The rivalry between SNK and Capcom - or, perhaps, their respective fanbases - is long standing. SNK diehards accuse Capcom of stealing SNK's character designs, while Capcom junkies tend to not understand why anyone would ever bother to play any of SNK's fighters. While you might think that there isn't any common ground between the two companies' distinct styles, SNK and Capcom nevertheless decided to collaborate, and SNK has released two crossover titles for its Neo Geo Pocket Color: one card-battle game and one fighting game. The fighting game is widely praised as the best portable fighter ever released. Now, it's Capcom's turn to release a crossover game, and it's taken the form of Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000. The game debuted in Japanese arcades last month and hit the Dreamcast in arcade-perfect form a few weeks later. The game is currently scheduled for a US release this November.
The game contains 33 playable characters (only 28 are available at the game's start) divided roughly evenly between members of both camps. The focus of the characters makes it evident that Capcom tried its best to represent each camp's mainstays. It's inevitable, though, that some more fervent fans will take offense at the exclusion of personal favorites, be it Capcom's Guy, SNK's Joe Higashi, or what have you.
Capcom has done a good job adapting the game's control scheme to accommodate both companys' fighters. The four-button control configuration is perfectly suited for SNK's pantheon, while the Street Fighter crew will find the "missing" attacks easily accessible by pressing, usually, down-forward or down-backward, plus the appropriate heavy attack, similar to Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Overall, combat in Capcom vs. SNK leans very heavily toward the area of combo-oriented, close-quarters fighting, à la Capcom's Alpha series. Don't expect any air combos, and juggling is kept to a very severe minimum; nothing, at any rate, like the gratuitous juggles possible in SFA3. Overly defensive players, or "turtlers," are dealt with relatively graciously, as Capcom vs. SNK's guard meter is hidden behind the scenes, and guard crushes are few and far between. The game also doesn't have the air blocking found in both companys' more recent offerings, which gives the game a slightly more offensive bent than most recent Capcom fighters.
The problem of reconciling the two doctrines' supercombos is resolved in an interesting manner. At the beginning of each match, players are allowed to choose between Capcom Groove or SNK Groove, the former being a three-leveled bar that gradually fills during combat, à la the Alpha series, while the latter behaves like the first few King of Fighters games, allowing you to manually charge the super meter - by holding down both heavy attacks - in order to muster the energy to perform supers. SNK Groove, furthermore, features a desperation mode. Occurring when a character's life is nearly exhausted, desperation mode allows for infinite supers to be performed and is indicated by a flashing life meter. Needless to say, a powerful character in desperation mode makes quite a daunting opponent, giving the impression that SNK Groove is inherently the more powerful style. In truth, while attempts were made by Capcom to balance both modes (in SNK Groove, some characters' special attacks, for instance, are only executable while in desperation and with a full super meter), Capcom Groove lacks the tangible wallop that SNK Groove's desperation mode provides. SNK Groove's drawbacks (namely, the time it takes to charge the super meter and your vulnerability while charging) are made moot by the ability to control your supercombos, and the wanton havoc possible through desperation mode. In all honesty, only the most steadfast Capcom diehards or players of characters that have three-level supercombos will opt for Capcom Groove.
Capcom vs. SNK also tries to achieve play balance on a more tangible level. In the spirit of KOF's team-based combat, Capcom vs. SNK allows you to form groups of fighters to take to the field. Each character is given a value from one through four, dictating how many of the team's slots (a possible four) he or she will take up. As powerful characters - and that is a subjective term, when applied to this game - naturally take up more slots, loading up your roster with powerhouses will limit your number of combatants. Stocking up on the alleged "weenies," however, will guarantee you a healthy sized roster. As was implied earlier, you shouldn't expect to agree with Capcom's designations. Indeed, our experience with the game has been that many of the lower-tiered characters are actually quite powerful and effective (Dhalsim and Blanka come to mind), while some of the heavy hitters don't seem all that worthy of their point value. Superficially, the lower-valued characters deal less damage and take more abuse from enemy attacks, but it seems that Capcom didn't really factor in the effectiveness of their special attacks or their ability to combo. Additionally, on many occasions, it actually seems as if the lower-level characters deal out damage that is somewhat comparable to their heavy-hitting cousins, giving the impression of a haphazardly devised ratio system. Luckily, one of the game's unlockable features allows you to edit each character's ratio in versus mode, prior to his or her selection, which allows, for example, for matchups composed of teams of four four-point characters apiece, or similar atrocities. This feature, once unlocked, becomes the saving grace of the game's balance, as it allows you to custom-tailor your teams based on what you feel is appropriate, given your opponent.
In terms of visuals, many elements of Capcom vs. SNK are blessed with brilliant production values, while other aspects seem to have been neglected - at best, seeming recycled, at worst, downright compromised. The stages and backgrounds - reminiscent of SNK's style - all boast small intros which are clever in concept and striking in design. One stage's intro, for example, features a small car-chase scene, displayed in the rear-view style of classic racing games, which ends in a wreck whose outcome decorates the stage on which the match will eventually occur. The backgrounds are all superdetailed, high-resolution 2D images, replete with animated elements that literally bring them life. They also frequently feature quite impressive lighting effects that proficiently play with light, shadow, and translucency. The characters' energy attacks are quite a pleasure to behold; the brilliant particle effects generously used throughout represent some of the best that the fighting genre has ever seen, unfolding smoothly and fluidly.
Most of the characters seem plucked directly from various titles in their respective series, some enjoying slight makeovers, while others literally being cut from their previous games and pasted into this new one. Very few have been totally redrawn, but, for the most part, those are the characters that look the best. One look at M. Bison's sharp new design, and you'll surely agree. Overall, some of the characters seem as if they lost some frames of animation in the transfer, but it's easy to say that the game's small but numerous graphical flourishes more than make up for it.
The game's various modes - hidden and open - make it a generally well-rounded package. Arcade, versus, practice, and team-attack modes compose the game, while a secret mode houses all the game's unlockable features. Alternate costume colors for the various characters can be unlocked, as can new characters and extra fighting modes for existing characters, which wholly alter their move sets. New stages, options, and game modes are also hidden in the game, waiting for you to gather the points to purchase them. Altogether, there are 77 hidden elements, causing the game's single-player replay value to spike quite considerably. Rounding out the package is a color-edit mode, which allows you to tweak the colors of the actual sprites.
Issues of balance aside, Capcom has produced a great game. Though the SNK characters' repertoires of moves had to be simplified in order to fit into the Capcom scheme (as they, as of late, have begun to boast quite extensive lists of moves that, quite frankly, would have blown away anything a Capcom character could boast), what remains of them works quite well in the present context. Fans of either series would do well to check the game out, as it needn't be reiterated how tempting fights between the characters of these rival companies are to watch unfold, let alone have an active hand in.