The King of Fighters 2000 Review

While it may not be the last great NeoGeo game, it's certainly one of the last pretty good ones.

In a very, very unfortunate turn of events, video game developer SNK 2703940filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. The company had made a name for itself with its long-lived arcade platform, the NeoGeo, and its excellent games, especially its 2D fighting games. SNK's most popular fighting game series to date is The King of Fighters, a series that lets you play a team of three fighters that you choose from a roster of both original characters and the stars of some of SNK's other games, such as Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. The King of Fighters 2000 is the latest edition of SNK's popular fighting series and is apparently the last KOF game that SNK will develop. And while it may not be the last great NeoGeo game, it's certainly one of the last pretty good ones.

KOF 2000 refines and improves just about everything from the previous game, KOF '99. Then again, KOF '99 had plenty of room for improvement, since it had far fewer options and fewer playable characters than its predecessor. For instance, KOF 2000 features the same major gameplay systems as those of the previous game, including armor mode and counter mode; the former enables your character to move and fight without reeling backward when hit, while the latter lets you perform unlimited superattacks, as well as cancel certain special attacks into superattacks, respectively. And KOF 2000 also features KOF '99's "striker" system--the ability to call an offscreen striker character to leap in and attack your opponent briefly--which greatly resembles the "tag-ins" from Capcom's Marvel fighting game series. However, KOF 2000's striker system is actually slightly more developed; the game has a few more useful setups you can use with specific striker characters, as well as a standard juggle attack you can set up with any striker after you perform a basic throw attack. What's more, KOF 2000 has a huge number of strikers--more than 70 in all. And that's because you can choose any of the game's 35 playable characters as a striker; plus, each playable character will give you the option to choose an alternate striker instead. Many of these alternate strikers are extremely interesting, as they appeared in either older KOF games or in completely different games. For instance, you might recruit the breakdancer Duck King from the Fatal Fury fighting series, Fio from the Metal Slug side-scrolling NeoGeo action games, or one of many others. Some of these alternate strikers will likely seem obscure to you unless you've been a fan of SNK's NeoGeo games for some years, though if you have been a fan, you'll probably appreciate the references. But regardless of whether you've followed the NeoGeo for seven days or seven years, you'll probably be at least a little annoyed at the fact that you can't actually play as some of the game's alternate striker characters. It's especially perplexing that many of them--including Vice, Mature, Eiji, Billy, and Yamazaki--have the same exact character sprites and animations they had when they were playable characters in previous games, yet they're available only as strikers in KOF 2000.

Depending on your personal preferences, you may truly regret that you can't play as some of the KOF series' more established characters. That's because although KOF 2000 doesn't bother to reinstate any of the series' older characters to the playable roster, it does feature every last character that was introduced in KOF '99, plus several new characters that, for the most part, don't seem to have the same sort of charisma or sense of style that characters from the previous games had. For instance, the new character Ramon is a short, restless hand-to-hand fighter who continually paces back and forth between his rather uninteresting attacks. The new character Lin is a freakish, bald-headed ninja assassin dressed in bandages who's apparently convinced that he's absolutely terrifying to hear and behold, despite the fact that he resembles a cross between a mummy and a scrawny old man with poor posture. KOF 2000 also features Seth and Vanessa, two new characters that appeared as strikers in the Dreamcast version of KOF '99 Evolution . Vanessa is an interesting character; she's a boxer whose repertoire of special attacks references nearly every single other boxer ever to appear in an SNK fighting game. Unfortunately, Seth--and the other new characters Kula and Hinako--aren't as interesting. The game also features a brand-new boss character, Zero, who's even more unappealing, oafish, and hideously overpowered than KOF '99's sorry excuse for a boss, Krizalid. Though you may enjoy some or all of the new characters and their abilities, you'll quickly realize that they're very different from characters in previous games, for better or for worse.

Unfortunately, KOF 2000's graphics and sound are definitely worse than those of its predecessors. For KOF 2000 (and to some extent, for '99 as well), SNK's character artists attempted to improve many characters' appearances by adding details and additional color contrast to those characters' existing sprites. Unfortunately, the artists didn't know when to stop, despite the NeoGeo hardware's pixelated, low-resolution graphics and restrictively small color palette. As such, many of the game's characters--as well as some of the game's special effects--look darker and dingier than they did in brighter, more colorful installments of the KOF series. In addition, SNK's artists decided to continue creating the same sort of background stages they used in KOF '99: generic, dark, real-world settings. So in KOF 2000, rather than fighting in a massive karate dojo, an ancient Roman aqueduct, or the bustling Pao Pao Café, you'll fight at a drab construction site or a dimly lit indoor aquarium. And though the game's voice acting is about as good as in previous games, every one of KOF 2000's fights is accompanied by the same sort of thoroughly bland techno music that appeared in KOF '99. It's understandable that SNK might want to make a change of pace from constantly reusing specific character themes, but rather than try to replace these themes with worthwhile music, the developers decided to swap in even more nondescript, forgettable techno.

But because of the NeoGeo's hardware limitations, SNK has never really focused on cutting-edge graphics or sound for its games; it has focused on making games that are enjoyable and deep, and KOF 2000 is both of these. KOF 2000's control scheme is the result of a seven-year evolution from the very first game in the series, KOF '94--it is tight and responsive and lets you pull off just about any attack fairly easily. Also, with a few exceptions, the game's character roster is balanced extremely well--though this balance is partially due to the fact that many of the game's characters have fewer special attacks and abilities than they had in previous games. These character-specific changes were first instituted in '99, and most of them carried over to 2000. But nearly every single character in 2000 is more interesting than those in '99, since 2000 adds new attacks to certain characters, modifies the properties of certain characters' attacks, or both. In addition, the game's striker system is far more useful than it was in the previous game, though the game's counter and armor modes are still relatively useless, at least in serious competitive play. Fortunately, the rest of the game is balanced enough so that KOF 2000 works well as both a good test of your skills at the local arcade and as a good game for you and your buddies to play while huddled around your home cartridge system. If you're a serious fan of 2D fighting games, you might actually be better off getting some form of KOF '98 first (either the NeoGeo version or the Dreamcast KOF Dream Match 1999 )--since it was a much more solid, varied, and enjoyable game that had many more characters, brighter, more colorful graphics, better music, and more play modes. However, if you've got a few bucks in your pocket, some time to kill, and a KOF 2000 machine at your local arcade, you should by all means drop in a quarter or two--it's definitely worth it.

The Good

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The Bad