Takara’s Dead Heat Fighters series: Garou Densetsu 2

There may only a month between Takara’s first pocket fight-em-up and their Japan-only mini version of Garou Densetsu 2, but it’s clear from the outset that they both had very different priorities during development, with this second outing definitely being the more conservative of the two.

So while Garou Densetsu 2 still has a very welcome and easy to activate cheat code to play as all four bosses (just press select three times on the Takara logo screen) that’s absolutely it as far as extras go, with no made-for-GB special characters or any event graphics beyond cuter versions of whatever was already in the arcade original. Another thing worth noting is that this a port of Garou Densetsu 2 as opposed to its all round superior 1993 sort-of remake Garou Densetsu Special, meaning it’s missing all of the extra characters and zippier gameplay of what was then the most recent version of the game. The dual-line system is also conspicuous by its absence, leaving Garou’s fighting to stand on its own merits without any of the gimmicks found SNK’s original.

But while that may be a short paragraph full of negatives there are more than a few potential explanations behind these things – bringing the total character roster up from 2’s twelve to Special’s sixteen may have simply increased the cart’s ROM size beyond Takara’s budget at the time, and while variations of the dual-line system were definitely Garou’s “thing” all the way up to Real Bout 2 it was always more of an interesting sideline rather than an essential reinvention of the wheel. So while this port doesn’t feel as complete as Nettou Samurai Spirits did at the end of the day there’s no real harm done either.

Once you start playing you soon see why all these frivolous extras were removed, and that’s because it’s clear all of the team’s efforts went into making sure the core game was as good as it could possibly be. As with Nettou Samurai Spirits the sprites are crisp and well animated with bags of character, and a strong black outline makes the fighters easy to keep track of even when things get hectic. Iconic poses are all present and correct, such as Mai’s fan-between-teeth crouch animation and Terry’s victorious hat-flinging, and these little touches all come together to make Garou Densetsu 2 feel like a familiar and expressive experience even when it’s played out on such a small scale.

Then there’s the locations, which through something that can only be described as voodoo magic either retain their classic scrolling backgrounds (Terry and Andy’s stages for example) or have a neat parallax effect that adds a bit of depth where you would have expected there to be none. It’s not much but it’s enough to really breathe some life into the game and coupled with the wonderful character animation makes things seem more exciting than they would have been otherwise. The same can be said for the speech bubbles that accompany win poses and certain special moves – they aren’t especially clever or fancy, but they’re a nice little touch that help the GB version keep some of the spectacle of it’s visually stunning arcade parent without getting in the way of the action

So while Garou Densetsu 2 isn’t as outwardly flashy as its Samurai Spirits stablemate it’s clear that the effort’s all been concentrated where it matters, and the result is a tight and responsive game that’s representative of the arcade original but never makes the mistake of simply trying to copy it for copying’s sake. Polish it off with Super Game Boy borders and two player battling either via GB link up or two SNES controllers and Nettou Garou Densetsu 2 becomes a solid and entertaining little fighter that’s more than worth the next-to-nothing it currently goes for.