Fatal Fury Special was originally released in 1993 as an update to Fatal Fury 2 that made the boss characters from that game playable while also adding a few other characters to the mix. These were simpler times, before SNK went character crazy with the King of Fighters series, and taken in that context, this emulation of Fatal Fury Special is still worth playing if you're interested in the history of 2D fighting. New players, however, probably won't get too much out of this Xbox Live Arcade update.
This is your basic 2D fighter for the most part, but the early Fatal Fury games put a bit of a spin on it by adding an additional plane to fight on. You can jump from the foreground to the background and back again, you can launch attacks that move from one plane to the other, and so on. It's a bit cumbersome and seems to get ignored more often than not when playing against another person. All of it works fine on the Xbox 360 controller.
The roster in Fatal Fury Special is quite good, starting with SNK's golden boy, Terry Bogard, and going on to also include Mai, Kim Kaphwan, Duck King, Billy Kane, Geese Howard, and more. There are 15 characters available right away, and you can unlock Ryo Sakazaki from Art of Fighting, as well. Each has a decent variety of special attacks.
This is a good emulation of the original NeoGeo game, and it's worth noting that the Xbox Live Arcade version emulates the home version, not the arcade version. The only real difference there is that you'll select your difficulty when you start a single-player game, and you're limited to four credits per side when playing single-player. The audio is spot-on with the original release, though the graphics have undergone a filtering process, not unlike other Xbox Live Arcade games like Contra have received. The catch is that there doesn't seem to be any way to turn the filtering off and get back to a pixel-perfect rendition of the original game, which is unfortunate.
Online play in Fatal Fury Special is handled pretty well, though it's not without issue. For starters, there aren't many people playing it online. When playing in the US, it can take five minutes or more to find a willing opponent, and you often get the impression that the two of you are the only people in the world playing. Playing at times when Japanese players are likely to be awake nets a few more players, though when you play against players in distant lands, you're likely to get a less-than-perfect connection, which causes lag. The game doesn't beat around the bush with connection-quality lights or anything like that; instead you just get to see their ping time. Once you get up to around 250 milliseconds, there's a noticeable lag between you hitting a button and the action happening onscreen. Anything much higher than that is just unplayable. In our experience, though, we found more good matches than bad ones, when we could find one at all. Of course, your experience depends on your time zone and Internet connection quality.
Fatal Fury Special is a pretty good fighting game, but it's hard to recommend it to people who aren't already familiar with the original. If you're a fan looking for history lesson, by all means pick this one up, because it's a bargain at $5.