King of Fighters 2002/2003

Review

posted 10/14/2005 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: Xbox

Over the past few years SNK Playmore has done an excellent job of porting their recent (and classic) Neo Geo games to the current generation consoles.  From Metal Slug, to Samurai Shodown, to the Kind of Fighters, fans of SNK and their 24-bit arcade system have had a lot to celebrate lately.  The Kind of Fighters 2002/2003 may look like every other SNK collection, it features familiar 2D graphics and a roster of returning characters, but there’s no doubt that this is SNK’s most diverse collection yet.

Although the King of Fighters franchise has always featured a lot of characters, diversity has never been its strong suit.  From year to year the King of Fighters installments felt like nothing more than roster updates, sort of like the fighting game equivalent of the Madden series.  Despite the fact that the Kind of Fighters series had gone largely unchanged up to the 2002 installment, this Xbox collection really is worth buying in large part to how dissimilar the two installments are.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the King of Fighters series, in the mid-1990s SNK decided to combine a few of their popular franchises into one large, team-based battle.  With characters from games like Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and even Ikari Warriors, the King of Fighters was a fun mix of styles, characters, and backgrounds … something Capcom would later copy and make their own.  With its large cast of unique characters and deep fighting mechanics it’s easy to understand why fans of 2D fighters come back to this SNK series year after year.

You won’t need to have played any of the older King of Fighters titles to appreciate the 2002 and 2003 edition. Although the franchise has a unique feel, most of the moves will be instantly familiar if you’ve played any of Capcom or SNK’s early 2D efforts – Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Fatal Fury, etc.  The fact that you aren’t forced to re-learn a complicated set of attacks makes these titles extremely easy to get into no matter what experience level you are.

The King of Fighters 2002 is the perfect example of the style of game play the series has stuck with for nearly a decade.  You choose three characters out of nearly 50 fighters available to you; each character fights until he or she is knocked out, then your next fighter jumps in and continues the fight.  These three-on-three fights are what the King of Fighters series is best known for, and there’s no doubt that this 2002 edition does it as well as anybody could want.

It features a roster of familiar faces, including Ryo, Joe Higashi, Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, Athena, and of course Blue Mary.  The rest of the characters are just as interesting as this group (even more interesting, in some cases), but there are simply too many to talk about at any kind of length.  It’s a robust roster that should have fans of 2D fighters interested for at least a few days.

The King of Fighters 2003 looks a lot like the 2002 edition; it features a lot of the same characters, and the moves are largely unchanged.  But it won’t take more than a minute before you realize that SNK made some drastic changes to the formula, a controversial change that may have some people frustrated by the title.  In like the three-on-three battles of before (where your character battled until they were knocked out), now you are able to switch between fighters mid-battle.  If you’ve played Capcom’s Mavel vs. Capcom series (or even Capcom vs. SNK 2) you’ll know exactly what to expect.  Being able to bring out other characters to better match up fights is a great way of pumping some life back into the system, even if it’s not universally loved.

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