|System: PS2, Wii, PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SNK Playmore||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SNK Playmore||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 28, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
For those who loved the King of Fighters series in the mid-to-late '90s, the new Orochi Saga collection is a no-brainer: five classic games (King of Fighters '94 through '98), emulated with no discernable problems, for $30. Still, what about people who didn't frequent arcades, didn't own the few consoles on which these games appeared, and/or weren't born soon enough? That's a tough question, as these titles will annoy and impress in roughly equal measure.
Let's start with the annoyances (we're mean like that). Three things are off-putting and apparent after spending but a little time with each game. For one, besides swaps in the roster (King of Fighters characters come from publisher SNK's other fighters, and some move in and out each year), there's very little change from game to game; this often feels more like a collection of John Madden Football titles than like a true five-for-one deal. The graphics improve only marginally over the half-decade span, and by King of Fighters '98, they look noticeably behind the times (that's the year Half-Life came out, and SNK's Neo-Geo machines were known for their unusual processing power and expense at the time).
Another odd aspect is how uncanny the resemblance is between these games and those in the Street Fighter II franchise. The art and animation styles are indistinguishable, you could switch out the MIDI tracks without noticing, and the overall play mechanics pretty much match. This isn't necessarily to accuse SNK of plagiarism; in the late '80s and early '90s, Capcom and SNK both worked hard to develop fighting games, and while the former was indisputably the leader, SNK did some important work. It's not surprising that both companies ended up turning out some similar products.
This is, however, to point out that the question "Why don't I just play Super Street Fighter II Turbo instead?" might enter your head, and there's no good answer. These are straight-up emulations with few improvements, so naturally, they look, sound, and feel dated. The developers haven't even added online capabilities - a must for fighters released in modern times whether they're remakes/re-releases of old titles or not.
Problem number three is that while the difficulty is set from 1 to 8 in the main options menu, not in each individual game, those numbers mean remarkably different things through the series. In the later versions, for example, it's perfectly workable for a beginner to set the difficulty to 1, win some matches against easy A.I. opponents, figure out their favorite characters, and generally get a feel for the game before ramping up the challenge. In the '94 and '95 games, however, you can expect to get the snot beat out of you for trying this. The special way King of Fighters arranges its matches compounds this problem: teams of three face off against each other, so you have to learn to use at least three fighters before even having a chance.
The Wii-mote alone is truly awful, requiring you to somehow enter fireball and dragon-punch motions on the soreness-inducing D-pad while also using your left hand to press the A and B buttons. The Nunchuk controller at least makes it physically possible to play the game, but it feels weird for anyone at all familiar with fighting games. The Classic Controller is a serious step in the right direction, but you can't really position your thumb quite right on D-pad or the joystick. The best option is the Gamecube controller; its comfortable joystick is perfect for moving around with precision and entering moves. The right-hand button configuration (with the huge A button in the middle) is far from ideal, but that's an issue worth coping with in exchange for the joystick.
Therefore, unless they have similarly unskilled friends to play against, those who want to play KOF '94 and '95 will have to invest some time in the training mode. That, fortunately, is where the game's good side comes out. You can hit a button to view your character's move list, and when you select a move, the button pattern displays on the screen while you try it out against the dummy. It would be even more helpful if the game would let you know where you went wrong when you failed to execute the move, but other than that, it's about a good a training mode as we've seen in a fighter.