Sunday, 14 October 2012

Max 330 Mega The Premier Collection - Round 2


I hope you got the point and enjoyed my insight into Samurai Shodown.

That should have substantially sharpened your appetite for the next instalment.

In the early 90s when gamers were given an alternative to all things Ryu and Ken, SNK’s status and reputation was flourishing and in 1994, the first King of Fighters tournament was held.

I am very confident in saying that this is one of few fighting franchises out there that can boast in being able to rub shoulders with Street Fighter and smugly grin as a worldwide phenomenon.

The King of Fighters is extremely famous, and rightly so.

Unlike a perfunctory FIFA update, most added significant and exciting gameplay enhancements.

So why is it so damn famous and popular?  Well it’s because of the team battle element and allows players to choose three brawlers per match as opposed to one.

Okay, single match fights are available but why choose one sprite, when you can have three?

So if it’s famous, it’s got to be good.  Oh yes, it’s very good and unlike some kind of manufactured pop band bilge, this has lasting appeal.

I will give a blow by blow account, chomping on all the juicy bits, the chars, the teams, the backgrounds, bosses and then some.

No stone will be left unturned.

Crack those knuckles, prime your punches and prepare to unleash super specials.

Welcome to the legend that is, The King of Fighters.

The King of Fighters series SNK, 1994 -2000

Debut

A mysterious figure known as ‘R’ invites the greatest fighters to take part in his tournament and confidently predicts that those who dare to oppose him will end up as a stone statuette.

How he actually achieves this gorgon like ability is left to the imagination…

Eight teams consisting of now staple diet and firm favourites, many new introductions and what may bring most appeal are that other chars appear from vintage 80s SNK arcade hardware.

This applies to Ralf, Clark and Athena.

Ralf and Clark originated from Ikari Warriors and Athena was the central protagonist her own platform action game simply called Athena or Psycho Solider (depending on country).

The gameplay mechanics is fairly standard SNK fare and is similar to Art of Fighting but equally suitable for your needs.

There are evasion moves, body tosses and the ability to charge your rage gauge which allows the usual devastation.

As we are dealing with a new franchise, a new perp is associated with being the principal protagonist in each tournament.

His name is Kyo and ideally cast as such a pivotal figure.

This floppy haired funster is joined by many other unseen faces and apart from a select few, these are well worth controlling.

His mates include the man mountain Goro (with only has two arms) and Benimaru.

About Benimaru, considering his costume choice and camp voice, I’m sure he’s on the other bus.

Other noobs include Kensou, Choi, Chang and Chin.

Choi, Chang and Chin?  Sounds like a comedy act.

They certainly add a bit of light relief to proceedings.

Choi wears a pair of clawed gloves and is a charming little chap, Chang amusingly polishes and plays with his giant ball and Chin is permanently pissed.

Those in tune with SNK will already know that other chars from other imperative franchises such as Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting is eminently possible.

Naturally, their sprites are of a totally different art style and it’s down to personal taste if you prefer them in their original guise or in this forced modification.

Ryo and co are inevitably shrunk as they would look a trifle odd and unnatural.

I have always had a problem with the USA team who consisted of Heavy D, Brian Battler and Lucky Glauber.

This team is awful and it’s ‘lucky’ if Mr Glauber and co are ever picked.

Consequently, they were dropped quicker than a bad habit.

SNK do occasionally make some peculiar choices…

So after choosing your team and order, a brief stage intro later and we mix it up.

If you’re hitting or getting hit, your team reacts to each situation and frequently egg you on in the background.

A small amount of energy is recovered after each victory until all are down.

So at a minimum, this is a three round bout and not a three count bout.

Exciting and competitive matches can obviously escalate beyond this.

Global locations include Italy, Korea, China, Brazil and Mexico.

These are pleasing to the eye and are viewed by many interested spectators.

Italy features a boat, Brazil predominantly has a wrecked chopper and Mexico is set in Pao Pao Café.

My favourite is Korea as you’re vulnerable to the wet elements and there is a nice touch as trees are reflected in a puddle.

On progression, intermissions tell the story of R and his excitement grows at the possibility of challenging you.

Rugal would like nothing more for you to become one of his many stone ornaments.

Upon reaching Rugal, Blacknoah is a pretty cool setting with a rotating holograph of the Earth and computer monitors.

In truth, he teases you in the first round as he doesn’t really fight back.  He makes a bit more effort in the next round and the stage suffers a slight makeover as I don’t think the insurance will cover the wreckage.

It’s a fine debut and a sign of things to come and they say things, can only get better.

Introducing Team Edit

While this is not my favourite year, this is the one I most remember.

You know the deal and to be quite honest, the idea is obviously the same but this year, SNK gave fans a simple but ingenious team edit facility.

That could mean all sorts of things but in truth, it allows you to choose any char from any team to form part of your chosen dream team.

Of course, you may not want to but few will be able to resist…

The makeover continues with brand new backgrounds, new chars and enhanced moves.

Even though the original was a suitable introduction, in my opinion, this is when the series really started.

This also marks the start of the Orochi Saga.

That team edit idea was just as essential to King of Fighters as a correctly poured pint of Guinness.

The shower of shit American team is thankfully totally replaced by a trio of noobs consisting of Eiji (AOF 2), Billy Kane (Fatal Fury) and Iori (unseen).

Iori is an excellent char and worthy of Kyo himself.

The rest, you already know.

It sounded far better than the previous game as it boasted suitably moody and cheery tunes that fitted each background like a glove.

One peculiar aspect was the announcer’s speech as instead of ‘verses’ it sounded like ‘varses’.

The stages looked more aesthetically pleasing with a variety of reworked and brand new works.

There were many sparkling highlights which included an industrial factory basked in sunset and crows, a very attractive looking Neo Geo land, stunning waterfalls, a great jazz restaurant and a Fatal Fury variation treading shallow water in a harbour.

Intermissions returned and before fighting Rugal, the brainwashed father of Kyo stands in your way.

Like Geese in Fatal Fury, Rugal remains a cult boss and a returning bad penny in KOF.

The holographic globe changes its setting to a mechanical factory and Rugal takes you on a scrolling journey upwards to reveal some nuclear missiles.

