Fatal Fury: First Contact Showcases Another NGPC Classic on Switch

The Neo Geo Pocket Color was renowned in its day for delivering fantastic on-the-go fighting and action game experiences. Throughout the device’s history as both the black and white Neo Geo Pocket and later the NGPC, it delivered fast-paced action that may not have looked on-par with arcade hardware or even console ports from years before, but opted instead to use the original games as a framework for the concept and created entirely new experiences from scratch. We have covered the Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection of games (Gals’ Fighters, The Last Blade, as well as Samurai Shodown 2 and King of Fighters R-2) so far and it’s been impressive to see just how well these games hold up over twenty years.

Fatal Fury: First Contact is the least feature-packed of the games we’ve seen ported so far and has a lean roster as well. This means that in theory, it has the least amount of value to offer up, but it does bring with it things that other games have lacked. The inclusion of unlockable characters offers up a nice bit of replayability and their inclusion as versus mode-only fighters encourages multiplayer action. While it may seem odd to not have them featured for single player modes, it is a Fatal Fury game after all and fighters are always more fun when you’re playing locally. You can learn a lot faster when you’re facing a human player than facing the AI since tactics can change more rapidly and it forces you to either become a better player or just get beaten up all the time.

One thing that made First Contact stand out when compared to the full-fledged entries in the series was its use of single-lane fighting. The original games were the only fighters on the market at the time, and really even now, that allowed you to go from either a foreground or background layer in the fighting area to do battle. You could use this to your advantage and kick from the foreground to the background to take a foe out — or be on the defensive and hightail it to another lane when you’re getting destroyed. Taking away the lanes may hurt the game in theory, but it actually allows the pace to be a bit faster since you don’t have the down periods of switching lanes and have to focus on balancing your offense and defense to emerge victorious.

First Contact features a brisker pace than a lot of the earlier Fatal Fury games and feels more in line with the latter-day Real Bout games. Fights are a back and forth affair and you can never rest on your laurels since your ever-building super move meter can result in a single blow slicing away a lot of your health if you aren’t careful. Now, one good thing about the Switch version is that you can just rewind back to a point before you took said move, but that shouldn’t be something you rely upon. It’s fine to do so for things like capturing just the right moment of impact for a blow, but using rewind a lot kills the fun of the experience and you’ll never get any better at the game doing that. Half the fun of is to take a beating and then get better by improving your skills. Since this is a hand-to-hand fighter with projectile combat, you’ll always have to be ready.

One minute you’ll be in hand-to-hand combat and the next you have to evade an attack from above. Then you’ll have to be ready to absorb a projectile, but in doing so, your foe is left open for attack — so you can wind up taking a single attack and then dealing out a big combo or unleashing a super move to chop their health down a lot in short fashion. Of course, you won’t get anywhere just throwing caution to the wind and a good defense opens the door for you to have an even better offense. By blocking and evading attacks, you’re able to take out foes in short order since you’ll be minimizing damage taken, but also able to use early rounds to build up your special gauge to have an easier time in later rounds by unleashing a super move and taking them out. While “SNK Hard” may be a thing for fighters, First Contact is fair with its difficulty curve and doesn’t bombard you with projectile hell or throw too much at you during boss battles.

First Contact plays wonderfully on the Switch. While the Pro controller is ideal, playing on the go with the Joycons does work well. The left stick may not have microswitches like the NGPC’s stick, but it does allow for a comfortable range of motion. I would recommend getting some kind of rubberized cover for the Joycons though as you will wear down the coating over time, and the grippier the surface is on the Joycon stick, the better play experience you’ll have for this game — or any fighting and racing game, alongside 3D platformers and action games. The NGPC’s layout is replicated nicely with the Switch’s layout and you can also choose from many different options to either replicate the original system’s aspect ratio or change things up a bit.

The more zoomed-in view offers the best view of the graphics and is my preferred way of playing whether on the go or on TV. It makes the pixel art shine so much more and you get a better sense for the detail level in the background art with it taking up more real estate. The character art and animation is right in line with other NGPC games — so you have 8-bit art with 16-bit background colors. Unlike most other NGPC games, including the ones we’ve looked at on the Switch, however, there isn’t anything going on when it comes to background movement. There are characters doing things, but no one is actually moving and it gets to be distracting when you get around to noticing it after a while. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s disappointing to see that movement wasn’t put into the background characters to begin with. Animation for the in-game roster is still smooth, though, and things like flame effects help get across how devastating special attacks are.

Musically, First Contact has a simplistic MIDI-sounding soundtrack that evokes the mainline Fatal Fury OST. It does what it can to replicate the depth on display there, but does fall short. Luckily, the sound effect work helps pick up the slack nicely. Punches sound nice and loud, while kicks have a satisfying snap to them from the moment the animation begins until the point impact is made with the body. Despite being over twenty years old, First Contact still stands as a fun, challenging fighter and one that gains a lot from this re-release.

Fatal Fury: First Contact plays like a dream still and while its graphics don’t hold up as well as the other NGPC games due to a lack of background activity, its core action does. The controls are top-shelf even with a normal Joy-Con setup and the zoomed-in viewpoint for the graphics allows you to see more detail in the environments than ever before. The Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection has been great so far, and while First Contact may be the weakest entry of the bunch yet, it’s still a good, polished game. It just shows its age more than the other games – but remains a must-play for Fatal Fury die-hards.