The game has been in my possession for somewhere on the order of three weeks now. In all that time, Iíve not been able to bring myself to review it. Hell I bought a GBA just so I could play and review this, the supposed mother of all KOF handheld games. But (to continue an alarming trend of late) I just didnít know what to make of KOF EX2.
Editor's note: In fact, this three weeks changed to nearly ten months. Go figure.
The game is better than KOF EX. This practically goes without saying. After receiving the backlash from the community that the first effort inspired, you donít make the same mistakes if you want to keep your jobs. KOF EX brought back memories of the Takara Gamegear ports. Poor Fatal FuryÖthat was not the South Town I know. It was a psychedelic crime of visual shock. And not the good kind either.
The primary reason I couldnít bring myself to review EX2 is that I wanted to treat it like a console KOF. In many ways that speaks to the solid construction and well-placed nature of this game within the King of Fighters world. But at the same time, were I to judge the game as a console title, it would not receive incredibly high marks. Itís good for a handheld title, which you know, is great since it is a handheld title. But all the while, I wanted it to be a console game. I wanted to be playing it on say, a Dreamcast. This could well stem from the fact that EX 2 is a very loose port of KOF 2000.
It felt good enough to be on the Playstation at least. Letís say that the graphics were about at that level. But here I was, with the GBA constantly reminding me that Ďyouíre playing this game on MEí. I tried my damnedest to wrestle with the four-button layout. I donít know, maybe Iím just not Advanced enough for the system. I need to reach that extra level of 1337-dom in order to hit the L trigger after a dragon punch motion. Well it was never meant to be, never meant for me.
But as it happens, the game has a brilliant set of button config options. You can map buttons however you please of course, but there are also two-button options. One of these allows you to assign different attacks to button-press lengths. Thus, you may play this game as you did on your NGPC. To which I say AMEN. Marvelous is learning, at least enough to change dev teams.
So then, I can play the game without much frustration. Still I long for four buttons on the face, but I canít very well just will them into existence (try, try again). I can just play it on my GB Player, besides. As a two-button game, KOF EX2 plays quite well. No missing moves that I could discern, at least nothing of particular consequence. Terryís even got his projectile and short-range power waves together under one roof!
It plays like you want it to play. It plays like KOF even. Iíd liken it to í99 if forced. Theyíre not identical, but far less than dissimilar. Characters that donít quite belong together in a game that feels a little too small for them. I get that same feeling of freedom within confinement. You can combo, play and win as you wish, but within the walls of the structure. Youíve got the strikers there Ė and they donít steal from your gauge. The SDMs are nice, and the opening taunts are untainted.
And yet - to the terrible shock of all Ė there are problems. Enjoy the cavalcade of discontent, in a lazy-style list format.
Graphics - The backgrounds are all recycled from 2000, save the final two. And poorly recycled Ė thereís no animation at all. Some parallax, but no frills otherwise. Also thereís a rather bizarre glitch; on certain stages, the downed characters that sit in the background become a random spritz of pink-and-orange pixels. Whatís going on? I remember this happening when I didnít fully insert my arcade card into my turbo duoÖ(try 4meg ram and Saturn for the un-hip) but thereís no reason for it here. Wacky.
Sound - Weíre only dealing with half of the voice here. And the voices Iím hearing sound rather squished. And Terryís damage grunts sound awfully similar to Kyoís, and hey Ė every other male character too. Again, I want to treat this like a console release, and condemn the sound for all eternity. But am I expecting too much from the GBA? Is this the best it can do? Is there a compression issue? A size constraint? So quickly expanding and progressing is the medium of the handheld that one can no longer be sure of oneself when saying that itís Ďgood for what it is.í Handhelds are fast reaching the heights previously touched by the PSX in terms of 2D. I just donít know what to think anymore.
Music - Why? This is not the fault of the soundchip. Itís just poorly composed music, and thatís about the whole of it. Even the DC port of 2000 had extra songs added. A few tracks donít make you want to die, but this is one game I play with the volume crushed. Perhaps this, coupled with the poor quality sound was a ploy to make us save battery power! Thank you Marvelous, for showing us the way!!
A.I. is troublesome - Why is it that I can beat both incarnations of the boss with a single character, (usually the most impossible thing to do in a KOF), yet often get my entire team utterly destroyed by Takuma or Iori? The balance is poor and unpredictable. It can be incredibly frustrating, as I feel the skill leave my fingertips and Takuma throw endless fireballs at me. I honestly donít remember him being that cheap before EX 2. Here he will oftimes just stand at the far end of the screen and hurl fire at you from afar. Behold! The alarming trend of substituting cheap tactics for balance seeps into the KOF series! And the Marvel Vs Capcom 2 fans rejoice.
