SNK, despite some heavy competition from the likes of Capcom, has forged a vast and loyal fan base with its long running series of fighting games, beginning with Fatal Fury and Art Of Fighting. SNK eventually decided to up the ante, and with the arrival of King Of Fighters, a fighting series that would see yearly releases for over a decade (and you thought Street Fighter II had a lot of instalments!), the team arguably delivered their finest creation.
KOF is a three-on-three vs. scrapper in which you pick a team of three fighters and then proceed to battle, one man at a time, several rival teams from around the globe. Eliminate each opposing team member, and the match is yours.
As you’d expect, each character in the game has a distinct fighting style, and all have a repertoire of flashy special moves, as well as super moves that can be used when powered up. There’s also a story at work here (the full title is King Of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga), involving an ancient power and a demonic apocalypse, but to be honest, all but the most hardened KOF fanboys could care less, so I’m not going to waste time elaborating on it, save to say it’s of the usual beat ‘em up ‘quality’… ahem.
Within this collection, which has also appeared on the PS2, and also the PSP, we have the first five games in the KOF series – KOF 94, 95, 96, 97 and finally, 98. Each game was released in its namesake year, and are all emulated here on the Wii in perfect order. I should also point out that many issues present in the inferior PS2 version, such as slow loading times, have been ironed out here, and control options are far more varied, thanks to the Wii’s collection of input options.
You can play any game in the series with almost any Wii input device, including the Wiimote, classic controller or Gamecube controller. My first tip to anyone even thinking of considering buying this is to first invest in either a classic or Gamecube controller. Why? Because controlling KOF with the Wiimote is an exercise in sheer frustration and joint pain. The Wiimote is, as much as Nintendo would like to argue (Super Smash Bros. Brawl, anyone?) NOT suited for this type of game, and trying to play KOF with it will simply make you wish you’d never bought the title in the first place.
With a decent control option in place, however, things are far more enjoyable, if you pick the right game, of course. You see, while there are five games on offer here, the new features and differences between each title are negligible at best, and it’s almost a certainty that once you’ve played them all, KOF 94 and 95, and possibly 96 will sit on the disc like unwanted party guests sat in the corner of a room desperately trying to look like they’re sending text messages to friends.
It’s both 97 and 98 that will draw in the most attention, and it’s here where you’ll find the most enjoyable combat, and well-rounded play. This has nothing to do with graphics either, before any KOF fans jump onto the comments to flame me into next week.
Graphically, there’s little difference in the games (although they do improve as the series progresses), and the most important aspect here is the gameplay, including the character balance, subtleties in move sets and the overall feel of the system. And, quite simply, SNK took a while to get all of this down, and in my opinion, this didn’t really happen until KOF 97 (although 96 gives it a damn good shot).
Regardless of your favourite, each game in the collection is presented in its original entirety, and all play well. Any veteran of one-on-one fighters will quickly pick up all of the usual combo and special move inputs, and it won’t be long before you find your favourite characters and teams.
Combat is fast and smooth, and although, in my opinion, most fighters on offer are a little bland and uninteresting when compared to rival titles, all are varied and possess a wide range of moves, with no one character being overly powerful and cheap. It should be noted, however, that the game’s difficulty in the first two outings seems far higher than the latter, so if you’re not great at other titles in the genre, then it may be best to stick to the later titles in the collection.
Although the first couple of games are essentially the worst of the series, it’s still worth stepping through each one in turn at first (again, if you can tackle the higher difficulty in the first outings), if only to explore the tweaks and refinements that were made. As I’ve said, these are hardly epic, but some are welcome additions. For example, whereas you could only pick from preset teams in KOF 94, 95 offered players the ability to customise their teams, picking any fighters they like – a feature that would be used in each subsequent release. Other tweaks include obvious additions of new characters, both new and old (such as fighters from previous SNK titles like Fatal Fury and Ikari Warriors) and generally refined moves, to further balance out the games.
A key feature of the series is the power meter. In the first few titles this has to be powered up manually (as well as by giving and taking damage). Once this is filled, you’re ready to unleash some real pain, as well as super moves. Later, this system was replaced with an automatic system that built up power points, which could then be used to unleash power moves.
All the games on offer here are presented using a central menu system, and at any time you can exit a game and return to pick another. As well as the five games, you can also view a range of artwork and other media (once you unlock it) and can take on the challenges.
These challenges, obviously supplied for the dedicated gamer and hardcore KOF fanatic, let you apply specific rules to the games, which you have to adhere to if you’re to win. For example, these rules include settings that make it impossible to damage foes unless you hit them with a 3-hit or above combo. Others remove your ability to defend attacks, constantly drain your health or even force you to get perfect rounds in order to win. Most of these challenges are all hard as nails, and will only interest advanced players, but they do bring a new dimension to the game, and should further enhance the longevity of the collection.
The King Of Fighters Collection is a nice enough, solid group of titles all presented on a single disc, but, even with five titles on offer, the simple lack of any real new content in each release means this isn’t as big a bargain as you may think. Each game feels essentially the same, and although the later titles are far more enjoyable, unless you’re a long-time KOF fan, there’s simply nothing here that can tackle today’s fighters. And, when you consider that you can buy such classics as Super Street Fighter II and other SNK releases such as Fatal Fury 2, Art Of Fighting 2, Samurai Showdown II and even KOF 94 from the Wii store, then the reasons to own this dwindle, making it a release for die hard KOF fans only.