Sadly, our beloved Dreamcastís life has come to an end. Youíve heard people say at funerals that you shouldnít mourn the personís death, but instead celebrate their life, havenít you? The same holds true for the Dreamcast. Even at the very end of its cycle, good games are still coming out for it. Segaís little white box is giving you fun, quality games to play till the very end.
Where to begin? The gameplay in Mark of the Wolves seems fairly simple on the surface, but thereís an underlying depth to it that youíll find after playing it for a while. This is one of the more strategic fighting games that Iíve played. The emphasis isnít on unleashing a barrage of special moves, but knowing how to time them and when to use them. Thatís why most of the special moves are fairly easy to execute. Itís just a quarter circle and a button most of the time. There are some tough moves you can use to totally mess up your opponent, but I find that, generally, playing defensively works better. Whatís nice is that, while the DC pad isnít generally too good for fighting games, it works with MOTW without any problems because itís only a four button game. And the controls are nice and responsive, so playing this game is easy, even if you donít have an arcade stick.
The most notable feature of the fighting system in MOTW would have to be the T.O.P. IN system. Itís a pretty novel little concept. Basically, at the character select screen, you choose a zone of your life bar where you want to be most powerful. So if youíd like to be most powerful when you start, then you select the first part of your life bar, and youíll have your T.O.P. right when you start your battle. T.O.P., besides making you more powerful, also gradually raises your life and enables you to use a T.O.P. attack, which is just a little special move that can only be done when in T.O.P. You can also choose how big your T.O.P. zone is. If you choose the largest type, which is one third of your life bar, then your attack power is going to be less amplified than if you had selected one sixth of it.
In addition to the T.O.P. system, thereís also the fairly standard power gauge. Besides having the more ďminorĒ special moves that can be performed at any type, there are super moves and hidden abilities. Super moves are available when you fill up your power bar once and reach ďS Power.Ē Hidden abilities are available at the second level, which is ďP Power.Ē You raise your bar by basically doing any type of fighting whatsoever. Once you reach a certain level, you can perform one of your moves. Hidden abilities are more powerful than super moves, but naturally theyíre going to be a lot more difficult to execute. There are also the ďJust DefendedĒ moves, which happen when you defend an attack at the last moment. Finally, thereís the ďBreakingĒ technique, which allows you to interrupt a special move in the middle of it and perform another special move, which lets you make some bigger combos. Think the manual in Tony Hawk, except more limiting because each character only has one breaking move.
SNK has always been known for having some real cool characters in their games, and MOTW is no different. Thereís a nice selection of fighters to pick from, all with a distinctive style and personality. Of course, there are always characters that are, to some people, more difficult to play as and others who just ďclickĒ with them, but it wonít be too difficult to find the fighter youíre really compatible with. They animate wonderfully, too. The movements are so smooth in this game, everything flows remarkably well, and the characters look really good. The backgrounds are very nice as well.
The thing thatís most impressive about MOTW is the attention to little details. Like when Rock Howardís makes an attack, and flicks his hand through his hair afterwards, or the way that Kevin Rianís little kid sidekick reacts to the ongoing battle. If Kevin gets hit, he winces, if you get hit, he cheers, and he reacts on different levels depending upon the level of the attack. All of this is brought to you with virtually no load times, as well, which is very nice. What I like most about this game is that it really feels like an actual fight. The way everything animates, it really seems genuine. The characters react to getting hit in a convincing fashion, and everything has a kind of fast pace to it. The way that the characters dash back and forth, sliding under the otherís attacks, blocking, and parrying is almost balletic. It really needs to be seen in action to be fully appreciated.
The sound effects arenít too shabby either. The music doesnít exactly stand out, but it serves its purpose as good background music. None of the music seemed too unpleasant, so allís well in that department. Youíre not going to want to rush out to buy the soundtrack, but youíre not going to disable the music either. The sound effects are quite nice, all of the hits sound like the real deal, and they make everything seem more like a ďrealĒ fight. The fact that they kept the original Japanese voices is nice, too.
There are the extra features that you can groove on too. Like Survival mode. Itís a pretty standard feature in fighting games, though a welcome one. However, thereís a unique twist thrown on the standard survival mode that makes this one better than most. Basically, when you hit your opponents, they occasionally drop little icons that do one of four things: they increase the remaining time in the battle, increase your power bar by one level, increase your life, or randomly lower one of the three things that the icons usually increase. So not only do you have to be a good fighter, but youíve got to be alert too, to notice the different icons that are being thrown at you.
One of the things most people will generally agree upon about SNK games is that their artwork is absolutely fantastic. The character design, the backgrounds, everything about the art style is great. This applies to MOTW, as well, and it was nice of the porters to include a gallery mode, with character art, miscellaneous MOTW art, and the art for the endings, similar to the gallery mode in Soul Calibur.