In the early 1980’s, the arcade was the place to be. Machines with Space Invaders and Pac-Man were always busy, with people of all ages playing them. Eventually the popularity of arcades went down significantly for a while. A few years later, a renaissance of sorts occurred. While arcades didn’t draw the same crowds that they did before, they were gaining popularity. A lot of this can be attributed to the release of Street Fighter II. While other companies tried to copy the Capcom formula of SFII, SNK was one of the few companies that was able to create viable fighting games like Samurai Showdown and World Heroes. The other franchise SNK is known for is their King of Fighters series.
SNK has recently released a compilation of King of Fighters 2002 and King of Fighters 2003 for the Xbox. Each game comes on its own separate DVD. Do these games stand up to the test of time, or do they feel a little flat?
SNK has always done a good job with creating 2D characters and animating them. Each of the characters has a distinctive look to them. Each of their animations is on par with Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Street Fighter III: 3rd Stroke. However, there is still a tad bit of jerkiness to them. Those who have been spoiled by Guilty Gear X2 will notice it.
The backgrounds are varied for the game. One background is a farm with sheep and farmers that bounce up and down a little. Another background is a moving train. While moving, you can see the clouds and structures the train passes moving in the background. There are several others, and each of them has some movement and several layers of depth.The music in the game is generic and typical for a fighting game. You have the hard rock soundtrack pulsing along with the grunts of the characters and the slaps from the impacts. Exploding attacks do have a bit more oomph than a regular punch or kick. All of the male characters sound similar to each other and the same goes for the female ones. There isn’t much variety as far as the game goes, but that’s not something most fighting games are known for. At the end of each match, one of the characters has a cheesy comeback phrase. None of these are voiced over, which may be a blessing in disguise, as you don’t get cheesy voice acting along with the cheesy lines.
Anyone familiar with previous SNK fighting games should feel like they are in familiar territory. Movement can be controlled with either the D-pad or the left analog stick. X performs a light punch while Y performs a strong punch. A executes a light kick while B performs a strong kick. Left trigger taunts your opponent. In 2002, right trigger activates your MAX bar to give you more strength, while in 2003 it allows you to switch characters.
Control of the characters is tight, and performing special moves depends on how adept you are at the movements. While these actions are easier with a joystick, I found that I preferred the analog stick to the D-pad.
To find out the special moves of each character, you need to hit the start button and go through the moves list for the character. It would have been nice to get the profiles of the characters in the manual and have some of their special moves in there.
Both 2002 and 2003 have similar modes. In 2002, game modes include Team Play (a team of three against the computer), Team VS (two players with teams of three play against each other), Single Play (single character against the computer), Single VS (two players fight against each other using one character), Practice (area to work on special moves against a dummy opponent), and Challenge (playing against the CPU under various conditions).
2003 includes Team Play, Team VS, Single Play, Single VS, and Practice just like 2002. Other modes included are Arcade Play and Arcade VS (uses arcade rules instead of tournament rules for the Team modes) and T-Survival and S-Survival (continue to fight against the CPU until your energy runs out of life, and your life bars don’t recharge).
While most fighting games have you fight, at a certain point you often can get stuck at a certain point. KOF resolves this issue by allowing you to decrease the difficulty, give the CPU 1/3 of the energy, or recover your power gauge at each continue. However, you don’t have to do any of these if you like a challenge.
During Team Battles, the winner is determined by the team that has at least one person standing, while Single Play matches are the typical best two out of three.
The one characteristic of these games that stands out more than anything else is the number of characters in each game. Almost every character is different from one another in appearance and special abilities. Trying to master them all could take a lifetime. It is great to have variety in a game like this, but this almost feels like it’s a bit too much. At least almost everyone should be able to find a character they like.
However, this is a fighting game, and unless you have some friends who like to get together and play this, it’s very easy to get bored with the game.
As mentioned before, the number of characters in KOF 02/03 is overwhelming. While several characters are in both 2002 and 2003, there are some that are exclusive to each version.
While it’s great to have your buddies next to you when you play, both games are enabled for Xbox Live. While it’s not perfect, it’s not bad. It is nice to have the option of playing online than not having that option at all.