The fighting dream match carries on in Capcom vs. SNK 2, an arcade port of the sequel to last year's fighting game that did the unthinkable--it brought together many of the most popular characters from Capcom's and SNK's fighting games. For fans of one company's games or the other's, this was about as outrageous as if Coke and Pepsi were to join forces to make a brand-new cola, or if Sega were to start developing games for Nintendo. Wait, scratch that one. About a year after the release of Capcom vs. SNK, the sense of shock may be gone, but it's still a solid 2D fighting game. The sequel--currently available only in Japan for the Dreamcast, although a PlayStation 2 version is on its way to these shores--is similar. Like most of Capcom's fighting games, it's an incremental enhancement of its predecessor that introduces some welcome new features but just barely enough of them.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 adds some new characters, moves, game mechanics, backgrounds, and music. There's a lot of the same graphics, sounds, and gameplay. The changes in the game will have a more significant impact depending on how serious you are about your 2D fighters. The new additions make the game technically superior to the first, but not necessarily better enough to merit purchase if you already have the first one--let alone the half-baked Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 Pro, an intermediate rerelease of the first game with a couple of throwaway characters added and all the hidden characters already unlocked.
Depending on how you count, Capcom vs. SNK 2 adds about half a dozen new characters to the original. There are close to 40 different characters available in the game, though of course not all of them are completely unique. Some of the most exciting new additions to the roster include Eagle, the British stick fighter who dates all the way back to the original Street Fighter game, and Haohmaru, the cocky sword-wielding samurai from SNK's Samurai Shodown series, whose katana would presumably give him an unfair advantage. Fortunately, other characters have no problem deflecting Haohmaru's long, slow slashes with their forearms. Others notable additions include the kung-fu fighter Yun, from Street Fighter III, and Rock Howard, the bastard son of Geese Howard who first appeared in SNK's Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. Some of the other new characters, such as the over-the-hill martial artist Ryuhaku Todo, from SNK's Art of Fighting, and Maki, a rip-off of SNK's Mai Shiranui who appeared in the sequel to Final Fight, are surprising additions to the lineup, but not necessarily good ones. Capcom and SNK fans alike will probably find that they can think of a few equally rare characters who they would have rather seen in the game.
The original Capcom vs. SNK let you unlock an additional version of each character who sported a different arsenal of special moves. Capcom vs. SNK 2 basically merges these "EX" characters with their standard counterparts, making for characters who for the most part have more moves and more options and are therefore generally more interesting to play. Capcom vs. SNK 2 also shows that its designers are being rather wishy-washy in deciding just how many attack buttons players want to be able to use. The Street Fighter series famously used the six-button layout of three punches and three kicks; on the other hand, Neo Geo games always used just four buttons, and the original Capcom vs. SNK took this streamlined approach. But the sequel opts for Capcom's old style, all of a sudden forcing you to use more buttons on your controller. This may be a welcome change if you prefer the six-button style of the Street Fighter series, but it's also a serious pain if you're stuck using a standard Dreamcast pad, with its four face buttons and flaky shoulder buttons. There's no option to use the previous game's four-button layout, so in any event, you'll just have to get used to using six buttons again.
Aside from all the characters, perhaps the most interesting gameplay feature in Capcom vs. SNK 2 is the availability of six different fighting styles to choose from, compared with two in the original. The game calls these "grooves," and they're designed to mimic the gameplay styles of previous Capcom and SNK fighting games. Whether your character can block in midair, quickly recover from a knockdown, counter from the blocking position, do a quick forward hop or a full run, and much more is governed by which groove you select. As in the original Capcom vs. SNK, by default you choose a team of fighters, and the groove you select applies to all of them. The newly added grooves are interesting. The Street Fighter III-style "P" groove lets you parry attacks--you can tap forward as you're about to get hit, and you'll absorb the blow and have a moment to counter. The Samurai Shodown-style "K" groove displays a gauge that increases as your character takes damage. When it's full, your character is in an enraged state (his or her skin turns all red), and you can deal out much more damage. If nothing else, these grooves are fun additions to the game, though they're not as versatile as the more-conventional styles you may be accustomed to from games like Street Fighter Alpha II or King of Fighters '97. These styles remain basically unchanged from the previous game.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 also revisits the "ratio" system from the first game. In the original, each character had a preassigned ratio ranging from one to four, and your team had to be composed of four points total--so you could either pick two characters with ratio two, one character with ratio three and one with ratio one, or something like that. The character's ratio was meant to correspond to his or her relative power--it directly affected how much vitality and strength the character had--though in practice, this didn't perfectly work out. It also limited the sorts of teams you could create, at least until you unlocked the option to do away with the ratio system altogether. Capcom vs. SNK 2 takes this more open-ended approach and lets you decide how to split the power. Under this revised ratio system, you can choose a team of three characters, where one will be slightly stronger, or a team of two equally powerful characters. You can even put all your eggs in one basket and choose just one proportionately more-powerful character. There's also a three-on-three gameplay option, as well as a single match, a versus mode, and a survival mode that isn't so interesting since you get most of your health back whenever you win a bout. The color edit mode from the first game is also available, though now you can only save one custom palette per character instead of two. Japanese players also get to use the built-in network play mode, though anyone who imports the game can fuss around in the practice mode or watch replays of old bouts in the replay mode.
