It just keeps on going...
Yep, SNK software is still being produced, despite the fact that
the company ceased to be toward the end of 2001. Now under the
Company Playmore, the MVS is still getting support, making it the longest running hardware in history (12 years with
new titles still on the way)... and with all of that, I bring you
to this little part of the review called, "the review". ;)
Its been a while...
I'll be honest, I haven't truly sat down with a KOF game since
KOF 95. Its not that I haven't played any of the years in between,
I just haven't spent the time with each of them that I spent
with 95. I knew 95, inside and out... that is to say, I understood
it. And while I know that it is SNK (well, now Playmore) tradition
to completely revamp the play-mechanics each year and to drastically
alter character selections, it just irked me in the past that much
of what I enjoyed in 95 had disappeared.
Let me elucidate.
Fighters come and go from the KOF roster like cars on the freeway.
One year you find your perfect team and then next year, you're
relearning everything because one or two fighters are missing (or
have been changed to the point of being a different character...
almost). I'm sure you've all experienced this... especially after
98, when the series underwent quite an abrupt change.
I suppose good things do come to those who wait.
Where do I begin... ok.. how about character selection, since I
harped on that earlier. Forty (40) selectable combatants, with 4
members to a team. Yep, you read that right. Playmore have done a great job selecting characters from the earlier years and the later years, plus creating several new characters... so trust me,
there's a team combination in here that you'll like. And speaking of teams, let me say that the teams in 2001 actually make sense...no longer are characters from various games broken up for extraneous reasons. Need an example? How about this: The Ikari Team is now composed of Clark, Ralf, Leona AND Heidern... still need convincing, how about the Garou Densetsu Team (Fatal Fury)... now composed of Terry, Andy, Joe AND Blue Mary. So what? You could get those teams
using strikers in the prior year, right? Well, now they don't have to be strikers... meaning that you can have up to 4-on-4 battles.
Here's how it works, you select your 4 fighters for your team and
then you choose who will be playable and who will be a striker. You have the option of choosing any combination from 1 fighter with 3 strikers to 4 fighters with no strikers (I think the best combination is 3 fighters with 1 striker). The fewer playable characters you
have in your team, the stronger they become (plus, they take less damage)... although, given the fact that you have to fight against more opponents means your chances of loosing to a time-out are far greater. Another thing, the more strikers on your team, the more supers you can store (1 bar if you have all 4 characters playable, 2 if you have 3, 3 if you have 2, and 4 if you have a single fighter). Also, counters and strikers use a super bar to activate while some super moves require 2 bars to use... adding quite a bit of depth to this aging engine. In the end, its almost like they borrowed from Capcom's SF Zero school of thought.
My current favourite team is K 9999 (read: kay-four-nine, winner of the Tesuo Shima look-alike contest), Iori (of course), Yuri (you gotta have one goofy fighter on your team), and Kula Diamond (she's the only
character who I can beat the last two bosses with). Again though, with the sheer number of choices, I often have a hard time deciding who to select and who to relinquish to striker status.
The SNK trademark?
Speaking of the bosses... can you say "HYPER CHEESE"? And I honestly mean that. We all know that Playmore has a knack for creating the gaming-world's cheapest bosses, but up until now, I still believed that Magneto from Capcom's X-Men: Children of the Atom was the cheapest and most difficult boss I'd ever faced in a fighting game... not any more. The two guys you face (Zero and Ignitz) are so infinitely cheesy I find it difficult to think how one is expected to beat them without the aid of the "cheat" option available once you continue (have your opponent start with a third of their bar, start with your special bar maxed, or have stronger characters). If you've played KOF 2000, then you should be familiar with Zero (the guy with the nasty coat of steal feathers), well, he's the first guy you fight and he's in control of 3 strikers. His super moves are devastating, and that's just blocking them, yet alone getting hit. Ignitz, the final boss, performs a super which can kill you... straight out... vamoose... you're history! I'm just going to leave the rest up for you to discover because its nigh-impossible to describe what he does... you need to see it to believe it. I'll just finish by saying that you'll be experiencing your character's pain... ;)
Not too shabby for 4096 simultaneous colours...
Come on, everyone by now should know how a Neo Geo game looks, they haven't really changed in 10 years. The fighters are all drawn well, although some animate better than others. The backgrounds are full of life, but are lacking in detail... its one of those things that don't notice right away.. eventually see, and then ignore. Let's face it, you're here to fight. One thing that is worth noting is that when you perform a level 2 super, the entire background freezes and turns to a film negative, aside from that, you're not going to see any nifty 2D effects.
ASOBI WA OWARI DA!
To be honest, you've heard all of these sound files before...well, most of them at any rate. They're all fairly clear and distinct with little distortion. The BGM this time around is listenable, but nothing truly memorable. Needless to say I'm not keeping my fingers crossed for a soundtrack CD to get released (I still think 95 had the best soundtrack, BTW).
Neo Geo sticks, the best money can buy!
The Sega Saturn may have the greatest control pad ever, but the Neo Geo AES still reigns king of the best joystick ever made. And trust me, I've tried everything and nothing compares to it, not even most arcade sticks can hold a candle to it. So, with the play control as tight as ever, you'll have no trouble pulling off those ludicrous Playmore special-move motions.
So what's it worth?
Well, it WAS worth $290.00 US, but with the immanent release of the DreamCast version only a few months away, I have to wonder if this limited edition cart (only 1000 copies produced) will escalate or decline in value. I think Playmore needs to relax a little on porting their wares to other consoles so quickly... this may sound elitist at first, but try to realize that they're killing their own niche market by releasing a MUCH lower priced version that's practically the same if not better. Would YOU pay damn-near $300 US if you KNEW that a GD-Rom version was scheduled right around the corner on a system that most arcade fanatics have adored since the day it was released? But I suppose that Playmore is after all the revenue they can get... which I can't blame them, that's what this industry is about. On a final note though, I'm glad that somebody is still supporting this system and I hope that it continues.