King of Fighters '99 Evolution Review

KoF Evolution is about as good a port of SNK's The King of Fighters '99 as anyone could ask for.

The King of Fighters '99 Evolution for the Dreamcast successfully reproduces just about every aspect of SNK's original NeoGeo fighting game, The King of Fighters '99, and actually improves on several of them. It features all-new, fully 3D backgrounds, hidden striker characters, and new play modes. In fact, it's an excellent port - but it's a port of a disappointing game, especially if you've played Dream Match, the previous King of Fighters game.

KoF Evolution looks about as good as it possibly can on the Dreamcast - it has all The King of Fighters '99's characters, and each character has every single frame of animation intact. What's more, the game features crisply rendered, fully 3D versions of each of the original game's backgrounds, as well as a number of attractive all-new backgrounds, the latter of which are probably the best of the bunch. That's because the rest of KoF Evolution's stages are as subdued and as plain as the stages in the NeoGeo version of The King of Fighters '99; all the fancy 3D graphics in the world can't make an open sewer filled with brown water seem exciting or appealing. In addition, unlike Dream Match, which features a full-length anime introduction, KoF Evolution features an only slightly modified version of the original King of Fighters '99's disappointingly brief introduction sequence.

KoF Evolution also faithfully reproduces all the sounds from the original NeoGeo game and features the arranged soundtrack music. All the game's voice samples and sound effects are clear, as is the music, and, unlike Dream Match, the music doesn't cut out between fighting rounds, which makes the KoF Evolution's already reasonable load times seem even shorter. Unfortunately, the original NeoGeo version featured some of the most boring and forgettable tunes ever to appear in a King of Fighters game, and not even the most high-fidelity recording can make a bad song sound good. As with the original NeoGeo game, most of KoF Evolution's soundtrack consists of half-hearted techno music - with the exception of Terry Bogard's jazzy but entirely too-laid-back theme, which is, as in the original NeoGeo version, lifted directly from the Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition soundtrack.

Of course, sound and graphics aren't as important to a game as gameplay. And KoF Evolution reproduces the gameplay and control scheme of the original King of Fighters '99 for the NeoGeo more or less perfectly. SNK's original King of Fighters '99 is itself a solid fighting game that borrowed much from its predecessor but is a disappointment when compared with it. Dream Match features two very different modes of play and lets you choose four different character colors and four different win poses. KoF Evolution only features one play mode (which most closely resembles advanced mode from Dream Match) and only lets you choose two colors and three win poses per character. In addition, Dream Match features 38 playable characters plus 13 alternate versions of existing characters, for a total of 51 choices, so you are bound to find at least a few characters you'll want to play. In contrast, KoF Evolution features 33 playable characters, but three of these are variations of Kyo, and one is the game's boss character and official fashion disaster, Krizalid. Krizalid happens to be one of the worst boss characters ever to appear in a fighting game; he's stiffly animated, freakishly ugly, and absurdly overpowered. All these drawbacks grant him the most dreaded ability a fighting-game boss character can possess - the power to completely drain all the fun out of the game the moment you face him.

To be fair, KoF Evolution features five all-new characters (K', Maxima, Whip, Bao, and Jhun Hoon) in addition to Krizalid, and though some, like the insanely complex Jhun, are interesting, they don't have the same impact that more established characters - like the USA Sports Heroes and New Face Team - had. And though KoF Evolution's core gameplay is extremely similar to Dream Match's excellent game engine, many of the characters that did make the jump from Dream Match to KoF Evolution seem stripped down. Some characters simply "forgot" certain special attacks, while others were changed drastically and, in some cases, lost many of the interesting strategies and depth they once had. SNK presumably made these changes to balance gameplay between one-on-one fighting and the use of strikers - extra characters that can be summoned to leap onscreen, perform a single attack, then leave

The striker system is clearly derived from the tag system from Capcom's Marvel fighting games, and though strikers can be used to set up a few interesting combination attacks for a certain few characters (and occasionally as a last-resort defense), they really don't add much to the game otherwise. KoF Evolution features many hidden striker characters that you can unlock by playing through the single-player arcade or survival modes. However, these hidden strikers do what any other striker does - jump onscreen, perform an attack or two, and leave - and many strikers were actually playable characters in previous King of Fighters games (and are represented in the game with the exact same sprites). As such, you may find that instead of being excited about unlocking Ryuji Yamazaki, Daimon Goro, or Billy Kane as a striker, you'll wonder why the heck the game doesn't just let you play as them.

KoF Evolution is about as good a port of SNK's The King of Fighters '99 as anyone could ask for. It has improved background graphics, more play modes (including an endless and time-trial survivor mode), and it reproduces the arcade version's control scheme - as well as its sound, music, and gameplay - flawlessly. So if you're a great fan of the original King of Fighters '99, you should definitely pick it up. Unfortunately, KoF Evolution is a flawless port of an inherently disappointing game, which is why, through no fault of its own, it's otherwise difficult to recommend it over the previous game in the series.

The Good

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The Bad