Xbox Live Arcade is great one thing; determining which games have truly stood the test of time. Some games such as Street Fighter II, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, and Pac-Man have all found a home on Microsoft's download service, while other unfortunate titles are exposed as the menial timewasters that time has long forgotten. Unfortunately, Fatal Fury Special falls squarely into the second territory.
Most XBLA fighting games suffer from the same problem; simply, the X360 controller is not suited for 2D fighters. The analog stick is too finicky, and you might as well play with your feet if you want to try and use that sorry excuse for a d-pad. While other fighters such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat had an adjustment threshold, Fatal Fury's is completely absent. Pulling off precision moves in this game is an exercise in frustration. Even simpler special moves like quarter-circle motions are completely hit or miss on the 360 pad. Good luck trying to pull off more intense moves like Joe Higashi's tornado, or any of the charging moves.
Back in my more innocent gamer days, I was quite the connoisseur of 2D fighting games, and could hold my own against any comers in the arcade. Maybe it's just that time has eroded my skills, but Fatal Fury seems obscenely difficult. Try playing on normal difficulty, and just try to make it past the third opponent before you run out of the generous four continue limit. The CPU has no problem whipping off special moves or throws. Worse still, there seems to be a weird delay when you start a special move that the CPU doesn't have to contend with. Even on the easiest difficulty I was only able to get about halfway through the game.
Fatal Fury's hook back in the day was that you could fight in two planes as opposed to Street Fighter's one. With a push of the right trigger, you'll jump from foreground to background or vice-versa. Some stages have hazards in the background, adding an extra layer of strategy. Of course, the CPU uses this to its full advantage, giving it another method of executing its cheap onslaught upon you.
Online play fares better, mostly because your opponents are handcuffed by the same horrible controls that you are. Good luck finding anyone to fight against though. I attempted on four different occasions on different days to find an opponent to fight against. Twice, I simply could not find a match, period. The other two times, I played the same opponent. There's an achievement that you can get after 100 online victories. Yeah, have fun with that.
As a gaming antique, Fatal Fury fares alright, mostly because of its goofy character designs. My favourites include Terry Bogard, a guy who looks like he should be working at Petro Canada part time; Mai Shiranhui, a scantily clad female who yells 'me bouncy' after each victory; Cheng Zinzan, a chubby guy who smacks his ass as a taunt. The character's art design is still solid, and the backgrounds are creatively inspired as well.
Also, let's not forget the wonderful typos that are typical of Japanese to North American ports from the mid 90s. As soon as you see a character exclaim "What a tough!" or see Terry Bogard say that "I'm in the pink today" after a victory, you can rest easy knowing you at least got a cheap laugh for those Microsoft points.
On the audio front, Fatal Fury's ultimate claim to fame is the horrendously over-enthusiastic announcer who has ingested far too many espressos. The character voices all sound pretty muffled too. At least the music is fairly catchy.
Fatal Fury Special is not worth the points to download. The game is tougher than a two dollar steak, and has aged about as well as milk left behind a radiator for a month. This game has officially robbed me of my childhood innocence.