The first thing you’ll probably notice is that this final Nettou title is definitely less cute than previous works, but not in a bad way - it thankfully doesn’t feel like they’re trying to mindlessly squish the beautiful arcade version down to Game Boy size, just that they’ve gone for a different look. As we’ve come to expect as standard from the Nettou series the sprites are well animated, clear, and expressive with lots of frivolous animations and even possess unique poses for facing each other when they’re on opposite plains – yep, they managed to keep the line system in there too! These remarkable battles all play out on animated backgrounds with some basic parallax scrolling, making for what has to be one of the most spectacular fighters on the system.
The one downside to all this visual extravagance is that they’ve had to cut out an awful lot of characters to keep the cart size down with the arcade’s basic playable cast of nineteen reduced to just twelve of the most popular pugilists and Geese and permanently knee-belted King of Fighters character Iori showing up as both as secret bosses and unlockable playable characters. You could argue that perhaps these last two slots would have been more sensibly filled by some of the missing Real Bout characters, but it’s hard to grumble too much – when are Geese and Iori ever not welcome in an SNK game? Not to mention that if they had been swapped out the roster still wouldn’t be close to complete and there’d be no reward for beating the game without continuing or any extras to look forward to either.
But why even try porting Real Bout Special to the Game Boy at all when even the mighty Saturn needed a 1MB leg-up to play the game? It all becomes clear when you look at the release date – March 1998. At this point the Game Boy Color, Neo Geo Pocket, and Wonderswan were all at best months away from launching, and the Game Gear wasn’t exactly the go-to format if you wanted to make a game that’d sell more than a handful of copies. So the options open to Takara were Game Boy or Game Boy, and I think they did a fantastic job with the hardware available to them.
SHINJU FOREST BONUS ROUND: Want to access Geese/Iori without beating the game first? Highlight the soundtest on the options screen then press left+A – success! A wild soft dip setting appears! The first one toggles the bonus characters (press start over Billy or Krauser’s portraits on the character select screen), and the others do other nifty things best explained by TCRF.