Omega Rugal adopts a new look and is bit meaner and cheaper than before.

So overall, sprites and animation were more fluent and with all these enhancements, it couldn’t fail not to be a better game.

It also meant that The King of Fighters was here to stay.

A year on…

The King of Fighters is now flourishing and becoming an intrinsic and highly anticipated slot in gamer’s diaries.

This year’s tournament is the most chopped, amended and most audacious yet featuring a plethora of welcome and ‘unwelcome’ faces.

The teams have gone through more changes than a woman’s wardrobe but there is one team…

The Orochi Saga continues.

I’ll start by cutting the red ribbon of char change (new and old).

For the first time, we now have nine teams.

Yuri presumably had a bitch fight with Mai and King so sought ‘comfort’ from boyfriend Robert and a shoulder to cry on in big brother Ryo.

Father of Ryo and Yuri and grizzled Kyokugen karate expert Takuma takes a rest from proceedings.

Well we can’t have a team consisting of two and girl power is suitably restored with new hotty Kasumi.

Soldier duo Ralf and Clark also suffer a setback with Hiedern retiring and another new addition in Leona accepts the very privileged invitation or mixing oestrogen with testosterone.

Loony tune and Mr Laugh’a’lot Iori is perhaps is the luckiest of the lot as Billy’s stick twirling and Eiji’s mask clearly got up his nose once too often.

He now shares his anger with two new succulent slices of femininity in Vice and Mature.

Does Mature act her age and not her shoe size?  Hmmm, I’m not really sure.

The others remain unchanged and the team left out is best mentioned during my summing up.

The stage intros continue and the new scenery certainly impresses.

Watch the camera spin and pan inside a sky palace (which replaces the jazz restaurant from before), Choi and co must be happier as there’s no need for umbrellas as they’ve finally found a stage with no rain outside a temple, albeit a slight puddle.

There are two variations (daylight and sunset) of a rail road track with the latter boasting a gorgeous cloud setting and the former with an 18 Wheeler truck and interested spectators include Blue Mary from Fatal Fury 3 onwards.

Another superb setting is a floating oil rig with search lights and a travelling swan boat is the cherry on top of the cake.

The best and most detailed of the normal stages is a super highway with cars zooming by, a variety of spectators and changing signs adding to the gloss.

There is another variation to this stage with largely a different set of spectators and a time of day change.

Battle through the opposing teams and a few intermissions later, we are introduced to a new boss called Chizuru.

You fight here against a coliseum setting with a baying audience.  Defeat her and instead of Rugal, a new big bad boss.

It turns out this geezer Goenitz took Rugal’s right eye.

I’m not Rugal’s pal or anything as he’s given me many beatings in the past but even for that megalomaniac, that’s harsh.

So you’d expect him to be a step from Rugal and he’s certainly an interesting opponent full of cheap tricks and whirlwinds.

He can go through chars like a knife cutting through warm butter.

His background progresses nicely from the fight with Chizuru as the coliseum is now dilapidated, with a swirling and lightning flashing sky and numerous pieces of debris blowing around amongst the intense mayhem.

It’s a great stage and he’s an even greater challenge.

Summing up, it’s definitely the best looking and sounding tournament yet.

They even changed the announcer’s strange accent and consequently, ‘varses’ is just a memory.

So despite all the positives, there is a single negative and that is the ‘boss’ team.

This already sounds like a bad idea and indeed was.

Enter Krauser of Fatal Fury fame, seminal boss Geese and sworn enemy of the Bogards, and South Town underworld hood Mr. Big.

These are after all bosses and should be a code rather than immediately playable. 

Although obviously beatable, they remain a ‘stronger’ force than the other 24 other maulers.

As usual though, it is fun to see unique sprites feature in another franchise and these at least looked the part.

It’s also refreshing that while I have nothing against Rugal, fighting an end boss other than him is a refreshing change.

97 is my magic number

This is the most playable and balanced outing yet.

It’s the bee’s knees and events concerning the Orochi Saga come to a head.

Previous intros are decent and feature some nice static and animated shorts.

This really builds on what has gone before.

Advanced and Extra modes change the form book and mix things up nicely.

Different evasion moves are used depending on the chosen mode with the emergency escape and avoid moves now available.

More variations on advanced mean the pow gauge is charged via special moves and extra is the usual three button charge to achieve the same result.

The final wind of change allows a maximum of three stocks for a nuke and sets the standard for future tournaments.

More stocks mean an improved and different type of special effect.

Phew, that’s a significant change in an otherwise gentle gameplay tide.

Unlike ’96, there is only slight tinkering to an existing team but important additions and removals are made.

The team count of nine is retained but all is not what it seems.

Girlie mates Mai and King remain inseparable and you’d think as they’re from opposing franchises, they’d scratch each other’s eyes out but instead they get on better than Jack Daniels does with Coke.

Kasumi makes way for Chizuru.

Mai and King must appreciate her fashion sense and lipstick colour.

Like the USA team from the original, the ‘boss’ team is sensibly dropped like a hot potato.

Billy makes a comeback from a two year absence and is joined by Fatal Fury veterans Yamazaki and Blue Mary.

The other new team consists of Orochi servants Yashiro, Shermie and Chris.  They play a pivotal role in proceedings.

Iori got tired of Vice and Mature and now appears as a single char, as does new char Shingo who is also in need of a friend (or two).

Another huge change is the way the game is set and pans out.

This tournament is now live via Satella link up and adopts a festival setting.

This is reflected in each stage as cameramen happily film the mayhem and carnage.

Locations include Mali, Korea, Japan, China and USA.

Before the start of each round, a showgirl flashes a boxing style round card which adds to the personality of each stage.

Aside from new tunes, some of the Fatal Fury chars have a remixed tune specific to what ditty they had in that particular franchise.

King of Fighters never wants to be Fatal Fury but whatever, it’s nice.

So these global locations have to have something to look at and SNK have such sights to show you.

Selection follows.

China sees a packed street scene with Chinese dragons, flags and all sorts of pretty illuminations.  Japan becomes a disco, rammed with spectators with the appropriate ball providing some light on this matter.

