The company formerly known as SNK, creator of the NeoGeo arcade hardware and such memorable game series as Samurai Shodown, Metal Slug, and Fatal Fury, is back in business as SNK/Playmore. This new company has recently released a two-game, two-disc compilation of The King of Fighters 2000 and 2001 for the PlayStation 2, and if you're a fan of 2D fighting games, that's good news for you. The new compilation features a handful of superficial additions that you can unlock, such as introduction sequences from older games, new background stages, and a few hidden characters, but it otherwise contains two faithful ports of two great 2D fighting games at a pretty good price.
SNK's King of Fighters series started off in 1994 on the NeoGeo arcade hardware as an all-new series that featured stars from the developer's other games, yet the games took on a life of their own and eventually became SNK's most popular and recognizable franchise. The games have always been based on competitive play between teams of characters that you and your opponents choose--these characters have generally been colorful-looking martial artists with a good deal of personality and a varied arsenal of attacks. Since the games let you create your own team from a sizable cast of characters, the King of Fighters series has also afforded players plenty of variety, especially since the series has continued to grow and evolve, adding new features and characters (and sometimes cutting out old ones).
Both the 2000 and the 2001 editions of The King of Fighters, which were originally released in 2000 and 2001, respectively, had a number of new gameplay options, and these are intact in the new compilation. For example, both games feature strikers--additional characters you don't control but that you can call upon to leap onscreen to deliver an extra attack or two, often allowing you to continue a long combination of attacks. 2000 also features additional "armor" and "counter" modes that let you break through your opponents' attacks or cancel certain attacks into others. 2001 lets you cancel certain attacks into more-powerful super attacks, and it also features "wire" attacks that juggle opponents in the air--and this game also lets you choose a team of one to four characters so that you can have a traditional KOF team of three, or one exceptionally powerful character with three strikers, or four slightly weaker characters with no strikers. Some of these features may seem gimmicky, but they do open up opportunities for interesting juggle and combination attacks that you couldn't do otherwise.
The games in the compilation faithfully recapture the speed, pacing, and control of the original arcade games, which is to say that they're both fast-paced and well balanced. However, you may have trouble getting the most out of the games' more-complicated characters using the default D pad on the Dual Shock controller. For whatever reason, neither game lets you use an analog stick to control your fighter--which may have been a slightly better, though still inelegant, solution--so you may have trouble pulling off maneuvers from characters like 2001's Mei Lee and 2001's Angel, both of whom have insanely complicated attacks that require finesse as well as good timing.
As mentioned, each game also has additional content you can unlock. 2000 offers intro sequences from previous KOF games, and both games offer hidden striker characters and additional stages. Other than the intros, you must play through each game's mislabeled "party mode" to unlock the content. This mode is nothing more than a single-player competition that requires you to beat down an endless succession of characters (unlocking new additions every 10th or 12th time you win) that don't even start fighting back until you reach your 90th to 100th opponent, or so. The mode is boring, and it seems more like work than play, and the unlockable additions really don't add that much to the game. Getting at the unlockable content might have been less tedious if it had instead been presented like the hidden content of most other fighting games, which let you unlock new characters and items as you play through the normal modes--since this is what you'll spend most of your time doing anyway.
Unless you're already a great fan of 2D fighting games from such developers as SNK, Capcom, and Sammy, you probably won't be too impressed with The King of Fighters 2000/2001's presentation. The original games were released two and three years ago, respectively, on aging arcade hardware that is considered by many to be obsolete. Individual characters have their own individual charm, but the low-resolution special effects and decent-but-not-stunning animation on most of them don't hold up well to modern PS2 games. And since the KOF series has always been a yearly series that has focused on gradual improvements over revolutionary changes, unless you're already a huge fan of certain characters, you may find it disappointing that several of them seem very similar between the two games. In addition, both games' background stages, which were already bland and uninteresting to begin with, have apparently been antialiased to smooth out pixelated lines and edges, but as a result, the games' background stages look blurry and ugly. Fortunately, the games at least sound better than they look. Both games' soundtracks appear as arranged versions, and feature uninteresting techno music, but they're otherwise intact. Both games also feature a great deal of recorded voice speech that helps give each character lots of personality.
Regardless of its presentation, The King of Fighters 2000/2001 contains two solid ports of two great 2D fighting games, and the two-disc compilation retails at a very reasonable suggested price of $40. This is definitely a step in the right direction for a company that had previously released most of its games on prohibitively expensive arcade hardware--hardware so expensive that some "fans" feel justified in illegally pirating NeoGeo games rather than purchasing the actual games as they were meant to be played. The King of Fighters 2000/2001 doesn't offer mind-blowing graphics, but if you enjoy good 2D fighting games, it will give you plenty of good, solid gameplay to keep you busy.