I have to confess that I've never played the original Fighter's History, to which this game is the direct sequel, but I do remember it having the honorable distinction of being the only game sued by Capcom for being too much like Street Fighter 2 in the midst of an absolute sea of Street Fighter 2 clones. Based on that information alone, I figured it had to be shite and didn't expect much from it. After giving it a good ten hours or so I'm surprised to say it's actually quite good, though - one of the better fighting games of the immediate post-SF2 period, really.
You can, however, definitely see where the legal challenge came from. Move sets and characters are outright copied with only token variation, and had they not been hosting it on their console SNK might have gotten in on the lawsuit too - the main character, Ray, copies Terry Bogard's move set, there's a Muay Thai guy who looks and moves an awful lot like Joe Higashi, even a Duck King clone in there. This isn't even mentioning the numerous ... uh ... "tributes" to Street Fighter 2, in the form of characters like Jean, who is a laughably swishy copy of Guile. There's also a lot of little touches that seem awfully familiar, like the versus logo before each match, the character select music, and the hurry-up music when someone's life dips down into the danger zone.
Despite the Capcom lawsuit, the game really plays like more of a good SNK-style fighter, like a faster and much less frustrating version of the first two Fatal Fury games (and without the stupid backgroud-foreground plane switching.) Thanks to all the blatant copying, the move sets for most characters are very familiar, so it's pretty easy to jump right in and get comfortable.
The game has a few little gameplay features that actually wouldn't be put into play on a broad scale by fighting games for quite some time afterward. There's a couple of characters who can maximize damage on their throw moves by mushing the button as fast as possible, while the foe tries to break out by out-mushing you - the clown character, Clown, has one of these and it's one of the lulziest throw moves in fighting game history. At least three of the characters that I've seen while playing have air throws. There's also a unique dizzy system in which each character has a certain piece of clothing that is their "weak point", and multiple hits can knock it off, which indicates that they will come up dizzy. This means you get to knock the clothes off of the three lady characters too, which I guess might be an exciting proposition if they weren't all ugly as sin and frighteningly muscular. It's always some really minor bit of clothing anyway, about the hottest the action you get here is watching Marsturius's furry ankle covers get knocked off.
The graphics are pretty "meh" on the whole, but the backgrounds are brimming with animation and even outdo the Street Fighter 2 games in that regard. The music for the most part is mediocre, until it speeds up when one character is near losing, then suddenly it becomes epic ... huh? The real winner as far as aesthetic qualities is the sound effects though, which aren't particularly good, but are frequently good for a laugh with crazy overblown death screams and Engrishy special moves like Sanjay's "Kick of Pwn!"
As usual for arcade fighters, the game suffers from tendency to over-difficulty, and there doesn't seem to be a mode to change it in the test switch, so the game takes some patience to learn unless you have another noob around to trade blows with. If you have a base of knowledge in other 2D fighting games, though, it doesn't take more than an hour or so to really get the hang of.
As far as changes from the prequel go, apparently two of these characters are new, and the two boss battles are new. Don't ask me who the new characters are, I dunno. Karnov is probably one of them? Since I think he was the boss of the first game. It's also pretty epic in itself that Data East made Karnov the central character, I mean who ever thought we'd see this little fat Russian guy again, now suddenly he's starring in a fighting game and even has a couple of cool remixes of his classic arcade game music.
In a way, this game is almost like a primitive preview of Capcom v.s. SNK, considering how it liberally copies moves and elements from both and mushes them together. There's certainly better on the Neo-Geo, but this is actually a very solid and enjoyable fighter despite the blatant IP theft.
* Gameplay Video