USA boasts a huge amusement park with confetti falling and fans cheering.  A steam boat also manages to somehow increase the concentrated detail.

The colour scheme changing between rounds only adds to these lovelies.

Your persistence will be rewarded with an intermission that signals something bad is happening to Leona and/or Iori, and that bad thing is Orochi.

Orochi has taken a cast iron grip of both them and you’ll face either/or drooling with rage and possessed with anger.

Whether you fight Leona or Iori depends on your team.

Fighting these raging maniacs will see the background change to a scary red negative.

Disposing of whichever of these pesky pests will see this King of Fighters radically change for the better.

An intermission later introduces further insight into Orochi and soon after, we appear on a stage where the press are not invited.

This is a truly excellent stage and it’s never the same.

A different servant dishes up an adjustment to the stage.

SNK somehow make something good, into something really great.

The final background is a stone floor with a central hole, below a sky and layers of rocks.

It sounds duller than dishwater but seeing it in reality is definitely a different experience.

Watch between chars as blue fire seeps through the cracks, lightning destroy stone pillars and rocks are shrouded in mist.

Eventually, the place becomes a pseudo volcano as lava takes control.

Assuming you defeat this trio of turbulence, another intermission sees Orochi finally awoken after 1800 years and Chris becomes the unfortunate host for its insane lust for power.

The sprite of Orochi adopts an older looking and sleeker looking Chris.

This is a grand boss with a knack for levitation, vanishing, projectile throwing, lightning control and a warped voice.

His nuke is cheaper than out of date loaf of bread as it’s one of those full screen things that no matter what you do, a healthy chunk of vitality will be removed.

So what of his stage, any changes?

Yes, yes and yes.

It’s the same stage but if you haven’t yet seen the light, this stage will definitely illuminate your needs.

Various shafts of light and a changing Orochi symbol in the sky are his amendments.

I suppose you could also call this symbol an extreme tattoo.

Six changes to one stage – bless you SNK.

Orochi will shock, fry and frazzle you as he’s quite a tough biscuit.

This is definitely the best KOF and my personal soft spot.

The Slugfest

’98 is the fans’ favourite as SNK abandoned Orochi and introduced the heaviest char roster ever.

From a char POV, I suppose it’s a combination of most that went before.

Whether that’s for the better or not, connoisseurs didn’t care.

No story, just all out reminiscing and brawling.

The intro is even better than ’97 with the best bit appropriately being the antics of Iori and Kyo.  There’s some great animation and the art style is lovely.

Just sing along to that tacky song…

The gameplay system is also retained.

You now have a whopping twelve teams to choose from which consist of amended teams and no new chars.

This year, it’s all about a reunion.

There is a new team comprising of previously retired chars in Heidern, Takuma and Saisyu.

Rugal and Shingo now are the chars without a team.

Oh, the ’94 USA team of Lucky and co are invited back.

Boo, hiss, boo.

Everybody else hasn’t fallen out so no other changes have been made.

Like other years, we travel to global locations including Japan, Korea, Spain and Mid East.

Japan is greedy and for the first time, a country now has two locations.

A busy highway populated by stationary cars, other vehicles zooming in various directions and a nicely detailed lit street.

Between rounds, bits and bobs are changed with parked cars and spectators appearing and disappearing.

The other Japanese location is a tinkered Art of Fighting variant from ’95 but without the vertical ride.

You fight inside a dilapidated dojo, but in truth, you’re outside due to the quality of this establishment.

Still, it gives you time to appreciate another quality stage with lit lanterns, fireflies and very nicely animated leaves from both bush and tree.

We move across the water to China on a mobile boat and we admire the view of leafy rock faces and mountains encased in dreamy mist.

Korea is another remixed stage akin to the Fatal Fury scene again from ’95 but only on dry land.  A bobbing boat, curious seagulls and various homes all add to the spice.

Another is the Mid East which looks like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Spain sees stone pillars, a fountain and a stray cat.

The day to night transition appears in Spain with some subtle lighting differences.

Shingo appears as a mid moss and good old bad ass Rugal returns for another reunion.

The one-eyed terminator looks meaner than ever and offers a challenge littered with signature and ‘dirty’ moves.

A short intermission shows his rebirth and brings us to new underwater base.  It’s especially nice as outside we see jellyfish, schools of fish, other types and a wrecked vessel.  It’s drier inside but no less interesting as a bubbling vat of liquid and areas steaming prove.

What is obvious is that each stage has failed to draw a packed audience.

I suppose it goes with the theme but nosy punters overlooking proceedings always bring extra activity to any stage.

Anyway, this was all about reuniting players with axed chars and on that score, it reigns supreme.

Strike 1, 2, 3

This was another great King of Fighters but as we are fast approaching the dark days of the Neo Geo, that unfortunately won’t last.

Still, SNK gritted their teeth and created another splendid effort.

The previous year was The Slugfest and this one is subbed Millennium Battle.

As you know, I don’t mind subtitles as long as the main title makes complete sense.

Imagine if this was called The King of Fighters: Millennium Battle?

That would really piss me off.

The Orochi Saga closes its door and marks the beginning of the NESTS Saga.

The intro is nothing great but I did like K’ and the click of his fingers.

However, the char portraits and overall presentation is far better.

Like ’97, the gameplay modes have gone through the mixer.

Advance and Extra modes are surplus to requirements and new experiments are tried and tested.

A simple button combo later allows Counter and Armour Modes.

Activating Counter permits infinite nukes and also a super cancellation means you can cancel a special and turn it into a nuke.

Everybody knows about Street Fighter IV and Focus Cancels but do they know about this much earlier breed?

The other is Armour Mode which means you take less punishment but can’t use a nuke.

Gauge becomes disabled when each mode ends which is very much the same principle as the Rage Explosion in Sam 4.

You can also now slide and attack instead of rolling with it.

For what it’s worth, the story goes that a shadier than a shadow organisation known as NESTS plans to create evil clones of Kyo and take over the world.

Okay, it’s a sci-fi take on things.

There are no teams as such but as usual, they are clumped together so I suppose you could associate seven teams.

