Mark of the Wolves is a difficult game to review. On one hand there is the sentimental vote, since this marks the end of an era of SNK. On the other hand, a fighting game in this day and age should play a little better than what we're given.
To be fair, I've never liked the Fatal Fury series. Marred by loose control and thrown together story lines, SNK has never really convinced me that there was a need to continue the series. In fact, as the series went on, SNK seemed to lose track of their better franchises, including Samurai Shodown.
But if Fatal Fury did anything right, it was introduce interesting and well animated characters. Who can forget Mai? Or how about Blue Mary? Duck King, Billy Kane ... the list goes on and on. Though they didn't control as well as they should, each character had a unique style, especially difficult in an era of fighting games.
Enter Mark of the Wolves, a good final effort by SNK to solve the series problems. On the Dreamcast, Mark of the Wolves looks amazing! The backgrounds are fantastic, and like the games before it, each character is animated extremely well. There's no doubt about it, Mark of the Wolves is the prettiest Neo Geo game not on a Neo Geo system.
It looks like a lot of characters chose to stay with the King of Fighters series as Mark of the Wolves appears to be an almost entirely new cast. Where's Mai? Where's Blue Mary? Actually, where are the people I remember? Only a couple of Fatal Fury's decade old cast choose to make an appearance in this game ... but then, that's not all bad.
Fourteen characters litter the screen, all graphically superior to any earlier Fatal Fury incarnation. Each features a long list of moves, some that are pretty weak looking, and some that light up the entire background. While the Fatal Fury games have never been about chained together combos, a little speed in the game could have brought the rating up at least one grade. The slow game play also effects the way the game handles, in much the same way of Virtua Fighter 2 (believe it or not).
But my criticism isn't so much with the speed (though it's a factor), as with the still loose controls found in the game. Sure the moves have been improved, and the game feels better than any Fatal Fury game before it ... but compared to what's currently out in the arcades, or even on the Dreamcast, the game just feels sluggish and harder to control than need be.
Some may argue that this slow game play is actually an advantage, making your time and predict your moves (again, like Virtua Fighter 2), but after playing Capcom vs. SNK 2 it's hard to go back and play a game with such slow controls. Not to say the controls are bad, just a little loose. Though, if you thought the control in Fatal Fury 3 or any of the Real Bouts were good, then you are going to LOVE this game.
Something else that doesn't make a lot of sense to me, even though the characters are all available at the start, they don't all fit on the character display. That is, after you've cycled through the characters from left to right there are still a couple off the screen. Wouldn't it make more sense to either hide them as secret characters, or better yet, figure out a way of making them PART of the character select? (Note: Art of Fighting 3 did this too, and it didn't make any sense then, either).
Perhaps even better than the game itself is the inclusion of an SNK art gallery. Some pictures (and movies) you have to earn, but most are available at the start. SNK's hand drawn pictures and graphics in the gallery are second to none, and I had more fun showing them to my friends than actually playing the game with them. Some pictures are noticeably older, while some are from the new school ... but as an art book, this Dreamcast game is great.
It's just that as a fighting game Mark of the Wolves is likely to be lost in the mix of flashier Dreamcast games. Are people going to play this when they could buy Capcom vs. SNK 2, which looks and plays better? Are new fans who never played a Neo Geo going to be interested in a game that looks five years old? Chances are only die hard SNK fans are going to eat this up, which is both a shame, and a sorry way for SNK to go out.
Mark of the Wolves is good, and highly recommended, just be aware what you're getting yourself into before you blame me for being disappointed. It's not the best of the new technology, but then, it was never trying to be, and at least succeeds at that!