It’s an eye-catching title, isn’t it? Aggressors of Dark Kombat ($3.99) came out in 1994 for the NEOGEO, and by then Mortal Kombat would have been scorching hot. So why not? Why not use the word ‘Kombat‘ in your fighting game title? More’s the better since it fits a cute scheme where the initials of the game fit the initials of the developer, ADK. Of course, this is just the English title. Over in Japan, the name is Tsuukai Gangan Koushinkyoku, which translates to “Thrilling Intense March“. Whether it’s ‘Aggressors‘ or ‘Intense‘, this game wants you to know right up front that it’s going to be exciting. Talk is cheap, though. How is the game itself?
Before Street Fighter II arrived and laid down the clear template that most 2D fighters would follow for the next few decades and counting, there was a lot of experimentation in the one-on-one fighting genre. Some were similar to Street Fighter II, treading in the footsteps of the likes of Yie Ar Kung Fu and Karate Champ. Single-plane action, usually with at least a couple of attack buttons and jumping mapped to up on the stick. But there were other ideas for how things could go, and one such was the arena fighter. In these games, you could move in and out of the screen in a manner similar to beat-em-ups like Renegade and Double Dragon. If there was jumping at all, it would typically be mapped to a button of its own. Games like Violence Fight and Pit Fighter used this style to varying degrees of success, and it wasn’t an incredibly unusual template to work from at the time. After all, scrolling beat-em-ups were all the rage. Maybe there was something to this third dimension of movement thing?
The thing is, by the time Aggressors of Dark Kombat arrived in 1994, this type of fighting game had become exceedingly rare. Well, outside of wrestling games, anyway. 3D fighting games would soon bring this kind of movement back into vogue, but we weren’t quite there yet. The closest to this mechanic being in play in a popular fighter was Fatal Fury‘s use of multiple planes. But the NEOGEO had plenty of conventional fighters at this stage, so why not try something different? That’s what ADK did with Aggressors of Dark Kombat, and I can’t exactly say it was wrong to try. Aggressors of Dark Kombat has a lot of issues, but it’s certainly distinct and it’s honestly not entirely un-fun.
There are eight different fighters to choose from here, mostly fitting the theme of street combat. You’ve got a button for punches, a button for kicks, and a button to jump. Fights take place in arenas that aren’t much longer than the usual fighting game stage, but allow the fighters to move in and out of the screen a fair bit. There are also sometimes weapons laying around that you can make use of, along with some destructible stage elements. Spectators might even toss a weapon in now and then, because people are like that. Players have access to a speedy dash by tapping or double-tapping the stick in the desired direction. Along with your standard array of attacks and special moves, you can also grapple your opponent by getting close and hitting both attack buttons at once and pushing any direction, like in a wrestling game. Matches consist of just a single round, but the fighters have multiple meters of health to work through.
As with many fighting games of the era, you have a meter at the bottom of the screen that fills up as you fight. This is known as the Crazy Meter, and when it fills up you can use your character’s Crazy Attack. If you land this attack on your opponent, you win. It doesn’t matter how much health they have left. Match over. This is where the aggression or intensity comes in, I suppose. This is a game that really does favor the aggressor, because if you can get your meter topped off first and catch your opponent off-guard, you win. Mastering grappling is also a key to victory, but even more important is learning how to escape from grapples. And this is where the first problem comes in with this game in its mobile form.
At some point, all SNK fighters become extremely frustrating to play in single-player. SNK bosses are a trope in the fighting game community for a reason. That usually kicks in with the final boss, though. You get to have your fun up to that point, and after that you really need to make no mistakes if you want an ending. Aggressors of Dark Kombat starts getting annoying a lot earlier. After you’ve gotten a few rounds in, the CPU opponent starts making use of those ever-so-handy grapples. The timing for countering grapples is very tight, and until you get it down pat you are going to hit a complete wall when this happens. Even once you do, it’s not terribly fun. This isn’t the greatest of fighters even when you’re playing against another human, but if you’re stuck with the CPU it’s really nasty.
That’s going to be the reality for most mobile players, though. Unless you have the extra external controllers and set-up for multiple players on a single device, all you’ve got is single-player. It’s really hard to recommend this game with that in mind. I’ll also note that those playing with virtual controls are going to have a real job ahead of them since the game relies heavily on things like light taps, heavy pushes, and dexterous use of the stick. Between the tricky touch controls and rude computer opponents, you’re going to be in for an unpleasant time. Those with an external controller can step around the control issues but still have to deal with the jerk CPU. Even flicking the difficulty settings down doesn’t help a ton. You just have to stick with it until you become an absolute pro Aggressors of Dark Kombat player. Something for the resume, at least.
Ah, it’s time for the boilerplate ACA NEOGEO talk. You get the usual array of modes here. The international and Japanese versions are available, with the Japanese one giving you some blood here and there for extra INTENSITY. There’s a Score Attack and Caravan mode with their own online leaderboards, though the game isn’t really well-suited to such things. As mentioned, you can use an external controller to play if you want. Hamster has loaded the game up with the typical options for video, controls, and so on. The emulation is spot-on. It’s hard to fault the effort here, it’s just that the game itself isn’t a great fit for the challenges of the mobile format. I really do wish some form of online multiplayer could be sorted though. Even local device-to-device wireless play would be welcome.
Aggressors of Dark Kombat is not a great fighting game, but it is a really interesting one. I recommend checking it out if you want to play something unusual in the genre, but I can’t really recommend this mobile release being the place to do so. It really screams for multiplayer, and the touch controls just aren’t up to the unique demands of the game’s quirky systems. The price is certainly more than fair, so if you want to take a silly punt on it I won’t tell you not to. But I think for most people, the cheap CPU opponents and awkward virtual controls are enough for me to advise giving this one a pass.