The boss himself uses the same tactic. His lightening attack can hit you anywhere on the screen (much like Serikaís in Queen of Heart Ė throw that in for the cool kids). Yet he can be far easier to defeat, simply because he doesnít only do that. He mixes it up a little. One of the things he mixes it up with is standing there and doing nothing. Thatís when you kick his ass. Troublesome. Itís better A.I. than youíll find in KOF EX. But far worse than either of the NGPC games. Itís very curiously weighted on the side of those characters with projectiles.
Characters - A matter of debate for all. I was discussing this with Eric-Jon, who applauded the roster for its well-roundedness. But with KOF you build relationships with the characters. There will be a handful of characters you canít do without, and a whole host of guys you might try out at times, but donít do much for you. Everyone is opinionated about this series, and which year of which character they like best. So when you start making cuts, a lot of people are going to be unhappy.
This game is practically the full list of characters I donít play. Thatís an exaggeration really, but the majority of my favorites are gone. Gone are Benimaru, Robert, King, Shingo and Joe. These guys are staples, so their absence surprises me. Whatís a KOF without Benimaru, I ask you? Come on Ė keeping Bao and leaving Chin. Who wants that? Probably somebody, but personally I feel like Iím playing Prince of Fighters over here. Maybe even Duke. Plus by this time Iíve gotten quite attached to some of the new faces Ė May Lee, Vanessa, Angel, Yashiro and Chris (last two not so new, I know, but hey Ė theyíre on the New Face Team, am I right? Eh??).
Stripping down the character list this way forces me to play with characters I donít normally handle that much. In some ways this is a good thing. In other ways, it takes away a portion of what makes the game fun for me Ė refining my skill with a certain host of characters, as the engine itself refines. More characters could have been added Ė Street Fighter Zero 3 for GBA showed us this. Adding Yuri was probably a good idea. But TakumaÖ
And these new characters are an interesting bunch. Jun is a ridiculous waste of time. She does take hints from several of the female teamís movelists (not to mention Clark), but ultimately falls short ofÖanything. And her wiggly stance is laughable.
Miu is really not bad. Basically a shoto, throwing raven feathers and looking Ďdarkly mysteriousí. She feels a bit like Kula in some ways Ė on the whole a nice character with some classy moves.
Moe is no substitution for Shingo. Sheís in the same tradition as her kyo-team brethren, but really doesnít do much for me. At least she plays better than she did in KOF EX.
Reiji Ė I like Reiji. In fact I like him a lot better than I ever liked Chizuru, from whom he takes most of his style. Seems theyíre married or something Ė a very small Chizuru-looking child walks up to him at the end of each round. Heís well rounded, fun to play, got good combo potential and seems like a likeable guy on the whole. But heís the only new character I want to keep around. Iíd trade the others in for a few of those more established characters who didnít make the cut.
There were some big choices made with this. So, hereís the question Ė who actually made the game? Because I donít really know who to blame-yet-applaud. Seems to be a company called Sun-Tec. Who are those guys? They did a pretty good job, but donít even list the game on their website! Their credited body of work seems to include little more than strip mahjong, at least on their site. Not that strip mahjong is a bad thing.
Brezza soft oversaw the project, which might account for some of the improvements. And then there are four guys from Matrix credited. Never heard of them either. Well whatever amalgamation of devrs made this thing, itís a damn sight better than what Artoon pulled out of the gutter for KOF EX.
I mean Ė itís a good game. I really enjoy it on several levels. And those flashy menus are stylish as all hell! But many folks, even those within the Neo Geo Pocket community swear that this is the greatest handheld KOF thus far. But hereís my take: itís good, sure. But itís not better than KOF R-2 for the NGPC. For one thing, thereís not a handheld fighter around that controls better than KOF R-2, or is more enjoyable for the sheer playability of it. SNK vs. Capcom: MotM had its problems but comes in second. Letís call KOF EX 2 third on the list. Thatís still not bad.
The Ďmakingí section of KOF R-2 is the best damn time Iíve had playing a fighter by myself. Hunting for items, honing your skill, gaining moves, customizing your character, these are the best kind of extras, because they not only make you develop your technique, but the extras are worth the effort.
The extras in KOF EX 2 are very predictable. Unlock the boss, get an option here or there. The only replayability the game has stems from your desire to play the normal game again. Thatís fine, of course. KOF is a replayable game. But KOF R-2 has that bit of extra.
Honestly, the fact that KOF R-2 is a better game is irrelevant in your enjoyment of KOF EX2. JustÖdonít let anyone tell you otherwise. Donít go into it with that expectation, or you will be disappointed. Donít expect a console-quality KOF either. Weíre not getting to that point until Playmore develops the game themselves. If you expect a solid fighter you can play on the goÖyou wonít be far from right. There are no miracles here, but itís a game you can play without hate or frustration (except perhaps at the ease?).
There arenít a whole lot of those around. So I guess it gets the Brandon Sheffield seal of approval; I donít hate it, not hardly at all.
brandon sheffield is a curmudgeon.
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