Like it or hate it, you've got to respect the Neo Geo. I mean, name another arcade hardware platform that's been able to deliver the goods for a decade. The system's mix of quirky fighting games, puzzle games, and shooters makes fans of the platform loyal to the point of an almost-religious fervor. Aside from this relatively small number of NG fans, the system's software has gone largely unnoticed in the arcade, and the home version of the hardware is equally unappreciated, mostly due to the scarcity of older carts and the still-staggering prices of new games, which usually sell in the $250 - 300 range). King of Fighters '98 is SNK's latest all-inclusive fighting game, taking characters from all over the SNK universe, inventing a few new ones, putting them in teams of three, and letting them go at it in luxurious 2D environments.
Now, some of you are probably thinking "OK, yeah, what does King of Fighters '98 have to do with any of this? This is KOF Dream Match 1999!" Well, in a move that will no doubt prove to get more and more confusing as time goes on, KOF '98 has been renamed to KOF Dream Match 1999 - even though the real King of Fighters '99 is in arcades now. So Dream Match 1999 contains the exact same features as the home version of KOF '98 for the Neo Geo, including team play, single play, versus play (for both teams and singles), survivor (which is more of a time-attack mode than an actual survival mode, since you can continue after losing), and practice. The main new feature here is the ability to link your Dreamcast up to SNK's latest gadget, the Neo Geo Pocket Color. The NGPC, when armed with a link cable and a copy of King of Fighters R-2, connects right up, and you can transfer data back and forth. You can transfer points earned on the DC to the NGPC, giving you new skills in R-2's making mode. Points earned on the NGPC can be moved over to the DC and used to open up various art galleries.
Graphically, the game features the same 2D greatness you've come to expect from the KOF series, but the designers have tossed a bit of 3D in there for good measure. The 3D elements manifest themselves in the game's backgrounds. Items like the cars on the Japanese street stage and the trains in the train yard are rendered in 3D. The addition of the 3D background elements gives the game a very cool look, though it sticks out a little bit at first. The audio portion of the game is quite nice, also, though I would have liked the option to use the original cart-based music as well as the CD-quality soundtrack. A few of the characters' voices have been replaced with the voices used in Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition. Also, since the game loads a bit between rounds, it doesn't have the continuous music that the Neo Geo version had.The gameplay is where KOF DM99 really shines. Not only does the game have an absolutely insane number of characters (including alternate versions of some of the older characters), but very few of them are clones of other characters in the game. Even characters with similar moves are different enough to warrant picking every character. Add to that the advanced/extra systems, which govern how your super moves and dodges work, and you've got a ton of meaningful options when it comes to character selection. I initially assumed that Sega's arcade joystick would be the only way to play, much like Marvel vs. Capcom. But since the KOF series uses four buttons (well, five if you count the taunt), the stock controller works great. There's only a couple instances where the controller poses a problem, the most glaring of which is when you must press three buttons at the same time to activate your super meter. But this, too, comes with time and won't be a problem for very long.
King of Fighters Dream Match 1999 is a 2D fighting game for 2D fighting-game fans. It's not an easy game to pick up as a beginner and, like most SNK fighters, has some hard-to-execute (unless, of course, you've been playing the KOF series since its 1994 inception) super moves. While many people turn their noses up at SNK's fighters in favor of more mainstream games from companies like Capcom, the King of Fighters series truly does bring something to the table, and this game is no exception. A definite must for 2D fighting-game fans.