SNK’s Neo Geo platform turns 30 this year, which also happens to coincide with the 20th birthday of SNK Gals’ Fighters. Released originally on the super underappreciated Neo Geo Pocket Color, SNK Gals’ Fighters was a goofy take on The King of Fighters featuring cartoony visuals, simplified controls, and a fully (mostly) female roster. Reminiscent of Capcom’s earlier Pocket Fighter, albeit on a much smaller scale, Gals’ Fighters is one of the best single representations of what Neo Geo Pocket Color was. Now it’s on the Switch to help celebrate those milestones, and that’s exactly the kind of port this is — a celebration.
SNK Gals’ Fighters on its own is a bona fide classic. Fighting games have been recklessly crammed onto portables since Street Fighter II, and only the projects acknowledging the platform shift ever worked. Naturally, the platform coming directly from a major fighting game house had the best ideas. Gals’ Fighters runs on two buttons and still manages to feel like a fully fledged 2D fighter of its era. It’s a simpler game for sure, but thanks to distance-based context and some directional input, having one punch and one kick is much less scary than it sounds.
A pocket fighter, literally!
It helps that, like Pocket Fighter before it, Gals’ Fighters has a tremendous sense of humor. The characters aren’t just goofy-looking; they’re full-on motherhyucking goofy. We have things like hammerspace, Looney Tunes-like ordinance, hilarious facial expressions, ludicrously insular inside jokes, and more. It’s as hilarious a fighter as it is competent, making it a joy to play around with even 20 years later. But it helps that despite the Virtual Console-tier price, the extra oomph in this port makes it well worth the eShop purchase.
For eight bucks, I wasn’t expecting much more than an emulator and maybe a fun border or two to trap the low-resolution NGPC frame in place. Instead, what we ended up with is not only great emulation, but it’s also a celebratory nod to Gals’ Fighters’ original platform itself. The border I was expecting is actually a to-scale, high-resolution render of the Neo Geo Pocket Color. But you can also cycle through all the different shell designs that were available. But you can also move and scale the image to your liking. But you can also literally fit the NGPC to your screen and actually press the on-screen buttons to play. SNK and Code Mystics even included the original manual!
To top it all off, because why not, SNK Gals’ Fighters even supports arcade versus-style multiplayer in the Switch’s handheld mode. What this means is that, with the Joy-Con still attached, players can grab either end of the console and play with an individual instance of the game running. Is this an ideal way to play? No, not even a little bit. But it’s totally out of left field, a clever use of the Joy-Con’s dueling button structure, and an adorable nod to old-school fighting game platforms. There’s also a Digital Eclipse-style rewind function that frankly has no business in a fighting game, but considering how SNK loved to have cheatyface AI as a feature back then, it’s nice to have for ramming through story mode sometimes.
SNK fighters always have this Kool-Aid-drinking reputation, like you can really only appreciate the likes of King of Fighters or Mark of the Wolves if you’re a giant FGC nerd. In comparison to the mass market appeal of Street Fighter, perhaps that’s true. But as SNK Girls’ Fighters proves, the King of Fighters universe is as much about having fun and enjoying the worlds and characters within as it is huge combos and intense high-level play. Despite all the retro re-releases we’ve seen lately, Neo Geo Pocket Color has been tragically overlooked. Now we have contemporary access to at least one NGPC classic for the first time in 20 years, and it’s an above-and-beyond approach to boot. Can we get more of these? We didn’t make that awesome emulator package for one game, right?
Release Date: April 29, 2020
No. of Players: 1-2 players
Developer: SNK, Code Mystics
A review code was provided by the publisher.