One of the things SNK is known for is its fighting games. The company has been making entries in the genre for years, with multiple successful series. The funny thing is, it is sometimes the ones that were the smallest or most niche that helped so some unexpected things. Case in point is SNK Gals’ Fighters. You may notice people talking about this Neo Geo Pocket Color, now that it seems SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy has been announced for the Switch and PlayStation 4. It seems only fitting to call attention to all the things SNK Gals’ Fighters did that were unusual and maybe even a bit revolutionary.
Let’s start with the premise itself. Fighting games with all female casts are not uncommon now. Two of the more recent ones are Skullgirls, which has since added male characters, and Arcana Heart. And SNK Gals’ Fighters was far from the first game to do this. There were Genesis and Super Famicom fighting games based on women’s wrestling or anime series that had those sorts of casts. But in 2000, it was one of the first games from a major developer and publisher to limit its roster in such a way and highlight female fighters from multiple series. From my research, it also appears to be the first handheld fighter with only women in its cast.
Its story is as unique as its cast. It plays with the idea of The King of Fighters tournament with its Queen of Fighters tournament. People are trying to fight for a K Talisman that will grant a wish. Okay, this is a typical sort of setup. We see tournaments in fighters all the time, and Dragon Ball has had a history of competing for a wish. It is the nature of the wishes that makes SNK Gals’ Fighters special. This is mostly a comedic game, where many of the heroines want something incredibly goofy. Athena hates her new haircut, so she’s wishing for her hair to grow back. Yuki wants The King of Fighters‘ Iori Yagami to be absolutely miserable. Shermie wants a hamster cage. Akari has no idea what she wants. It can be the best sort of silly, should you choose the right character.
It also offered simplified gameplay. Arc System Works, as an example, offers simplified combo systems in some of its games, such as Persona 4 Arena, which allow you to press a certain button over and over for a guaranteed, multi-hit assault. It also has games where the same inputs will trigger special attacks in different characters, such as with Dragon Ball FighterZ. There is some of this present in SNK Gals’ Fighters. Move lists are limited, with each character having three special attacks, one Pretty Burst attack and two Might Bops. The inputs usually aren’t complicated. And all Pretty Bursts require you to press down, then down at the same time as A and B to trigger. This means less memorization to learn abilities and hopefully an easier time adapting to new characters.
SNK Gals’ Fighters does something else we do not often see in fighting games: item usage. Injustice 2 lets you equip items to characters and impact gameplay. Granted, SNK Gals’ Fighters is not as extensive, but it had a similar system. As you fought in battles, you might collect various items. These can be used to influence the next fight. A picture of Kyo Kusanagi, from The King of Fighters, will make the owner invincible for five seconds. A tattoo will reduce the opponent’s health gauge. Wearing earrings will make you start a match with a maxed out Gal Gauge.
SNK Gals’ Fighters is a game people should remember, even though it was released on an obscure platform. This unique fighter seemed like it did its best to do things that were different, what with its female roster, sometimes silly stories, simplified movelists and game influencing items. Now that it is spawning a spiritual successor, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, it seems only right that we honor the original game for what it was.