Fatal Fury's Legendary Wolf is joining Smash, but who is he and where did he come from?
On September 4th, the Nintendo Direct announced the fifth downloadable character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard. This announcement saw a few different types of reaction, ranging from “finally it’s about time!” to “nobody even knows who this is, why did you waste a slot on him?” It’s easy to understand that Terry is not exactly a household name in this corner of the world. But it should be noted that Terry Bogard was an important character in the early days of fighting games, and his creators have been key contributors to the video game industry from the very beginning.
SNK was founded in 1973 as Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation by Eikichi Kawasaki and based in Osaka, mostly dealing in hardware and software development for other companies around Japan. In 1979, Kawasaki saw how much money the coin-op arcade business was starting to bring in, and decided to make the development of arcade games a secondary focus of the company. Their first productions were the vertical scrolling shooter Ozma Wars in 1979 and a maze game called Safari Rally in 1980, but neither of these titles really made the splash they had hoped for. In 1981, they saw their first hit with the release of Vanguard, a side scrolling space shooter that exceeded all of SNK’s sales expectations, especially in North America.
Vanguard’s success made it official, SNK was going to fully enter the world of arcade development. They dropped all of their other focuses and set up a western branch in Sunnyvale, California. From 1979 to 1986, SNK managed to develop a total of 23 arcade games, including titles like Mad Crash and Athena, as well as what is considered their standout title of the era, Ikari Warriors. They were lining their pockets with arcade successes just as they’d hoped, but new and exciting possibilities were opening up elsewhere in the industry.
While arcades had been and were continuing to be a major source of profit, the home market was also proving to be a lucrative one. In 1985, SNK officially applied to become a third party licensee for Nintendo’s Famicom and NES, as Nintendo had seemingly been the only console manufacturer to navigate their way out of the 1983 industry crash relatively unscathed. This allowed them to produce home versions of their most popular arcade titles like Ikari Warriors. When arcade profits began to dip just a little bit, they also began to experiment with making games exclusively for the NES resulting in titles like Baseball Stars in 1989 and Crystalis in 1990.
When the Super Nintendo released and was met with competition from both the Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx-16, SNK decided that instead of picking a side in the newly developing console wars they would simply turn their focus back to the arcade market, hiring third parties to port their titles to home consoles. It was during this time that SNK would go on to revolutionize the arcade scene with their newest invention: the Neo Geo MVS.
In the early days of arcades, most cabinets could only hold and display one single game. With the Neo Geo, SNK developed a cabinet that could hold and switch between one, two, four, or six separate games using a cartridge style system that could load in and replace new games with ease. Arcade owners loved the MVS, it required less floor space and was overall a cheaper option than buying most other traditional cabinets at the time. Eventually SNK also realized they were leaving money on the table by ignoring the demographic wishing for arcade perfect ports that could be played at home, and decided to act on this in 1990 with the Neo Geo Advanced Entertainment System, or AES for short.
The AES was billed from the start as an “enthusiast” console, with its specs dwarfing the competition in most ways. The SNES may have had more RAM, but otherwise it met or exceeded the remaining specs of the competition. The AES even came with a massive joystick controller that was a full foot wide to really give it that home arcade feel. It was launched at a hefty price point of $600, which after a few months was dropped to $400, and the games themselves could cost up to $200 each. Despite its high price of entry the AES earned itself a sizeable fanbase that’s still dedicated to their love of the system in certain parts of the world today.
So with the AES having become the enthusiast experience they had hoped, and the arcade industry still going strong with SNK at the top, how does this lead to Terry Bogard? Well, that all comes down to the fact that in 1991 the face of arcade games changed forever. Capcom released Street Fighter II, revolutionizing fighting games into the genre we know today and driving more people into arcades than ever before. The game was everywhere, making a ton of money, and SNK realized that if they wanted to stay on top they would have to release their own response to Capcom’s new giant. Seven months later that response hit the scene: Fatal Fury had arrived.
