Takara’s Dead Heat Fighters series: Real Bout Garou Densetsu Special

So we’ve looked at the first game in Takara’s Nettou series, and the first Garou Densetsu Game Boy port, now it’s time to fast forward to 1998 and Nettou Real Bout Special – the last of their mini brawlers!

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.

These guest characters become especially important when you consider that the game is so cut down that there’s no intro, no endings bar a generic CONGRATULATION screen, and post-battle screens are nothing more than a reused character portrait accompanied by a single win quote. Takara simply had to make best use of the space available to them, and they sensibly went with the option that gave players a bit of unexpected drama and some extra characters to make use of.

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.

If you’re looking at this as a portable Real Bout then you can only come away disappointed, as there’s too much missing. However when judged on its own merits an original Game Boy game that looks and plays as well as this does - with a whopping fourteen characters to choose from, two player support, and some impressive Super Game Boy enhancements too – Nettou Real Bout deserves to be praised for being one of the most technical and rewarding fighting games on the system, one that can even hold its own against SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket efforts and a fighter that rises above just about any other port you’d care to mention.

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.