Due to the story, it’s little surprise that Kyo is no longer present.  Instead, he and Iori are relegated as hidden chars.

No Kyo in KOF I hear you shout?  That’s like fish without chips.

This is more controversial than a naughty word before the watershed but strikers now exist as a fourth char.

This fourth char can be called upon a limited amount of times via strike bombs.

When activated, they will attack with one of their special moves.

I think this is at pure random and cannot be controlled.

Well there is Kyo of sorts in two variations in Kyo-1 and Kyo-2.  The original Kyo can be fought meeting certain conditions with battle points and how the end boss is defeated.

The Kyo battle also unlocks an unseen sequence.

His departure is due to the new story and so leaves the door open for a new pivotal pretender and K’ steps into his boots snugly.

He largely uses toasts his opponents but sprite and moves are different enough to separate him and Kyo from each other.

You’ve got to dig his shades.

Other new sprites keen for a scrap include Maxima, Jhun, Bao and Whip.

Jhun is interesting as he can change posture and effectively achieve different moves.

Whip is as obvious as she sounds.

Xiangfei of Real Bout 2 is introduced to team battles and Kasumi returns.

Goro takes a break and Heidern becomes part of the story, rather than a char.

You will notice that Athena is a new sprite and has shorter hair.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before a girl (whether real of electronic) changes her look.

Depending on which team you choose, this will reflect on the striker’s performance.

There’s more than five and less than ten.

So to the brand new landscapes and one in particular boasts a proud degree of opulence.

These include the best static stage ever featured in King of Fighters and is in the form of an airfield.  The closest you’ll associate this with another SNK game would be Eiji’s night time airport from AOF 2 but while that was no slouch, this is wonderfully vibrant and detailed.

First you’ll see a gorgeous static plane waiting to be impatiently boarded with a lit runway and a beautiful sunset kissed sky.  Even buildings suffer the effect of heat.

Then the aforementioned plane becomes truly in your face with a distortion effect due to the engine blasting out.

The quality is reduced in a dinosaur museum but remains rather appealing.  Palaeontologists will notice skeletons of T-Rex and Triceratops.  A nice touch is lightning flashes from outside.

Another raises the bar in another Chinese street scene with twinkling lights overhead, a bin furnace to warm the old cockles, with shops, eateries and nosy parkers all featuring.

A subtle change later sees the once bustling area becoming deserted with only moths buzzing around a light for company.

The game’s penultimate stage is a sewer with a lit entrance stretching way into the background.  This is another stage where you tread the shallowest of waters and it’s smart that water is reflected on the roof.

You then descend several floors via a lift for the final showdown.

It would be wrong of me not to mention the main event and this background is truly sensational.  This is a proper SNK stage with bells on and Capcom could only dream to brag such a creation.

The park stage shows playful children practicing catch, a guy feeding feathered friends and rangers picking up rubbish.  I suppose the stone building built on pillars must be a HQ.

Next we see the once tranquil blue sky transform into grey lightning clouds and more great touches follow.  As the round progresses, it begins spitting and then gets heavier when victory is threatened.

You could forgive SNK if the detail subsides but not really.

The final change sees a torrential downpour and the rain effects really add the cream to this fabulous gateau as the rain splats affect the ground and force the trees and bushes to be suitably drenched.

The real intelligent touch is that the ground protected by the building’s roof isn't harmed.  Instead, you just see the rain rightly pouring in its foreground.

It’s really not a trivial effect and despite its overall brilliance, that would slightly blemish proceedings.

Intermissions tell the tale of Kyo clones and Heidern notices clones on a global scale.

New boss Krizalid is an evil product of NESTS and naturally, he presents a decent challenge.

His stage is a technological feast set in the bowels of an underground laboratory with a rotating holograph, machinery all lit and red light spread through the grating.

He starts wearing a feathered jacket and after winning a round, another intermission spills the ‘real’ Kyo escaped after ’97.

Krizalid now means business as the coat if off and boasts cheaper and more powerful moves.  He does like a whirlwind or two…

A slight stage change later sees a huge laser blasted vertically which forces a light change.  There is also far more movement to the technological flow.

King of Fighters purists may question the need for strikers but I saw it as SNK trying another new experiment.  It’s neither a great nor dreadful idea but certainly doesn’t spoil things.

Those who also say it’s an idea lifted from Capcom and their Marvel vs games do have a point.

Regardless, the introduction of K’ is an excellent char debut.

Bankruptcy

Yup, at the time of its release, SNK knew they were about to enter bankruptcy.

They were knee deep in shit and there was no escape.

Depressing!

So this was the final KOF purely made by the ‘old’ SNK and understandably, it wasn’t the best.  It turned out to be a mixed bag of dirty and clean laundry.

I’ve no idea if the term ‘noughties’ existed at the turn of the new millennium but whatever, this wasn’t The King of Fighters ’00, it was 2000.

This I sympathise as saying KOF ’00, The King of Fighters ‘nought nought’ or ‘zero zero’ just doesn’t sound right.

For this final SNK outing, the subtitle trend departs.

The NESTS saga continues, as does the counter and armour modes.

The char portraits have undergone another makeover and the result is excellent.

New faces feature Seth, Lin, Vanessa, Hinako and Ramon.

I really do think that Ramon and Benimaru should relent and form a civil partnership...

Kyo is also back from his temporary holiday.

The striker system improves itself due to more choice.

It works exactly like ’99 but upon choosing the regular striker, there is now an alternative striker which includes chars from other SNK franchises such as King Lion from Savage Reign, Nakoruru from Sam Shodown and Fio from Metal Slug.

Other retired chars and alternative versions of existing regulars also exist.

The restriction of using cameos is far more flexible as you can now restore a strike bomb by dissing a dude at the cost of a power stock.

The backgrounds are certainly a step in reverse as while they were okay, compared to previous efforts, they are fairly disappointing.

Another illuminated oriental street scene with staple diet moving signs, reflections in puddles and onlookers is the definite highlight.

Others include an indoor aquarium with manatees, divers and fish

Stages that encourage a snore or several are a desert storm, a harbour and a factory.

