You might be forgiven for thinking Guilty Gear Petit 2 looks more than a little familiar – a cute handheld version of a more serious-looking arcade fighter, you say? That’s got Neo Geo Pocket written all over it, surely. Not this time! Guilty Gear Petit 2‘s 2001 release for the WonderSwan Color is entirely unrelated and just happened to waltz in as SNK’s wonderful portable was bowing out.
2001 was also the same year that the original Guilty Gear Petit launched on the WonderSwan Color as well. Confused? There’s nothing to it really: The original Petit came out in January, with this sequel arriving in September – which makes Petit 2 sound like something of a slapdash rush job, doesn’t it? But don’t worry, it isn’t: if anything it’s the other way around; the original Petit had a mere seven characters in total on a 16Mb cartridge, while for Petit 2 Sammy really pushed the boat out and crammed eighteen fighters into a lavish 32Mb’s worth of battery backed-up storage space.
Of that roster thirteen are available from the off: Twelve are classic Guilty Gear X favourites (it’s worth noting here that at this point in time even Guilty Gear X Plus was still a few months off and Guilty Gear XX wouldn’t show up in Japanese arcades until the year after) and the other is Fanny, an all-new and (still) WonderSwan exclusive nurse-themed fighter who wields a giant syringe that once belonged to her late mother. Because of course it did. Anyway! The remaining unlockable characters are Testament, Robo-Ky, and “GG” variants of Sol, Millia, and May; leaving Baiken, Venom, and Dizzy out in the cold with nothing more than minor background or menu screen cameos to their names.
While it may be incomplete (and I do love playing as Baiken) thirteen out of sixteen characters present in a handheld game, especially one as beautiful as this, isn’t bad by any means and even though the remixed unlockable fighters may reuse most – if not all – of their standard version’s animations they do genuinely play and control differently and on balance they’re a practical budget-conscious addition to the game, even if they’ll never be as exciting as gaining access to an entirely distinct fighter. Of course any time a developer removes something as significant as a playable character they’ll inevitably risk getting rid of someone’s favourite, but Petit 2’s roster as-is is large and varied enough for the absences to not sting too badly. Petit-exclusive character Fanny feels well integrated into the playable cast and while nobody’s ever going to be found banging on tables demanding she makes the leap to a mainline entry of the series she still comes across as a fully developed combatant; there’s never any feeling that she’s a developer’s in-joke or that she’s been quickly thrown together for the sake of saying the game has something new. I’d be lying if I said I’d rather have her in there than any of the “real” Guilty Gear characters she replaced, but as there’s only one of her and three of them missing the lineup would never have been complete no matter who she swapped places with anyway.
In any case it’s easier than you’d think to forget about this fly in the ointment when the game’s constantly distracting you with such well defined and expressive sprites, looking for all the world like SNK’s top Pocket pixel artists had been smuggled out under cover of darkness to create a cute-portable style fighter freed from the three-colour sprite limitations of their own handheld system. Terry and co. will forever be exquisitely chunky and cheerful but to see similarly sized brawlers boasting different colours for their hair, body, and clothing as well as shading is a real treat: Some characters have four different colours used on their hair alone and the end result is just fantastic.
This effort and attention to detail shows through in other areas too: Every character’s Provoke and Respect taunts are intact and mapped to their own Y buttons (the, uh, the d-pad above the d-pad – WonderSwan’s are a little weird) and those wonderful pre-fight animations are all present and correct as are post-battle victory poses, the alternative background palettes that sound like such a minor addition but make stages feel fresh and new – like they’re being battled on at dusk or in the dead of night – and they’ve even retained the special “No Mercy” (Sol vs Ky) and “Still in the Dark” (Zato vs Millia) battle themes too. It would’ve been very easy for a largely single player Guilty Gear handheld experience to feel like a limited phoned-in homage (or uncharitably, a ripoff) of SNK’s line of excellent pocket fighters, but these small flourishes give the game room to breathe and make full use of both the source material as well as the target system’s strengths.
However even with all of that talent and care behind the game’s development there was one thing they just couldn’t change: The WonderSwan’s d-pad. For those who haven’t had the pleasure; it’s a set of four individual buttons arranged in a cross formation – no problem at all when you’re playing one of the system’s many RPGs, but not really meant for fast-paced fighting. The good news is in practise it’s not that bad; there are noticeable shortcomings when you try to do half-circle motions or pull off a flashy game-ending finisher, but with a bit of practise you’ll do the things you want to do, and you’ll do them on command. If you do find yourself struggling or if you simply value the skin on your thumbs you can always simplify the inputs down to either single directions or easier to execute down/forward or back/forward commands from a toggle in the options menu; there’s no penalty, passive-aggressive comments (“Baby mode activated!”), or marks against you name for doing so, and if you do change to the less intensive inputs the move lists (accessible any time in-game from the pause menu) are gracious enough to automatically change to show you the new appropriate commands too.
Unfortunately a quick glance across my Guilty Gear X and Petit 2 manuals reveals a few characters have a move or two missing, but these are very much the exception to the rule and on the whole if it’s supposed to be there, it’s there; whether that means dolphin-riding, hair-surfing, or Faust’s door attack. The crucial thing is that the fighting still feels right – and it does. So even if nobody is going to be tournament-ready off the back of this game dust attacks, gatling combos, air dashes, dead angle attacks and everything else that allows Petit 2 to play like Guilty Gear is present and correct.
Regardless of what is present or absent when compared to the arcade, Dreamcast, and Playstation 2 versions of this exceptional series, it’s worth remembering that Petit 2 is very clearly an entirely separate entity and not an attempt to force the full-fat experience to run on something that was clearly never up to the task in the first place [coughGuiltyGearX:AdvanceEditioncough] – so to criticise it for not being something it was never meant to be feels unfair. Petit 2’s slender cart still manages to offer individual story modes as well as time attack, survival, as well as that all-important training area, and those combined with the extra characters, the unlockable costume colours, and the gallery images are more than enough for a game that’s intended to be a bit of brief fun. Petit 2’s successes come from identifying the core appeal of a portable beat ’em up and then making sure what’s there all dances to that same tune, and the game feels crisp and bright and zings with energy – just the thing to keep idle thumbs entertained for a short while. Like Takara’s excellent Game Boy “demakes” of Neo Geo fighters and SNK’s own NGPC titles in the same vein, Sammy’s WonderSwan take on portable Guilty Gear isn’t about strict accuracy but capturing the same sensations as it’s bigger siblings, and it gets that exactly right.