|System: Wii, PS2, 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: Dec. 2, 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|
Problem number four 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.
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.
Once you've learned the ropes and gotten past the games' problems, it is possible to see how this franchise lasted so long (KOF XII is expected in 2009). Besides sharing SFII's aesthetic, the KOF games share a careful sense of balance, a colorful cast of characters, and an ability to rope in players for hours at a time.
The fighting system is easy enough that any player can learn a few fighters' basic moves, but complicated enough that it'll take some effort to truly master the games. There are tons of characters to learn, perhaps too many, and in some games taking damage fills a meter, allowing you access to more special moves. The three-on-three (up-to-five-round) setup works great, and is more fair than the standard three-round system most games utilize: In a three-round match, it doesn't matter how much you win by, because both characters start with full energy bars the next time around. In King of Fighters, by contrast, the fighter left standing takes on the next person in the opposing team's lineup, and even gets some life back.
The "avoid" function is particularly nice, and it's a shame more 2-D fighters didn't use it. It's an alternative to blocking that takes careful timing to get right, but allows you to strike back quickly, like sidestepping in a 3-D fighter. The changes from year to year, while slight, do manage to throw enough of a wrench in the works to make each included title a somewhat fresh challenge. (In '95, for example, the series introduced the ability to assemble your own teams instead of choosing predetermined ones, and the later games featured some adjustments to the fighting system.) Add in the fact that you can play two-player competitive matches, even though you can't do so online, and this game could provide a fighting-game obsessive with months of entertainment.
As far as extras go, there's nothing worth the collection's purchase price on its own, but there are some nice touches. A new challenge mode gives the player assignments to win matches where bizarre rules apply. Winning these and arcade matches will unlock bonus content, including art and music.
All told, the Orochi Saga collection is a hands-down worthwhile buy for longtime fans of the series, and a toss-up for newcomers. Certainly, those wanting to explore the world of 2-D fighters should start with Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, etc. Once bored of those, however, they should definitely turn to King of Fighters for a fresh challenge, and there's no better way to do that than by buying this collection.
CCC Freelance Writer