The factory does include a very nice rotating fan.  It basically reminds me of the one featured in the jazz restaurant stage from ’95, but on a grander scale.

The detail has just gone and the wow factor takes a back seat.

New mid boss is Kula, who is literally a right little ice queen.

Heidern again heavily features in lengthy intermissions involving new baddie Zero and reveals that he killed Krizalid.

He wants to capture the Zero Cannon and every foe he defeats powers a generator for this super weapon.

South Town is under threat.

So Zero is a rogue NESTS agent and is certainly a boss with lovely animation.

He nonchalantly slices through chars with his bladed coat and other forms of cheapness.

I suppose his stage is a church as it has a stained glass window and a swinging chandelier.  A colour change later, the chandelier drops and smashes and small fires burn below the statues.

Here’s a shock, Zero’s plan fails and more falling off your chair news is that he was actually a clone.

He perishes at the hands of the Zero Cannon.

Apart from bits and bobs, it’s not the best but Zero is a nice boss.

Nevertheless, it still remains classic KOF and cameos from other franchises are most welcome.

With SNK gone, it seems that fans would just raise a glass and/or joystick to each tournament, but KOF would rise like a proverbial phoenix from the flames.

The King of Fighters 2001 SNK/Eolith

This was the ‘old’ SNK’s final contribution to KOF.

In truth, Korean developer Eolith employed some former SNK stalwarts to help with the next instalment.

This is the only KOF where two developers are involved.

How could they say no?

It’s all hearsay, but I can really guess which part(s) SNK did and which they didn’t.

The quality is a frightful cocktail of patchiness and occasional respectability.

This marks the end of NESTS and what happened here?

Apart from it still been King of Fighters, wading through this drizzle of deterioration doesn’t reap many positives.

First off, the general presentation is awful.  The char portraits are truly terrible, I mean really appalling.

What the hell is the deal with their noses and most faces look frankly embarrassed.

Players can now freely choose how many chars are playable and how many are strikers.

The decision as they say, is yours.

The power of stocks and gauge length are dictated by the amount of strikers chosen.  It’s a case of the more strikers, more stocks.

Okay, it’s a fair variation that others may like but I don’t.

Mid boss from previous game Kula becomes playable and other new NESTS applicants Foxy and Angel also feature.

Every other new and old fave comes back into the fold.

One other new char is K9999.

The result is a shameless act of plagiarism and how they got away with defies logic.

Akira is probably the most famous of all Manga and is even teased to become a live action epic, but has been axed on numerous occasions.

The cartoon is what most know and remains awesome even today.

So who or what is K9999 plagiarising?  It’s none other than test subject Tetsuo Shima.

If the sprite doesn’t convince you, check out his ‘arm’ nuke.

Anyway, the char roster boasts a huge 40 choices.

Some of the backgrounds are very insulting and I’m definitely suggesting the evils of Eolith are responsible for these showers.

Like many other KOF tournaments, it’s a global stage.

Mexico sees musicians playing this stage’s terrible tune in a front of a fountain.

Travelling to America sees a casino with dollar notes strewn on the floor.

I’m certain that Italy and Korea are SNK efforts and almost seem like they belong in a totally different KOF.

The former boasts a large bridge, flowing water and a huge crowd.  The latter sees a stage laden in snow, with flakes dropping, an excellently detailed tree and a fine stone building.

Japan and China also feature as standard locations but nothing can prepare you for Brazil.

I’ll give you a choice to guess.

This is technically awesome, packed with flamboyance and rich in style; or

Is appallingly horrendous, washed with hideousness and has the personality of an elderly camel.

I want you to take a guess, just take a feral guess.

Yes, you already knew the answer.

This Brazilian F1 wonderment will leave in awe of how bland, ugly and boring this shit storm really is.

Wait a minute; I believe the skid marks on the road state a subliminal message.

Be under no illusion, this is still a Neo Geo and not a Megadrive.

Don’t confuse Italy and Korea with genius as overall, they are only decent, but remain head and shoulders above the rest.

If SNK really did design and create this particular act of despicableness, I can’t and won’t believe it.

The colour palette that the stages use would insult a Gameboy.

Are you starting to detect how ‘great’ they are?

The advertising of KOF banners is grossly overused and about as subtle as a spike up the booty.

The audio is largely tuneless and only succeeds in prompting madness or making your ears bleed.

Moving on, the intermissions display the ‘real’ Zero and travelling via a blimp.

There is light at the end of tunnel with its bosses.

Okay, the first boss is Zero, albeit the ‘original’ specimen and largely remains the same adversary but with added strikers, err extras.

First of all, the only difference in the sprite is that he has grey hair instead of brown.

Yeah, it’s true.

He now has two striking friends in a large black lion and a disintegrating ninja.

The animation on the ninja is extremely admirable.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual.

True to form, his stage shares the same excitement as dishwater.

Beat him and it’s on to the NESTS CEO, Igniz.

K9999, Krizalid, Kula and K’ are all guinea pigs and are no longer needed…

I suppose it could be a woman but whatever it is, what an attractive looking boss.

The posture before the match is great as you’ll see his cape and hair happily dance in space.

He is typically low-cost in the fairness factor as Zero used a bladed coat; Igniz likes to conceal his rope whips.

Apart from various other shit, his nukes can you wipe you out quicker than a board rubber can with chalk.

It is a pretty spectacular punishment but you’ll begin to hate it after getting your ass handed to you several times.

His stage is an improvement over others as it threatens to be slightly exciting.  Expect stones with ‘power’ flowing through, statues and light shining against a window showing the Earth.

If things were different and SNK had complete control, they simply wouldn’t allow most of this shit.

That really is the last we’ll see of the old SNK, as the next couple of yearly events are handled exclusively by others.

The King of Fighters 2002, Eolith

By now, SNK are entirely surplus to requirements and Eolith attempted the daunting prospect of rediscovering SNK’s genius.

SNK is just a memory as you’ll see Playmore flash up…  Something just doesn’t feel right.

This is a commendable disaster and while a vast improvement over its predessor; it was never going to be the same.

Like ’98, this is nothing to do with anything that went before but at least its wand weaves practical magic.

