Art of Fighting is one of those odd series that helped to define a genre, yet somehow never managed to become even remotely popular itself. It’s kind of the old-school, 2D fighting game equivalent of former Jessica Simpson hubby Nick Lachey’s boy band, 98 Degrees. Only more influential, as if Nick had then taught the far more successful Justin Timberlake how to sing or how to have lots of sex with gorgeous-but-superdumb pop divas back when they were sane enough to be attractive.
Don’t misunderstand our comparison: there’s no naked Britney, Jessica, or other dim-witted blondage on this disc. Nor is there singing. But there does appear a collection of three old fashioned, flat-as-paper, arcade-style Neo-Geo punch ‘em-ups: Art of Fighting, Art of Fighting 2, and The Path of the Warrior: Art of Fighting III.
The trouble is, that’s actually not a lot of game even for a bargain price. The original Art of Fighting had only two playable characters in single-player mode, moved sluggishly and really couldn’t do Street Fighter II’s laundry even though it tried some things that Street Fighter later riffed on (super moves and taunts, for example).
Art of Fighting 2 is actually a perfectly acceptable fighting game, even though many players hated the quickly depleted power bar, which was designed to limit a player’s use of special moves, but actually limited the fun more. It was while playing this entry that we also decided we liked the odd bonus rounds, like punching a tree or karate-chopping beer bottles. So, yes - it’s good, if not great. It’s also brutally hard, so bring your Nerf controller so you can huck it at the wall when you get punched into a coma for the 20th time.
The third game is actually the most interesting of the three. It came out in 1996 and featured smoothly animated characters that bounce and jive in an almost eerie fashion. It also revamped the series’ fighting formula in ways that made it seem more like a 3D brawler - juggling an enemy in mid-air is more common, for instance. Oddly, this game has never seemed quite finished, as there are bits of story and dialogue missing in several places - not that story and dialogue are really that big a deal in most fighting games, but it’s odd nonetheless.
That’s the end of it, too. Oh, you can adjust the colors of the characters’ costumes and fiddle with the (admittedly good) soundtracks, but there are no bonus features like online play, added game modes, or even old artwork galleries. And that’s what keeps this collection from being worthwhile to any but the most dyed-in-the-wool fans. It’s not that Art of Fighting Anthology is packed with sub-par games; it’s just that it isn’t “packed” with anything. If this were combined with the publisher's upcoming 4-game Fatal Fury collection into one big compilation, the resulting package could be a must-by. But that's not the case, so it isn't.