Possibly one of the best Neo-Geo beat ’em ups that doesn’t have King of Fighters in its name, Garou: Mark of the Wolves has maintained a strong legacy – even before this release there was an Xbox Live Arcade version of the game, and before that you could play with online colleagues using netplay-enabled emulators. The arcade and Neo-Geo releases arrived in late 1999 and early 2000, but even after so many years the gameplay is uniquely satisfying, and just recently I was still enjoying it through MAME on PC (with the help of USB fightpads and TV connectivity, of course.)
Garou: Mark of the Wolves – an overview
For the uninitiated, Garou: Mark of the Wolves is a one-on-one fighting game and a spin-off from the Fatal Fury series of side-scrolling action games. Like all games of the genre, you begin by selecting a character and then either brawl your way through a series of CPU opponents or play in versus mode against other players. On the surface, Garou: Mark of the Wolves can be enjoyed by just picking a favourite fighter with an easily understandable move list and hitting buttons until you come out victorious, or not. However, if you take the time to understand how to play you will find a deep and satisfying fighter.
Battles in Garou are fast and flashy but rarely feel too confusing or “spammy”. The fighters themselves are brilliantly animated and have lots of character, and the stage backgrounds and music have a charm all of their own. Special moves explode with flashes and sharp sound effects, and once your power gauge is full your Desperation Moves are heralded with a black background and quick glint of light before they’re executed. It succeeds in making the player feel good when they try and capitalise on an opportunity and it pays off, and you can have a lot of fun if you’re willing to learn how to play the game.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves – limitations?
Sadly, the PS4 game doesn’t exactly make this easy – there’s no way of reading information about the various gameplay systems (TOP mode, where a character gains perks once their lifebar reaches a certain percentage threshold, Just Defend, where blocking at the last moment can allow for a counter opportunity and life recovery, the application of rolls… I could go on) and so new players may have to go and scour wikis and forums to find out about these systems. That being said, if you’re willing to look into more information about the gameplay you’ll still find that Garou: Mark of the Wolves is as fun as it ever was, and the PS4 version is a joy to play.
Outside of the main event of characters fighting one another, there are a few extra modes and menus in this release – you have the standard story mode, a survival mode where certain perks (more life, more time, increased damage) spill onto the stage to be collected during each fight, local and online multiplayer, and a training mode where you can set gauges, counter states, dummy actions and more. In addition, there’s also a gallery of unlockable art and online rankings. For the price I wouldn’t expect much more, although the online multiplayer options are slightly limited – try to create a match and you will find yourself in a two-person room with the option to invite someone from your friends list or wait for a random player to join. Meanwhile Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike – Online Edition allowed for eight-player lobbies and provided weeks of fun, so Garou could have done a bit more here.
Additionally, the PS4 release of Garou has a number of interesting display options; you have scanline options of varying density (or you can turn them off altogether), there are view modes that enlarge the display or stretch it across the screen, and you can toggle filters for artificial flicker and pixel smoothing. Personally I prefer more pixels and less scanlines at an unstretched ratio for that “pure” experience, but the display options are still welcome.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves – fun and convenient
The gameplay modes are limited and the menus look a little simplistic, but the game is still fun, and as someone who was willing to go through the hassle of connecting my PC to a TV and configuring a controller every time I wanted to play games like this, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Generally, if you want to play Garou, this lets you enjoy the game without scouring dodgy emulation websites or finding additional HDMI cables to switch between. More importantly, it’s still as enjoyable as you remember. If you want something as polished as modern beat ‘em ups, you might be disappointed with the narrow range of gameplay modes, but if you find today’s fighters bloated and want to return to one of the classics, it’s worth a look.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves is available now on PS4 for £11.99