Eolith decided to water traditional roots and while their plant didn’t quite bloom, it didn’t wilt either.

This gives the opportunity for former chars to return and return they do.

‘Challenge to Ultimate Battle’.  Yes, that’s its stupid subtitle, as it really rolls off the tongue, right?

39 chars, three on three battles return and strikers are guillotined.

I can already hear faint cheers.

First off, the char portraits and overall presentation is better but don’t misunderstand, they are still goofy.

Here’s an interesting fact, this was remade with the subtitle of Unlimited Match and the char of K9999 was renamed to Nameless.  His functionality remains identical.

Funny that?

A new Max mode is brought into to proceedings as specials or nukes can be cancelled into each other.  Also, hidden nukes can be unleashed only on very low vitality.

So choose your favourite team of current, previous or axed chars and begin the Eolith era.

You are given a choice of fighting two CPU teams so the point in that?  There is no point.

Eolith enforces the ever present recycling situation…

Kim’s standing animation is totally redone and perversely juicy.

Still the backgrounds feature cameos and that’s always fun for fans to notice.

Here are most that overlook proceedings, together with their first appearance.

Yes I am an SNK geek.

Jhun (KOF ’99), Mr. Big (AOF), Wang Koh San (AOF 3), Bob Wilson (Fatal Fury 3), Kasumi (KOF ’99), Todoh (AOF), Sokatu (Fatal Fury 3), Eiji (AOF 2), Geese (Fatal Fury), Butt (Garou), Krauser (Fatal Fury 2), Kim Sue II (Kizuna), Bryan Battler (KOF ’94), Duck King (Fatal Fury) and Lucky Glauber (KOF ’94).

The backgrounds are a mixed assault of decent and mediocre.

There’s a cherry blossom tree garden with a pond and geisha girls, the leaning tower of Piza with chains and monitors and a bobbing platform with swooping and circling seagulls.

I suppose the best stage is a field with working windmills, an overgrown clog with foliage, blue sky and hot air balloons.

The strangest aspect of this stage has to be the poor K, O and F sheep.

You don’t have to be a genius to know what it means but it’s just plain odd.  The KOF 2002 air balloon also seems to have a very messed up colour scheme.

The colour palette again is very washed out and makes little use of the true vibrancy that the Geo is capable of and previously exploited so wonderfully by SNK.

Compared to Brazil in 2001, these landscapes are of true beauty.

Stages are can feel the sunset glow and slightly change so that only upgrades matters.

The advertising problem continues and it’s even shoddier than before.

SNK were also guilty but at least they had the good grace to be subtle and resist constantly reminding.

I mean, it’s absolutely everywhere.

After disposing of Kula (again), Rugal returns as the ultimate KOF boss.

He’s the ’98 version and remains no less lenient and dishes out even less sympathy.  He can stick that Genocide Cutter up a certain rear entry.

The stage inside a partially destroyed plane is at least pretty cool as it’s covered with tech, wires, cables and monitor images.

You are treated to an eccentric credit roll providing all kinds of moments that will extend the most stubborn of smiles.

Okay, SNK did it earlier in games such as Fatal Fury Special and Art of Fighting 2 but I welcome any sort of blooper reel.

It’s not bad and even threatens to be decent but compared to tournaments held pre 2000, I need not say no more.

The King of Fighters 2003, SNK Playmore

The King of Fighters 2003 was the final tournament held on the Neo Geo and I’m pleased to say this was good.

I emphasise good and not great but beggars can’t be choosers.

Unlike the previous game, Playmore had now become SNK Playmore and nearly ten years on, remains true today.

Playmore now owned all SNK property and so they no longer needed the services of Eolith, so here it is – the final KOF without a splutter.

Suffice to say, this was a nice closing thwack.

The intro presents a possible improvement and introduces a new char who replaces K’ as a new central protagonist.

Ash and her green flames ignite some much needed energy into an ailing franchise.

The spinning sealed wax envelope returns from very early tournaments and the freckled Ash becomes very in your face.

So begins the Ash saga.

The portraits are slightly less peculiar and some are even pretty nice.

Some still require an urgent nose job though.

Anyway, pick from 32 chars and team up for the last time.

When you’ve chosen a team, you are asked to choose the leader the pack.  The most worthy and double hard bastard will then be able to unleash a unique Leader Desperation nuke.

Hovering over Terry will notice something’s changed.  Those who have played a certain game will notice that he has shed his regular look and become the Terry from Garou.

This is definitely for the better and looks nearly as good as he did in Garou.

Of course, this is merely feeding off what SNK already created.

I know they own everything now and why not exploit previous genius so I guess I’m still bitter.

So apart from new top dog Ash, there is also Duolon and Shen as brand new brawlers.

In all honesty, they are all cunningly capable of holding their own and worthy additions.

Brand new to KOF but not unique chars are Gato and Tizoc, again of Garou fame.

Along with Terry, they’re just ripped straight from the SNK archives but the translation is slightly lacking.

Returning for the last time are household names such as Kyo, Iori, King, Athena, Ryo, Billy and many more.

The announcer seems in a hurry to state his waffle but it’s not as bad as ’95.

This is controversial again but the final addition in this tournament is that real time tagging is now possible.

Yes we’ve seen this many times before but a KOF first.

It works as you’d expect so nothing much more to say.

I’ll take you on a scenery ride.

It includes a mix of the good, the great and the boring.

There’s a graveyard in front of what I can best describe as an Inca temple with trees, interested crows and ground scrolling mist.

High on top of a platform sees skyscrapers with SNK monitors, electrified metal roads and a nice Neo Geo smiley face logo.

The shocking part about this stage is that it’s basically a variation to the one seen previously in 2002.

A stage with a hovering blimp, bobbing boats and yachts is of similar ilk to 2000.

Now for the boring background and it’s a lime green cobbled street.  Snore, yawn.

The good sees a giant locomotive with a train track, crowd and a flag banner displaying numerous countries.

Here’s the great and it comes in the form of an Egyptian desert.

You can expect a twilight sky, a huge moon, collapsed rocks, palm trees camels and a traditional looking temple.

More significant details include the necessary raised sand grooves, buried stone and Egyptian art with hieroglyphics.