The game has a few hidden secrets, the most interesting of which is certainly the option to create your own groove. Here, each of many groove elements is assigned a certain number of points that you can earn and then spend in order to create a custom groove. Want to reproduce the frustratingly defense-oriented matches of Samurai Shodown IV, for example? You can--just enable short hops, running, air blocking, and the Samurai Shodown-style rage gauge. It's possible to use this custom groove system to reproduce almost any fighting game's special mechanics pretty faithfully.
It still doesn't change the core gameplay of Capcom vs. SNK 2, which is much like that of the first game. The action still feels a bit flat, and it doesn't help that the sound effects of punches and kicks aren't any good. More importantly, though, the game's timing isn't quite like how you might remember it in classic 2D fighters. There's not much of a stun pause when a hit connects, making most of the attacks seem very light and the timing for combos a little too abrupt. Ranges on normal and special moves don't necessarily correspond to what the character sprites look like they're doing. The control itself is precise--special moves can be unleashed with little effort. And in general, the game's characters can reasonably hold their own in battle, though some--especially old favorites like Ken--are as powerful as ever. Overall, Capcom vs. SNK 2 certainly plays well, but it doesn't play that differently from or any better than various 2D fighting games from years past.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 looks about the same as last year's game. It's been said before, but some of those characters look simply archaic by now--one-eyed Sagat hasn't changed since Street Fighter Alpha from 1995, and Morrigan, the succubus from the Darkstalkers series, dates back even earlier. Some of the new characters look pretty good and are smoothly animated--in particular, Eagle and Haohmaru look like the imposing fighters they're supposed to be. Others, such as the silly duo of Chang and Choi, the two Korean ex-cons from the King of Fighters series, look pretty poor and use the bland, comical art style used for some of the uglier Street Fighter Alpha characters, such as Blanka and Balrog the boxer (who look as ugly as ever in Capcom vs. SNK 2). The game's biggest graphical problem is still that the art style throughout is so inconsistent from character to character.
At least the characters all seem to blend in well with the game's attractive new fully 3D backgrounds, which are filled with some really obscure references to some of Capcom's and SNK's older games. It's too bad that the likes of the tastefully done introduction animations used for the original Capcom vs. SNK stages are nowhere to be found in the sequel. Likewise, there's no real semblance of a story and no real character endings. Capcom vs. SNK 2 recycles most of the speech and sound effects from the first game, and the all-new music mostly consists of the same sort of forgettable, and sometimes grating, dance beats found in the original. However, a couple of these tracks are quite good and actually use vocals to good effect. But you'll want to turn most of them off--all the more so because of the game's irritating albeit fluently English-speaking announcer.
Fans of the first Capcom vs. SNK game should be pleased with the sequel if they don't expect too much from it, which they probably won't if they're fans of either Capcom's or SNK's games in general. Capcom vs. SNK 2 offers just enough additions and changes to be justifiable as the next complete game in the series, though it doesn't take any major detours. If by chance you missed out on the first game, you'll find that Capcom vs. SNK 2 is one of the best 2D fighting games available. It's cut from the same cloth as countless other Capcom fighting games, but it's got more features, more characters, and more depth than a lot of them. So if you only own a Dreamcast, it's worth importing. Otherwise you can wait a bit for the domestic PlayStation 2 version, or even let it slip by if you've had your fill of the first game.