If you played games on the Neo Geo in the 1990s or you’re a fan of fighting games generally you’ve probably heard of the King of Fighters franchise. It’s one of the longest gaming franchises, full stop with a 12th installment having already been in the Japanese arcades and debuting on consoles in 2009. Ignition has been kind enough to bring The King of Fighters Collection over to Europe and like SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1, it’s a quality release for both them and SNK.
As with the aforementioned Arcade Classics Volume 1, you’re treated to a nice intro montage showing fighters and scenes from the different games leading into a menu using a wheel motif on the right whilst images of fighters appear on the left. Again, you can choose your controller layout from the same choices as in the Arcade Classisc collection: wiimote-only for left or right-handed play, wiimote+nunchuk, Gamecube controller or the preferred method: Classic Controller. All buttons can be remapped and functions that are mapped to multiple button presses also have single button equivalents for a total of seven buttons in play (that Hori Fighting stick is looking more and more justified).
I’m not the biggest fighting game fan in the world, but I have to say that the King of Fighters makes for a compelling presentation and I really prefer it to the typical “best of three” one-on-one fighting games. You get a team of three fighters and fight other teams of three in an “iron man” elimination. Each fighter fights until they get knocked out with a small health regen between bouts. Whomever still has a fighter standing at the end of it wins the match. You not only have more of a feeling of achievement, but you get to play with different styles in the course of a single match.
King of Fighters ’94 has fixed teams, but later installments allow you to build your own team from the fighters on hand. The cast of characters changes a bit over the course of the first four games and King of Fighters ’98 has 38 fighters to choose from covering all the previous games.
In addition to having a team format another major difference from other fighting games is the controls. Rather than simply having six buttons used to execute light, medium and strong kicks/punches, you have five buttons for attacks (punches/kicks/knockdown — throw in King of Fighters ’94), one to charge a meter for executing special moves and another for evading which allows you to sidestep or roll to the other side of your attacker. This can make for a more nuanced battle than in most fighting games and will take some practice to fully master.
The art style is brilliant 2D presented in the original 4:3 screen aspect with 480p resolution available and the emulation is flawless. Difficulty can be set on a scale from 1-8 just like the arcade, and I have to say even the lowest setting is not without challenge (I only managed to get to the end boss in King of Fighters ’97 and got soundly defeated — damn you Oroshi!).
Starting up each game shows you a picture of a character and the actions for executing one of their special moves as the game loads. You’re then given a choice of either playing in Arcade Mode or Training Mode. Arcade Mode is pretty obvious: play the game as it was in the Neo Geo MVS/Arcade; Training Mode is really a terrific addition for people who want to better their game and learn new techniques. You choose a character and an opponent and can fight without a timer or your opponent fighting back. Their health will also regenerate so you can continue to try different moves as long as you like. Helpfully you can bring up the list of moves for the active character via an in-game tabbed menu interface which uses symbols to represent different move aspects and groups them into categories. It’s really what you would expect in a separate guide to the games, but here it is built-in and available at the press of a button.
There is also bonus content in the form of high quality artwork with pan and zoom functions, and videos. This content has to be unlocked and rather than use the medal method of Arcade Classics Volume 1, you have different challenges to achieve. The challenges take place across the different games and present specific game conditions and requirements for achieving them, e.g., winning a match without visible display metres or winning a match where only special attacks cause damage to your opponent. They really are quite challenging and I think it’s a great feature for the experienced player to test their skill at the game.
The only negative thing I could say is that I would have preferred to see these games released over a series of Arcade Classics volumes, but I’m sure there’s enough King of Fighters fans out there to justify this anthology on its own. It’s interesting to see the incremental changes to the games and the differing character rosters and character move shifts between games as well as the subtle changes in the art used for characters, interstitials and backgrounds.
A collection of classic games can be done cheaply enough whilst still delivering what the customer wants: classic arcade fun on current hardware. You don’t really need anything else, but it’s always nice. SNK/Ignition have gotten the gold crown from me for this collection because from the menu to the extras you have a package that is not just slapping out a games collection to make the maximum return for minimal outlay, but is really trying to appeal to new players as well as old fans and shows that the companies doing the publishing really care about the content.