Of course, Egypt wouldn’t Egypt without a pyramid, obelisk and a sphinx.  Yes, this has it all.

Most stages are subject to a sunset revision so apart from a few exceptions, these are attractive efforts.

The mid boss this time is an evil Kyo (known as Kusanagi) and depending on your antics prior to this fight, it will also determine which boss or boss(es) you’ll fight.

For the bad ending, you’ll challenge Rugal’s son Adelheid and meet his daughter Rose.  Rugal’s sibling is basically the same as daddy but his tender years allow him to be far nippier.

Rose happily plinks and plonks on her piano in the mildly interesting sky stage background.

Better results are rewarded with a further two matches with a three on two against Chizuru and sister Maki and then the final battle against Mukai.

When that pesky Orochi seal is broken, it allows such power…

Backgrounds for both brawls are disappointing as the former is just snore material and while the other is albeit appealing, it’s very static.

They consist of rocks, lava, burning embers and snake statues.

Mukai has gorgon like abilities and likes to crush you with aerial rock pillars.  Like most KOF bosses, he’s a pain in the ass.

While not exactly a fairytale ending, it’s a fitting departure for the last instalment on SNK’s wonder machine.

Critics will frown at the tagging system and it screams of ripping off Capcom but overall, this is better than some other efforts.

That in itself is quite remarkable as most Neo sequels and/or updates after SNK’s demise were shite.

Team battle miscellany

The success and legacy of KOF meant that even though the Neo Geo was deader than a dodo, SNK Playmore was alive, kicking and very dangerous.

There was a frightening amount of other games and disregarding ports that existed at the height of the ‘old’ SNK’s popularity, they were released on every platform but shoes.

PS2, Xbox and arcade are amongst those to benefit.

’94, ’98 and 2002 were all remade with various enhancements and used the subtitles of Re-Bout, Ultimate Match and Unlimited Match respectively.

The unique Dreamcast remakes made things a tad confusing.

The King of Fighters Dream Match 1999 sounds fairly explanatory as it’s surely a remake of ’99.  Nope, it’s actually nothing to do with ’99, as this was an upgraded ’98 with a lengthy anime intro and 3D adjustments to backgrounds.

The title of the next remake is just confusing for confusing sake as The King of Fighters ‘99 Evolution really is an enhanced ’99, again with 3D backgrounds.

It’s just makes no sense.

This is just a thought but how about calling the former The King of Fighters Dream Match ’98?

So with the addition of a new dimension, Evolution exploits this benefit further by allowing the superb plane from the original ’99 a greater freedom of movement.

Having said that, I’m sure if SNK wanted (without the 3D), this was easily possible on the Geo hardware.

There are also exclusive new backgrounds including a fantastic fairground featuring a carousel, a pirate ship in full flow and a Big Wheel.  Fireworks explode in the sky and searchlights flow back and forth making for a very welcome addition.

I believe a clock tower was also brought into the foray.

Apart from new visitor attractions, the animal remains.

I have no intention of doing an in-depth analysis but I’ll start with most of the ‘other’ games that aren’t considered being part of the ‘main’ series.

Following in the footsteps of ’98 and 2002, another non canonical game was The King of Fighters Neowave.

In my opinion, the best aspect of this is a real retro reminder as the boss is Geese from AOF 2 and even brings back his stage in a revamped and tinkered fashion.

Inevitably, KOF appeared in the palm of your hand, namely on the Neo Geo Pocket and Game Boy Advance.

Two for each pocket pleaser were released in the form of King of Fighters R1 and R2 and The King of Fighters EX NeoBlood and EX2 Howling Blood.

In NGP fashion, the sprites became cute super deformed and the GBA used classic looking pixels.

Why they chose to abandon ‘The’ is unknown.

Okay, most people just call it ‘King of Fighters’ but whatever.

Anyway, there must have been a reason as the GBA games have ‘The’.

Maybe it was a mistake or oversight.

The GBA games were based on ’99 and 2000 as chars and backgrounds from both appeared.

There were even Pachinko machines released in Japan.

What a gamble.

Like SNK and Samurai Shodown, SNK Playmore decided to throw KOF into the 3D ring and proved again to be an idea worse than playing Russian roulette whilst drunk.

Anyway, history can’t be undone and in 2004 came KOF Maximum Impact and then its sequel followed in 2006.

As you’d expect, these included classic chars, a host of other new faces and whole new dimension.

This was very much like the 3D Sam as the sequel improved upon its predecessor.  It fared better than Sam but proved once again that a dimension jump can’t recreate the magic of 2D.

In the mid noughties, any fighting that wasn’t 3D was considered blasphemous so I suppose it was just delaying the inevitable.

The popular fighting crossovers continued in the lamentable Capcom vs SNK series and SNK vs Capcom: The Match of the Millennium on NGP.

Hmmm, KOF chars would also feature in SVC: Chaos.  That is a truly wonderful game and I promise that if you play that atrocity, it will encourage hatred towards fighting games, SNK, Capcom and humanity itself.

I beg you; no matter what destructive force within or a lethal form of curiosity constricts, please heed this warning and don’t play that game.

So that’s a tasty flavour and of miscellaneous activity and I’m not quite done yet.

As promised, here’s the rest and the main part of three on three marathons continues.

The Ash saga began in 2003 and happily continues.

2004 was emptier than my wallet for a new KOF and because the next game wasn’t released until 2005, the classic numbering departed.

Numerals were favoured over a number and The King of Fighters XI set the standard for the future and beyond.

Let’s dispense with the formalities.

Leader select is back, as is the tagging.

The tagging now features a new tag out system.  You can tag out during a beating and tag out during a combo.

At last, a great set of new portraits.  No goofiness, just business.

As with 2003, the sprites (where applicable) adopt a Garou look so again affects Gato, Terry and Tizoc.

Brand new bodies Jenet (Garou), Duck (Fatal Fury) and unseen beasts include Malin, Momoko and Elisabeth.

Returning reprobates include Eiji, Kasumi as do many other lovelies that predominantly form these three on three battle royales.

Backgrounds are largely pretty, but lack personality and activity.

