Back in 2018, SNK released a surprising little game called SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy. This game brought the best, biggest and brightest ladies of the SNK shared universe together to go head-to-head in fast-paced fights. But surprisingly, that game was actually the spiritual successor to an often overlooked game for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, SNK Gals’ Fighters. And to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Neo Geo, SNK has brought this pocket sized pummeler to the Nintendo Switch.
It’s impossible to review SNK Gals’ Fighters without first acknowledging that it is what it is. It’s a Neo Geo Pocket Color game from the year 2000, so it’s important to be aware of that when going into it. The game is a one-on-one two button fighter with a fairly limited roster of characters. SNK Gals’ Fighters brings in some of the series' greatest female fighters to join the fray. There are characters from King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown and more. Naturally, my favorite to play as is SNK mainstay, Mai Shiranui, but I also enjoyed playing as Shiki, who hadn’t been in many games prior to this one.
You’ll only start with eight characters, but as you play through the Queen of Fighters mode, you’ll find a couple more will join the roster. The plot, like most fighting games, is pretty simple. The mysterious Miss X is hosting a tournament where only women can compete, and the prize is a magical talisman capable of granting any one wish their heart desires. Whichever character you pick will fight against every other character in an attempt to take down Miss X and grab that talisman for themselves. SNK Gals’ Fighters is pretty silly and campy with this storyline, so the wishes are all over the place. Some of the women want to remove a powerful curse or find their way back home, while one just wants a bigger cage for her hamster to live in. At the end of each Q.O.F. mode, each character has a unique ending and these are all pretty fun to watch through.
Beating SNK Gals' Fighters with a single character will unlock Yuki from King of Fighters. Beating the game with the eight original fighters will unlock Whip, who acts as the arcade mode’s mini-boss. And if you want to play as Miss X herself, you can collect all of the unique items in the game. Items are rewarded for fulfilling certain win conditions like winning a fight without losing any health or defeating Mai Shiranui with a special move. Of course, if any of these conditions prove too challenging for you, Miss X will also be unlocked if you do 100 battles. Thankfully, this isn’t too difficult as beating the Q.O.F. mode with all of the characters takes care of most of that work.
The battles themselves are fairly substantial. SNK Gals' Fighters uses a chibi art style for all the characters that ensures it’s always clear what’s happening on the screen. The sprites themselves look great, which is natural for an SNK game. I have a rather large fondness for the late 90s and early 2000s style spritework you see on handhelds, so visually this game gets extra points from me. Sometimes a character’s hands or feet will get cartoonishly big during the animation to create a clearer hitbox. Every character has their own special skills and battle strategies, with most of the moves being easy enough to pull off. Most of the complicated moves are either a quarter circle forward or back and the punch or kick button. Since it's just a two button fighter, it never gets too chaotic. Meanwhile, each stage is distinct from the carnival to the hot springs. There’s not much going on in them, but they each feel distinct and help the game’s overall aesthetics.
Speaking of the visuals, you’ll quickly notice that since this game was originally released on a handheld, rather than scaling and stretching the sprites to modern screen sizes, the entire game is placed inside of a virtual Neo Geo Pocket Color that in itself is surrounded by a black screen. This means that SNK Gals' Fighters only takes up a small percentage of the total screen. I found this a little bit more jarring when I was playing on my TV, but unsurprisingly, it feels right at home in the Switch’s handheld mode. If you want to battle a friend in 2P Versus mode, the game even creates a second Neo Geo Pocket Color and lets you play the Switch sideways, with each player using an attached joy-con.
One of my only complaints is that there doesn’t really seem to be any sort of back button. If you click the Queen of Fighters mode, pressing either button selects your character, with the button you pressed determining which color costume you want to use. Even if you close the program entirely, it picks up right where you left off when you reload it, which in itself is pretty cool. That said, this new Switch version has a few extra features like a rewind function that can help take you back a certain amount of time, as well as an option to simply reset the entire game. These additions are greatly appreciated and really make the game feel like thought and care was put into the Switch version rather than just throwing the ROM onto the eShop.
If you’re looking for a brand new fighting game experience to dive into, SNK Gals’ Fighters definitely isn’t going to be it. But overall, I enjoyed SNK Gals’ Fighters. It’s a cute and charming little fighting game with easy to pick up and play controls, and I had a great time playing through each character’s campaign and taking in the simplistic, but endearing storylines. I can’t say that SNK Gals’ Fighters is a game for everybody, or that you’ll be coming back to this one for a long time. But if you’re a fan of retro games and happen to enjoy the fighting genre, this is a great little addition to any collector’s library. I see this game’s release on the Switch as a fantastic way for SNK to preserve their history in video games, and it gives modern audiences a really easy way to play this more obscure title. The Switch version handled things well with a cool head to head mode, and you can even access the entire original instruction manual for the game. For a digital port of a 20 year old title, they really made this the best experience they could. I would love to see SNK have more of their titles available digitally like this, and I think it opens up the market for other companies to do the same. I certainly wouldn’t complain if Bandai Namco wants to port over some of their old WonderSwan games.
John reviewed SNK Gals' Fighters on the Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.