The Game Boy was never considered a prime machine for fighting games. Its humble hardware managed puzzlers and barebones platformers well enough, but fighting games demand snappy animations and responsive inputs; Nintendo's pocket player could promise neither. Even the Game Boy port of Street Fighter II, a popular title by the king of fighting games, is a struggle to enjoy due to the immense input delay.
Enter SNK. Ever the second fiddle to Capcom, they came into the Game Boy market with the enthusiasm of a younger sibling determined to one-up big bro. Throughout the mid-1990s to early 2000s, SNK released one great Game Boy fighter after another — King of Fighters '96 and '97, Fatal Fury, Battle Arena Toshinden. While those games never got the big sales numbers they deserved, this legendary run of titles produced many of the Game Boy's very best fighting games.
Yet, at the same time, and unbeknownst to all but the most dedicated fighting game fans, a bootleg game developer was creating some of the most hardcore fighting games the Game Boy would ever see.
The King of (Unlicensed) Fighters
Vast Fame was a Taiwanese bootleg game developer that produced and sold several ports, clones, and ROM hacks from 1997 to 2003. Sometime in the early 2000s, Vast Frame's team had picked apart the SNK game fighting engine, putting together a version of the engine that they could use to make original fighters for the Game Boy Color. From 2000 to 2002, Vast Frame released three fighting games for the Game Boy Color with this engine: Queen Fighters 2000, Super Fighter 2001 Alpha, and Soul Falchion.
Vast Fame games were only released in Taiwan and Southeast Asia, and since they infringed on multiple trademarks, they were only available in limited quantities. Many of those who ran in bootleg gaming circles had heard of these games, but only a rare few had ever played them. Unlike most bootleg games from that era, which are available online as ROMs and can be booted in an emulator, Vast Fame's trio of SNK knockoffs were impossible to rip. This meant you could only play them if you had one of the (incredibly rare) original cartridges.
The issue was that Vast Frame had implemented very strong copyright protection to keep other devs from copying their game engine (the one they themselves had stolen from SNK). That same protection also made it very difficult to dump ROMs of these games, much less run them, even on original Game Boy hardware.
But in 2022, Taizou Hori from Handheld Underground released ROM dumps of these three long-lost gems. Taizou had obtained copies of the cartridges way back in 2012, but it took a full decade before he was able to crack the protection.
The SNK Games That Aren't By SNK
As a fan of fighting games (even though I'm terrible at them), I had to see these games for myself. The screenshots available online are impressive, especially considering how basic the sprites and animations for the official SNK Game Boy fighters were. But I was skeptical — the last time I'd seen such detailed sprites in a Game Boy fighter was Street Fighter II.
These games blow any other fighting game on the Game Boy out of the water.
Queen Fighters 2000 is a sprite-swapped port of SNK Gals' Fighters, which was released in 2000 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color. For those who don't know, the Pocket Color was much, much more powerful than the Game Boy, which makes this port so impressive.
Somehow, Queen Fighters does what Capcom and SNK couldn't — offer detailed sprites and animations at full speed. The graphics are as good as any you'll find on the Game Boy, yet the game runs fast and with the snappy, responsive controls that made the official SNK fighters so great.
Vast Frame followed that triumphant debut with Super Fighter 2001 Alpha, a King of Fighters '99 clone that also, for some reason, includes a sprite-swapped version of Morrigan from Darkstalkers.
The final game, Soul Falchion, is a blatant Soul Calibur rip-off with weapon-based fighting that borrows heavily (read: stole) from Samurai Shodown and The Last Blade. Not only does it look and play great, the coding wizards at Vast Frame somehow managed to implement working multiplayer over the Game Boy Game Link.
If you want to learn more about the Vast Frame "SNK" fighters that were almost lost to history, and you have 20 minutes to spare, check out this great video by YouTuber S1tka.