I don’t have a lot of nice things to say as a whole about 3 Count Bout ($3.99), the latest addition to the mobile ACA NEOGEO line from SNK and Hamster. It’s one or two ridiculously poor decisions away from being a really solid game, and its biggest problem is one that is magnified by the nature of the usual format of these mobile releases. It is agitating how many things it did a decent job with, only to flush it all down the drain in what I can only assume was an attempt to fish more quarters from unsuspecting arcade goers. This one won’t be pretty, friends.
While King of the Monsters and its sequel were essentially wrestling games, albeit between giant monsters, there was clearly room on the NEOGEO for a more familiar game in the genre. By 1993, SNK was making some of the hottest one-on-one fighters around, so it wouldn’t seem totally unreasonable that it could make a good wrestling game. The character designers did their job well enough, with ten colorful combatants that wouldn’t look out of place in a real federation at the time. Each of them has a fine assortment of moves, with plenty of strikes and some special moves to spice things up. The graphics and audio are really good, playing to the strengths of the platform very well. It even mixes things up and gives you some street fights from time to time.
In regular matches you can win by pin fall or submission, both of which require you to wear down your opponent’s life meter to have any chance of success. When you’re in other locations, the only option is to beat the opponent to the point that they don’t wake up for a ten-count. Yes, those ones aren’t three-count bouts. Well, it happens. You can choose to play in a few different modes, but most mobile players will only have one available to them. You as a single player will tackle the CPU opponents in a series of battles in order to win the championship. If you happen to have enough external controllers and feel like huddling around your mobile device, you can also do two players against a CPU tag team or battle against each other.
Let’s get to the problems now. The main issue here is the difficulty. This ACA NEOGEO release allows you to adjust the difficulty, but even on its easiest setting, the CPU is an absolute beast once you get a few matches in. It is incredibly aggressive, it will win the button-mashing grapples almost every single time, and if you even think about using strikes it will punish you during the wind-up. It’s not like it’s impossible to win the single-player mode. If you’re tenacious you can find your own cheap, semi-reliable ways of fighting back. But it isn’t fun to play the game like this. Not at all. The upshot is that you get a couple of decent bouts before the computer opponent starts lobbing you around like a beach ball. You’ve got about as much hope of fighting back as the ball does.
Indeed, the only real way to enjoy 3 Count Bout at all is to play one-on-one against another human. If you can swing that, it’s alright. Nothing to go running up and down the street shouting at the top of your voice about, but you can have an okay time. Alas, that’s a tricky thing to pull off in these mobile releases. I really wish there were some other options for playing multiplayer in these games so that I could show more kindness to games like this, but I can only work with what is put in front of me. All the other ACA NEOGEO extras, such as additional modes and options, don’t mean very much when the core single-player experience is as miserable as this.
Simply put, 3 Count Bout is an incredibly poor fit for the most common use case of these mobile releases. You won’t find much joy in its single-player mode due to how quickly and thoroughly the CPU player becomes punishing. The multiplayer options require extra controllers and a means of displaying the game for both players, which isn’t going to be something most can take advantage of. And even if you did, all you would end up with is a middling wrestling game with some nice visuals. Stick to King of the Monsters for your mobile grappling kicks.