Reviewed: May 14, 2005
Released: December 9, 2003
For purposes other than indulging in nostalgia, Iíve never been the biggest arcade fighter fan. I have fond memories of pumping quarter after precious quarter into the various Street Fighter machines at the local roller skating rink as a kid, but Iíve found that playing these games on a regular basis tends to be incredibly frustrating, due to the sheer difficulty they tend to possess - give me Soul Calibur or Mortal Kombat any day.
That said, this certainly doesnít mean that I canít recognize a good game when I see one, and the King of Fighters series from SNK NeoGeo certainly does have the capability of converting me over to its following. In this package, players have the luxury of playing either King of Fighters 2000 or King of Fighters 2001, two games that are both episodes in the sort of typically vague storyline that accompanies this fighting genre.
With an absolutely huge roster of fighters to play as, creative and stylish graphics, and tons of replay value, KOF is up there with the best in its genre. Still, KOF is not perfect, and while I enjoyed these two games, I have to say they still reminded me why Iíve never been much of a fan of this genre.
Okay, Iím just going to come out and say it; King of Fighters is too damn difficult. Now, before you shake your head disgustedly, call me a poser, and e-mail my editor and demand my termination as a reviewer, let it be known that I very much enjoy challenges in video games, and that includes ones that seem nigh impossible. Iím not turned off by frustrations in games easily, even if my controllers tend to suffer some serious abuse when I take it out on them in between the continue and game over screens. However, sometimes too much is too much, which has always been my main complaint with arcade fighting games.
There are difficulty settings, naturally, that can be adjusted in the KOF games (thank god), but I found too often that without hours and hours of practice, even the beginners mode felt way too advanced. This was especially the case in the 2001 edition, and I found myself having to turn the game off and walk away before I snapped the disc in two. When a difficult battle is lost, players may choose between leaving the CPUís energy level at 1/3, leaving the characterís stamina recovery up, or to start their characterís energy gauge (which is needed to execute special moves) at maximum.
Even with all of this, I still found the game far too difficult to allow me to get any good at this game. For a seasoned gamer, thatís ridiculous, so for a newcomer, this series could be a serious turn off for the genre itself due to the fact of how inaccessible it is.
That would be unfortunate, considering how much KOF still has to offer. The 2000 is a bit easier than the 2001 edition, meaning that itís actually more than just kind of playable - but still not quite enough. Players will have the option to choose a single play or team play, as well as versus matches in both modes. In team modes, players may choose two characters (4 in the 2001 edition) that will play different roles during battle.
For example, one character will be the main fighter, while the other characters are assigned as strikers. Strikers may jump into the fight with a special move unique to that character at the press of a button, up to three times in a battle. Some characters possess moves that are much more useful than others, but the variety of teams you can make is quite impressive. Granted, if you donít use your striker at just the right moment, your striker could very well miss the opponent completely, and then just pose in the background distractingly for a few moments before they jump or saunter off the screen.
Still, itís a fun and creative way to spice up the gameplay, as well as add a little bit of a different take on tag teaming. Also, considering that the 2000 edition has 35 playable characters, each with alternate strikers and unlockables, and 2001 has 40 playable characters with a couple of unlockables as well, the combinations you can make are nearly endless. One thing is for sure though, and thatís that these KOF games take some serious dedication if you are to gain any skill at all, so itís good to have all those options.
When gamers play through on one player mode, they of course will challenge the computer in increasing difficulty. Between some battles, the game plays a series of still shots that sort of reveal a story that halfway makes sense, and is halfway annoyingly vague. Basically, bad translation, as charming as it is, and the fact that fighting is the real reason people play these games, combine to leave the story in the dust. Eventually, a boss or two is thrown in the mix, and the ďstoryĒ is left for another KOF game to pick up. Whether or not you have the patience to pick it up is another issue.
What is there to be said about graphics such as the ones in KOF? A 2-D game that has looked exactly the same stylistically for the past decade or more is obviously not going to be up there in the quality level of a Soul Calibur or Tekken game. Still, there is a lot to be said for the arcade style graphics, since they have managed to stick around with considerable popularity. For one, this style of graphics allows for more cartoony effects, such as over the top facial expressions and body language, fun and silly backgrounds, and a definite anime flair that makes the whole visual experience a blast. KOF does very well with this style.
The characters for the most part are to thank for this, such as the flamboyant Benimaru with his mile high flat-top and short leopard print shirt, and the ďtoo cool for youĒ Iori, with his famous insane victory laugh. How each character plays is noticeably unique, and it comes through quite nicely in the graphics department. And Choi looks like a midget Freddie Kruger. Just thought Iíd throw that disturbing little warning out there.
Still, character designs arenít the best Iíve seen (such as the characters of the Guilty Gear series), and there are too many generic looking fighters. For instance, too many of them sport karate gis and bandannas. Sure, thereíre a couple in every game, but there shouldnít be quite so many as there are in KOF. And why is it these fighters seem to always fight as boring as they look? Thatís what Iíd like to know.
Grainy and antiquated graphics are what they are, though, and it would be nice to see this style with cleaner and crisper resolutions. It would hardly interfere with the charm of arcade style graphics in my opinion, and might actually be an improvement. Still, thatís up for debate, and in the end both KOF 2000 and 2001 are fun to watch, even though the graphics donít differ all that much from game to game.
I canít get the KOF 2001 menu screen music out of my frigginí head. Not that thatís a bad thing mind you: it is a groovy little tune. In fact, most of the music in both of these games are groovy little tunes that make me long for the ultra cool, ultra bad style of the early nineties that I was too young to engage in. KOF music makes me want to envision myself walking down the street like a bad ass, hands shoved in my ripped jean pockets, horrible permed hair flowing in the breeze, with my heavily made up eyes casting weary glares at passer bys. While this may be due to the fact that Iím a horrible nerd, there is something to be said for a gameís music, as dated as it is, that can invoke such images. Everything about this series is stuck in the early nineties, and you know what? I like it like that. Even if the music is incredibly cheesy, it sure is catchy, and I quite enjoyed it.
Voice acting is almost entirely in Japanese, something that I prefer really. Tones and inflexions are just captured better in the original voice track, and even if I canít understand them, itís noticeable that they are well done. I especially enjoy the English that occasionally escapes a fighterís lips, such as Terryís ďNo problem!Ē Both voice acting and music are quite charming and fulfill their purposes nicely.
What can I say? You get two games in one here, both games with gigantic player rosters and mind bogglingly vast options. The difficulty level, while still on the ridiculous side, makes for quite the challenge to gain skill in. I personally grew tired of both of these games after a while, but if the 2-D arcade genre were more my thing, I think I would have been a bigger fan.
For the fan, there is almost too much to do here, and it should prove to be sheer heaven for these guys. For gamers that are looking for a good challenge, there is no need to look much farther, although for the inexperienced/impatient gamer and non-fan, KOF 2000 and 2001 remain a bit too inaccessible. Not that that docks the score here at all. Just consider it a tip.
King of Fighters 2000 and 2001 are both pretty good games. They are fun, interesting, huge, and have considerable depth within the gameplay. But I find reality frustrating enough to not want to pick up a game that threatens to compound that frustration further. Video games should be fun, even if they are very difficult.
If I were more into this genre, and really thrived off of ridiculous non-stop challenges, I would say KOF is a great game. But to look at it from all angles, to many it remains an okay game, something you pick up every once in a while and then put back on the shelf when the going gets too tough. The greatness or lack thereof in King of Fighters really comes down to preference, which in and of itself is never a bad thing.