Anyone who thinks that Playmore is capable of nothing but mediocre ports had best re-evaluate their position. This game was brought to the Dreamcast with thought, soul and affection. Even if the presentation gets a little sloppy at times, I find it difficult to deny the care with which the game was made.
KOF 2k1 was already under incredible scrutiny, even before the port. Having been farmed out to a not-so-well known Korean team, everyone feared for the worst. But Eolith showed their mettle by doing extensive research, hiring a fantastic character artist and keeping Brezza involved with the project. The fact that the game fits so well into the KOF universe shows me that Eolith actually cared about this game. Hire Acclaim to do KOF 2003 and see what you get. Eolith made a game worthy of the KOF name.
The new characters fit perfectly. Making the Striker System optional is brilliant. The gameplay is as tight as always, and the SDMs are ever satisfying. The music…could use work. One or two songs are quite good, but the rest are rather poor. This is surprising, given Eolith’s roots making DDR clones. You’d think they’d have a better appreciation for that sort of thing by now. The backgrounds too, are drab and sparsely animated. But of course, while these elements do detract from the total presentation, what matters most to me is the play. And the game plays damned well. I prefer the overall ‘feel’ of 2000, but 2001’s striker implementation and attention to mechanics may well warrant a higher score.
Enough about the game itself. Plenty has already been said on the subject of the home cart. We’re discussing a port, are we not?
To me, 2001 is the most energy filled and adrenaline-driven KOF to date. The speed, the ferocity of the characters seems to have increased, if only by a little (again showing their rhythm game origins). This is where Playmore has let us down a bit. The loading times aren’t huge, but they’re noticeable enough to break up the momentum that Eolith went to such lengths to produce. Combine this with the lame loading screens, and there you have the biggest 2001 complaint of KOF fans worldwide.
Then there are the synching problems. These are unforgivable. At first you may think your ears are playing tricks. They’re not…every so often, the voice samples will not synch with the action. It’s an error most grievous, and many will feel inclined to immediately dismiss Playmore as a result of it. But give them a chance, will you?
The puzzle mode, unlockable with a play through the single and 3 on 3 modes, is fantastic. I was expecting a Tetris clone or something derivative of another established title. Quite pleasantly surprised was I to be met with an almost completely original puzzle game.
The wells are horizontal. Each battle begins with a field filled several layers thick with colored blocks. You must connect the faces (ie sides, not corners) of four or more blocks of the same color to get rid of them. The player gets a milticolored square of four of these blocks which the character basically ‘hits’ down the chute to strike the blocks below. This system allows heavy use of combos, which build up your SDM meter. The meter can be leveled up four times, the fourth meter being equal to the first three combined. By pressing X or Y you can use a special move, which does different things, depending on the character. Some examples; clear some blocks from your field, add some blocks to your opponent’s field, render opponent’s blocks invisible for a few rounds, lower your opponent’s power gauge level, etc. If you press X and Y simultaneously, you get an enhanced combination of these, which uses three levels. The effect is even more devastating if you use all four levels at once.
After placing several blocks, the well shrinks by one layer. To me, that is completely irrelevant, but not unwelcome. The game moves quickly not because of the shrinking playing field, but because it is essentially a race. Players are trying to clear the screen, so the faster you move, the better you fare. The special moves are there to hinder your opponent’s winning, rather than hasten his losing, if you see the distinction. You’re much more likely to win a game by clearing the field yourself, than by filling your enemy’s screen with junk (though this is possible). I love the fact that the break-neck speed of the game is inspired by the player rather than the game. This makes the puzzle mode perfect for two-player action.
If one were to liken the KOF puzzle fighter to any other game, Dr. Mario would be the most likely comparison. This game is much more combo-oriented however, as that’s the best way to build the combo meter. But your options are left completely open. The game doesn’t force you to play in any particular way. To win, you can clear your well, or fill your enemy’s. Specials are never necessary, any stage can be cleared without them. The speed is based on the player. You don’t have to combo, if you don’t wish to. Speed alone can bring victory, if that’s the way you want to play it.
By now you all should know - that’s the kind of stuff that gets me going. When you leave the play-style up to the player and still have a fun game on your hands, you’ve achieved what few can. It makes me feel as though Playmore respects my intelligence. Plus the presentation is excellent. For one thing, the horizontal wells make maximum use of the screen. Very few puzzlers do this. The characters animate as in the proper game, and when you perform an SDM, the action stops and the animation is performed in the middle of the screen. The colors are bright and easy to recognize. My only complaint would be that it can be a bit tough to see where you’re dropping the block. They’ve provided markings (dark and light) which indicate where each row begins and ends, but I still make mistakes every once in a while. Tim had no problems with this though, in our two player battles. So it may just be my own problem.
You can’t tell me that Playmore didn’t put time and effort into this game. For one thing, it’s just barely derivative of other puzzle games. It’s very much its own thing. For another, each block has a different texture, as well as color. They made it so that colorblind people could play it! This hasn’t been done on a console system since Baku Baku Animal, as far as I can recall. That kid I knew who always played Columns with the fruit icons – he can play this. Lastly, the characters’ animation during gameplay is excellent and appropriate. A forward Jab sends the piece forward. Busting blocks makes the character attack, while combos inspire specials.
Here’s the true mark of soul for the game; when you rotate your game piece while playing as Kula, she does her spin kick. She spins as the block spins. This kind of detail practically yells at you that somebody was paying attention. They didn’t make this just to be a bonus feature, they made a fully playable game. They want you to enjoy it. So do that.
You can play through the puzzle mode with any character (base colors only though), and the storyline follows the path of the normal one-player mode, complete with endings. This unlocks additional backgrounds and the usual nonsense the series is famous for.
So the port is lacklustre, yes. But the extras alone are worth the price and aggravation. Given my penchant for 2000’s gameplay, I find myself playing 2001 more for the puzzle mode than the fighting game. I’d even go so far as to say that puzzle fans who don’t care for KOF should get this. I could see this becoming a successful spin-off series for Playmore.
Of course, I’d have liked to see a perfect port along with the puzzle game. Perhaps I’m less distraught by this than my peers because of my preference for the transitional periods in the KOF series. You take the good with the bad…the game is not unplayable, and it’s the best home version you’ll likely receive until the game is released for PS2. I can only imagine what they’ll do to top this with the 2002 port. But I’ve now the confidence to say that I can’t wait to find out.
brandon sheffield doesn't care what you say;
MAY LEE IS THE BEST NEW CHARACTER EVAR.