Guilty Party – Retro Redress

Crime – Being a big fan of Garou: Mark Of The Wolves…but only playing as Freeman.

Redress – Play as the other characters and find one I like enough to complete the arcade mode with.

1

I’ve always loved Garou: Mark of The Wolves. Early 2007, I started a new job in Manchester and was on a training course in the city centre. Standard 9-5 hours, nothing exciting…until I discovered an arcade at Piccadilly Gardens. The arcade had two video game machines – one was a Tekken 3 unit, the second was  a MAME emulator in a sitdown arcade unit. This machine had every 80’s/90’s arcade game on it and for 50p a go, I was happy to explore all it’s games. Then one day I came across Garou: Mark of The Wolves. I had heard about this great fighting game, a game that hadn’t been ported to home consoles on these shores and I knew I had to try it. I fell in love with it straight away. Beautiful 2D graphics, slick fighting and a character I became obsessed with straight away, Freeman.

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I love playing as Freeman. Sinister, violent serial killer with special moves named after heavy metal songs? That’s an easy sell to me. Problem is, I’ve never tried to buy anything else. Since I started playing Garou, I’ve always played as Freeman. In that arcade? Freeman, on my lunch breaks and after work. Xbox 360 version? Freeman, offline, online, all the time. So now I’ve got the PS4 version, I want to redress that short sighted mistake. I want to play as the other characters and learn more about this great game. What I’ve done is just experience one aspect of a great piece of art, kinda like buying Master of Puppets and just listening to Battery on repeat.

It’s time to play as the other characters and find out what the other characters are like. Will I find one I like more than Freeman? What can this redress teach me about Garou? It’s time to find out…

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First, I decided to learn more about Garou itself first, before diving straight into the arcade mode. Originally released in Japan via arcades in 1999, Garou made it’s way to the Neo Geo in 2000,  the Dreamcast in 2001, and then to the PS2 in 2005. Only the Dreamcast version left Japan (as ‘Fatal Fury 4: Mark of The Wolves’) and it wouldn’t be until 2009’s Xbox Live release that Garou would get a worldwide release. I think the sparse releases have helped Garou’s mystique; as much as I love Street Fighter, we’ve had loads of new releases and slight variations. Garou was something that was whispered about, you would see glowing references to it on the internet and wonder how you could play it. I bought the Xbox Live version on day of release; I had been waiting two years to play it in the comfort of my own home and was worried that if I didn’t buy it, I would miss out.

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I need to pick a fighter other than Freeman to play as, which presents a problem; Garou’s roster is superb. There is no dead weight here, every fighter is impressive with a unique selection of moves and skills. I decide to pick Tizoc as he’s the obligatory pro wrestler. I usually always pick the pro wrestler character, because I’m a wrestling fan and like using wrestling moves. However, after the first two fights, I start to get my arse kicked – Tizoc is slow and Garou doesn’t seem to be a game where you can really get in close and use throws and grabs.  Gato (above right) in particular seems to take umbrage to my cack-handed playing and beats me down repeatedly. However, I’m enjoying the challenge. As much as I’m struggling, I’m enjoying the speedy action and I feel like I’m getting better. I’m gradually pushing Gato’s life bar down and getting to know the game’s mechanics. I enjoy tough games if they reward the player for developing their skills and Garou is certainly an example of that.

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Speaking of mechanics, I should probably explain them. ‘Just Defence’ is super-important; if you block an attack at the last second, you can recover some health as well as force an opening to attack the opponent. The draw with ‘Just Defence’ is that you can do it multiple times on an attack with multiple hits, if you have the reflexes. There is also the ‘T.O.P. System’  (Tactical Offensive Position), which allows you to use each character’s T.O.P. special attack, as well as recover health and inflict more damage. You pick which third of your life bar you wish for the T.O.P. System to be active in (beginning, middle or end – see the health bars in the above picture) so it plays a part of your strategy. When playing as Freeman, I usually elect to use the T.O.P. system at the start of my life bar so I can come out all guns blazing. With these new characters, I’m using the T.O.P. system at the end of the life bar, so I can fight for my life, a last resort. It’s an interesting feature and one I’m trying to use effectively.

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Another feature Garou offers to a defeated player is the continue service, where you can select an option that will benefit you on your next continue. You’re given a choice between maximum power gauge (so you can use P super attacks from the off), put the opponent difficulty level down, reduce their energy to a quarter of a bar, or just play the game normally. I did decide to play the game normally, without any help…until Gato really started to get to me. Then I knocked his energy bar to a quarter and beat him senseless. It’s a good feature, as it allows newer players to play through the game, without getting stuck on one opponent. Option C is what gets me through Tizoc’s arcade mode, as I struggle on with the game. I get the idea of ‘Just Defence’, but I’m not using it to it’s full potential.

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Sub boss Grant needs more than my full potential, he needs a army to stop him. He’s bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than me and the first few fights against him are painful. Lowering the difficulty level and maxing my power gauge do nothing against Grant. I’ve heard the term ‘SNK Boss’ (basically, a super cheap sub boss or boss) used before, but I’m not sure I would apply it to Grant. He’s more powerful than me, but he seems to be fighting fair. Personally, I think the cheapest boss of all time is Shao Khan from Mortal Kombat 2 on Mega Drive, but that’s because he’s nearly unbeatable, yet only has four moves. I decide to do some research on Grant and learn that, to face the true boss, Kain, you need to average an AAA rating over the course of the game. My average is much lower as I keep losing and using the continue service. As the goal of the redress is to complete the game, I need to get to Kain. It’s time to cut my losses with Tizoc and try someone else. I hastily choose to reduce Grant to a quarter of his health bar, beat him down (and still nearly lose) and end my time as Tizoc.

