziness from the series is subbed for a rooted, urban vibe. It had an aesthetic that very few games had at the time, leading toward later SNK titles.
I'm not going to hold my breath for any news surrounding the fate of the series during EVO. Fans can dream that a proper sequel will one day happen. Right?
Garou Mark Of The Wolves is on the PS4.