The King of Fighters 2002 and 2003 is actually a greatest hits package which features more than 40 characters from the heady days of the NeoGeo game system. It can't compare to today's fighters but if you want to see what inspired the trends in fighting games then look no further.

KOF 2002 & 2003 is essentially two games in one package. Some may say that it's a lot more than that because the 2002 game includes characters and matches from as far back as 1996. The 2003 disk features a lot less characters but it takes the gameplay to another level. If you're a fan of the KOF series and would like to relive those great arcade days you won't be disappointed with this purchase.

One of the first things I should mention is that there are no upgrades on any of these games. Sure there are some minor changes here and there, mostly just technical ones that ensure the game can be played faithfully on the Xbox. There are no bells and whistles - well actually there are but what I really mean is that these games are no-frills. There are no online multi-player modes, upgradeable characters or deep storyline. What you get is a 2D fighter with faux 3D backgrounds and one hell of a tight control system.

Moves are limited to kicks, punches, special attacks and combos. It's simple, to be sure, but very effective and challenging none the less. Matches in the 2002 version are three-on-three where you continue with your character until you're clobbered. If you're one of the faithful of the series you'll thrill to see some of your favorite (and not-so-favorite) teams back in action.

The newly added gameplay feature of the 2003 version allows you to select any character on your team, anytime, in true tag-team fashion. The matches are fast and furious and maintain that pace since you can introduce fresh characters with plenty of juice left in the old meter.

Both games offer different approaches to fighting. The 2002 version requires more strategy in terms of pace and energy conservation while the 2003 version explore the frenetic frenzied approach. They both manage to bring a nice balance when offered as a complete package. It won't be uncommon to switch between them several times at one sitting. The characters have plenty to say and display a sense of fun to their personality that very few of today's fighting games can match. Some, if not most of it, is cliché but it's done in a compelling way that gives each character a bit more dimension.

The graphics are colorful and presented in a 2D cartoon style. There is no shortage of background detail but it's not an interactive environment. The animation is quaint as these big old characters tend to move around like one solid mass with only the arms flailing and legs kicking. You'll hear those familiar arcade tunes along with the groans, grunts, smacks and thuds that punctuate the soundtrack.

KOF 2002 & 2003 is jam packed with solid fighting action. It's a great investment for fans, but those unfamiliar with the old series may not appreciate its relative straightforwardness.

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System: XBOX
Dev: SNK
Pub: SNK
Released: Feb 2005
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Stew XX