We’ve seen SNK do this many times before and done so much better.

There are some nice sonic touches such as bells ringing and waves splashing.

Again, this is hardly nothing innovative.

Instead of fighting Adelheid as a boss to pick the lock of a fake ending, Rugal’s sibling is now a mid boss.

By the time you reach the bosses, I think the game got confused with Last Blade.  Shion is as misplaced as a bunch of pixels can be.

Defeating this foxy lady sees the real challenge in the form of Magaki.

You find that he and Shion sing from the same hymn sheet as Mukai and as the latter broke the Orochi seal, it continues to unleash more evil than Pandora’s Box.

You are taken to Different Space with blue flames, winged demon statues and a floating blue orb.

Holy cow - is this a nightmare.

With his array of projectiles; he may as well be piloting the R-9.

Yes, this is a remarkably tough match of epic proportions and unfair to an irritating degree.

He tries to be Orochi from ’97 but fails.

This is largely an inoffensive offering with plenty of charm and due to its obvious Garou look, it doesn’t look half bad.

Years pass…

Snore, snore…

Hey wake up, because HD is upon us and is more important than sliced granary.

The King of Fighters XII is here and after this short synopsis, you’ll need a beer.

It was released for arcades for Taito’s Type X2 board in 2009 and barged its way into the console market on HD powerhouses PS3 and 360.

The reality is another story-less encounter and promises state of the art graphics.

Tagging departs, no official teams and classic threesome battles are reintroduced.

A new gameplay mechanic is the critical counter and the new critical gauge allows the freedom to cancel moves at will.

Holy shit, this was a HD horror show.

Problems begin with the ‘new’ sprites.  The trouble is not with the actual sprites, it’s their heavy pixilation.

When you are fighting amongst the all new singing and dancing HD backgrounds, they just more out of place than a squirrel playing cricket in a walrus only golf club.

These backgrounds of course look pretty with lots of colours, frequently active and watched by many eccentric chars but the variety is tighter than a new pair of shoes.

I don’t think there’s many more than five.

The cock ups continue with the char roster.  Incredibly, it’s the lowest ever number of maulers ever seen in any KOF tournament.

For console versions, a miserly 22 are available.

What?

Bear with me while I reload my mud cannon and what final obstacle stands in your way?

Rugal? Zero?

So who is it?

Err, there isn’t one.

A fighting game without an end boss is like Crazy Taxi without a fare, or 3D without polygons, or….

You get the mindset.

The final insult is the basic non-functionality of the online mode.

It stutters and splutters but fails to properly work.

So there you have it, a wonderful introduction for KOF, HD and the online market.

Capcom are still laughing now.

Well this is it, the end of the line and the final three on three tournament to chew over.

This is hotter than a blazing inferno and everything that XII wasn’t.

The Ash saga apparently concludes and goes out with a chained explosion.

Super Street Fighter IV is bricking it as this is more popular than a piece of cheese with red wine.

A total of 31 chars made up of returning favourites and a feast of forgotten fun.

Shen, Ash, Duolon, King, Iori, K’, Terry, Andy, Joe, Kyo, Yuri, Mai and Athena are all back.

Hwa Jai and Raiden feature from the ancient original Fatal Fury.  It really was released way back in 1991.

Ralf, Clark and Takuma have overdosed on steroids and look angrier than ever.

The critical counter system has walked the plank and been replaced with the hyper drive meter.

Drive cancels open up combo possibilities and when the hyper drive meter is maxed out, this leave the door ajar for infinite drive cancels.

There are standard and improved nukes and a neo max nuke which needs to be fed maximum stocks.

This I suppose can be associated with 2003 and the leader desperation move.

So the new system, variation of normal, special, nukes and combos means for wicked free flowing fights which equates to an excellent improvement.

A variety of game modes including story, arcade and mission adds variety to solitary play.

Story mode brings its own anime story and being able to choose your own destiny brings some intrigue.

The banter and bickering before each match is more macho and bitchier than ever.

Even without DLC, we sensibly have a large variety of backgrounds and most are tastier than a cinema hotdog.

These include a revamped Pao Pao Café, a horde of well trained and trumpeting elephants, a bustling street scene, a jungle with pot-bellied natives, flying blimps and London buses.

Each features a bustling crowd, full of eccentricity and more colours than the rainbow.

HD or not, fighting games can still be extremely lazy and even boring in their scenery content.

Two in particular do go some way into been slotted into the boring cavity with a desert and deserted back alley scene encouraging a yawn or two.

Backgrounds also feature cameos from brawlers such as Butt, Lucky Glauber, Brain Battler, Adelheid, Heavy D, Krauser and Haohmuru.

As we are in the HD era, DLC can be a chosen luxury and forking out some cash on the PSN or Xbox Live will see exclusive new backgrounds.

These are revamped efforts from other classic tournaments including the crow infested industrial factory from ’95 and the extremely attractive highway from ’96.

Suffice to say, they are each stunning.

Extra chars can also be made available including Mr. Karate.

The unintelligible decision to remove a boss is thankfully reversed as you fight Saiki and Evil Ash.

Are these cheaper than a jumble sale?  You bet yer’.

Even if some may not still like it, online play is the future and unlike before, this is a smooth and glitch-free experience.

It has fewer creases than a well ironed shirt.

Overall, it’s an experience more solid than concrete and the deepest KOF ever.

Will there be a XIV?

Well on this evidence and more importantly, its undeniable worldwide success, I’d say that’s more certain than Terry tossing his hat.

Final charge

No Capcom worshipper can deny that the world would be a worse place without King of Fighters.

It’s a truly wonderful franchise and the revolution of online fighting has only made it even more famous.

Regular tournaments are held and dare to challenge the popularity of Street Fighter.  

My favourite year is definitely ’97, the worst is 2001 and the most important is XIII as that has really persuaded people that there is more to global fighting than a Capcom franchise.

For any owner of a PS3 and/or 360 who are huge fighting junkies, give KOF XIII a try. 

Once you’re drawn into the world of Kyo et al, it’s pretty difficult to resist.

South Town, the Bogards and a nasty guy called Geese is next.

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