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So who to pick now? A quick play through the characters on practice mode convinces me to try Butt, a macho looking karate artist whose main enemies are Ken and Ryu’s lawyers. Butt throws a dragon punch, a Haddoken and wears a gi, which surely must have caused him some legal problems at some point. He’s tough though, and I get to Gato fairly quickly. Gato is his usual irritating self, but the matches are closer now; I’m defending better, getting better at blocking and catching Gato with some nice 2/3 hit combinations after he misses his attacks. However, I have to admit to myself that I can’t beat him without the continue screen. I’m improving at the game, but Butt is still too slow for me to complete the redress with. I battle through the rest of the arcade mode again, just to try my luck against Grant again. It’s still tough, but now I can see the openings Grant leaves and strike accordingly. My confidence is higher than it was when I was Tizoc, I just need to find that perfect ‘non-Freeman’ character.

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Looking back at Tizoc and Butt, it’s clear that I need a faster character. Someone who hits hard but is fast enough to keep up with the likes of Gato and Grant, Looking through the characters, I decide the next best choice is Rock Howard, the ‘Ryu’ of Garou if you will.  He’s the son of Geese Howard, the boss of Fatal Fury 1 and 3, and was brought up by Terry Bogard after Geese’s death at the end of Fatal Fury 3.My thinking is Rock will have the speed, moves and pedigree to get me to Grant. However, second round opponent Dong Hwan crushes me with ease. I do learn the value of using my flying kicks wisely though – it’s my go to move in fighting games and my battles with Dong make me realise that I need to slow my attacks down but react quicker when on defense. I need to learn how to counter attack and press the offence accordingly. Another failed attempt with Rock sees problem opponent B. Jennet whup me. B. Jennet is a female pirate who is ridiculously quick and I’m left swinging blindly. It doesn’t help that I keep accidentally activating Rock’s teleport moves, leaving myself open and confused right next to B. Jennet. I’ve made up my mind – Rock isn’t the fighter I need. He’s not intuitive enough for a Garou rookie like me.

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I need someone who is maybe a bit simpler to use. Terry Bogard is the character I have in mind. His special moves are easy to remember and stick in my head (Garou’s special moves are similar commands to Street Fighter II so you can figure out most special moves easily) and fairly powerful. I storm past Jae Hoon and Hotaru, but old friend Tizoc crushes me. The computer knows how to use him – basically use his special moves at every opportunity. I’m struggling too as Tizoc has a longer range than Terry. However, I refuse to get disheartened and develop a more defensive style, hitting Tizoc a few times then moving out of range. This, combined with some well timed super moves, put Tizoc down and send me through to fight old foe Gato. Gato beats me easily in the first fight but I’ve had enough of him by now and pummel him with the Burning Knuckles special move repeatedly for victory. I beat Kevin in a close battle then move on to Grant. Grant’s his usual stubborn self though and I end up reducing his life bar to 1/4 full in order to beat him, just so I can go to bed. The last thing you need when tired is to beat Grant before you can go to bed, given my skills I could be up all night…

The next day, an accidental button press on the character select screen reveals I can select both Kain and Grant. I practice with both fighters; Kain is too fiddly for me, but Grant is perfect. Intuitive moves, powerful, looks like a badass. I figure Grant is my last chance to complete the redress and load up arcade mode. Grant doesn’t disappoint me – only a close loss to Tizoc mars my early fights. Even better, fighting with Grant is getting my fighting skill average up to AAA/S, as it’s easy to build up the power meter by using Grant’s special attacks. Grant also has good range – his standard standing low kick is great for wearing down opponents who try to keep their distance.

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Then I meet Kim Jae Hoon. He’s far too quick for Grant and also has a 14 hit combo where he kicks you so hard. his legs become fire. I’m not sure that should be legal – Kim Jae Hoon is basically hitting you with fire. Not like a fireball – his leg is literally on fire and smashing you in the face. I get dragged into some epic wars with Kim Jae Hoon and though I finally beat him, I know it’s taken me too many goes and that I’ve lost my chance to face Kain. Even more frustratingly, I storm past every one after Kim Jae Hoon, including a brutal beatdown of Freeman.

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Finally…Grant vs Grant. CPU Grant wins the first battle, but by now I’m starting to understand how to play against him. I use Grant’s standard standing low kick and his charging special to beat CPU Grant down rapidly and win the second battle. As the (excellent) ending music plays, I’m left with mixed feelings. The redress is over, but I’ve really enjoyed Garou. I’ve always thought that a great game should be easy to play, but difficult to master and I would happily put Garou in that category. You can happily mash buttons and use SF2 special move commands to play Garou, but to truly appreciate it you need to master a character, learn how to ‘Just Defend’ and adapt to the game’s speed and tactics.

Verdict – I’ve got mixed feelings about this redress. I did find new characters to play as – Terry Bogard and Grant are great fun to use and there are still five or six characters I could try. However, I didn’t fully complete the arcade mode as I didn’t get to face Kain at the end. So I failed overall…but I really enjoyed the failure, if that makes sense? I’ve had a blast playing Garou over the past week and can see myself playing it again. I can’t believe I’ve had a game this good sitting on my PS4 for three months either.

In short, I failed but will definitely be playing Garou again…maybe then I’ll get a chance to meet Kain. Should you have the chance, I recommend you purchase Garou too and see if you can defeat Kain. I’d love to hear about how you did it in the comments below…