At a glance Fatal Fury is very similar to Street Fighter in terms of art style and even the archetypes filled by its playable characters. There are unique features that set it apart from the competition however, which helped it survive amongst the slew of clones that flooded the market after Street Fighter II’s release. One such feature is the ability to jump between two planes in order to dodge attacks, which in turn led SNK to place an emphasis on full screen attacks. Fatal Fury was a wild success for the company, and created an icon out of its main character Terry Bogard.
In the story of Fatal Fury, Terry has joined the King of Fighters tournament alongside his brother Andy Bogard and friend Joe Higashi in order to avenge his father, who had been murdered ten years prior by the tournament’s main sponsor, Geese Howard. After fighting their way to the top and defeating Geese, Terry attempts to save him from falling off the top of his tower only to have his help refused. Geese seemingly falls to his death in one of the most famous scenes to come out of a fighting game story (one that’s even parodied in the Smash reveal trailer), and Terry’s revenge is finally complete. He adopts Geese’s son, Rock Howard, and the two go on to live their lives in peace. Until Fatal Fury 2, of course.
The success of Fatal Fury made Terry a celebrity in arcades seemingly overnight, and he effectively became SNK’s mascot for years. Players loved him for his cheerful attitude that genuinely felt like he was having fun doing his thing, and he’s even become famous for the delivery of some of his iconic lines such as “Hey, c’mon c’mon!” or even more notably “Are you okay?” Over the years his moveset became iconic, moves like Power Dunk, Power Geyser, or Buster Wolf becoming almost comparable to the Hadoken or Shoryuken depending on which crowd you were hanging around.
Terry would continue appearing in Fatal Fury titles all the way up to 1999’s Garou: Mark of the Wolves, in which he would receive a complete redesign but kept the cheerful attitude players had loved so much. When SNK began plans for their big crossover fighter in 1994, aptly named The King of Fighters, Terry was among the first picks for inclusion and has become a mainstay in the series ever since, with his most recent appearance being in 2016’s King of Fighters XIV. He’s also shown up in various crossovers, most famously in the Capcom VS SNK series where he was finally able to square off with Ryu for the first time. Most recently he’s appeared as a guest character in Arika’s Fighting EX Layer, and a gender swapped version of Terry was even included as a playable character in SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy (side note: let’s get this as an alt costume, please Nintendo? Thanks in advance).
Nowadays alongside franchises like Metal Slug, fighting games like King of Fighters or the recently released Samurai Shodown have become SNK’s lifeblood as they slowly make a comeback from the financial difficulties that have plagued them in recent years. Terry is likely to be a fantastic addition to the already incredible Smash Ultimate roster, but he also happens to have a much stronger connection to the creation of Smash than you might think.
Masahiro Sakurai loves fighting games, a lot of his time in the ‘90s was spent in arcades playing games like Street Fighter whenever he had a spare moment. In one of his columns for Famitsu in 2015, he told the story of how one night he was sitting in an arcade playing King of Fighters ‘95, hoping to get some practice against the AI. Eventually he found himself playing against a human opponent and proceeded to grind them into dust with the cold precision one can expect from somebody playing a fighting game at a high skill level. Suddenly he realized that his victory was coming a bit too easily, so he decided to sneak a peek at his opponent. He was horrified to realize that he had been playing against a couple who had wandered into the arcade while on a date, and he was ruining said date by destroying each of them so thoroughly. He left the arcade that night with a bad taste in his mouth.
It was this experience that would inspire him to create a fighting game that could be enjoyed by people of any skill level, whether they had been playing for years or had picked up the controller for the first time. Four years later, he did just that when Super Smash Bros for the Nintendo 64 hit store shelves. Terry Bogard is not only an icon in the genre he helped pioneer, but he can also boast a bigger part in the creation of Smash as we know it today than most other characters could. It’s easy to see a character you don’t recognize and assume they’re just a nobody, especially when it’s a character who has since fallen out of the mainstream spotlight like Terry has. If you’re not excited for Terry that’s fine, but don’t forget that it’s never a bad idea to expand your horizons and learn about something new.