The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match Review for PlayStation 2 (PS2)

The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match Review for PlayStation 2 (PS2)

Glory Days

Retro seems to be all the rage these days, especially when it comes to fighting games. With King of Fighters (KoF), SNK Playmore has been churning out competition for the Street Fighter series since 1994. Now, together with Ignition Entertainment, King of Fighters 㤆 makes a return as Ultimate Match. We run the game through its paces to see just how well this aging fighter holds up to today’s standards.

The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match screenshot

One thing readers need to bear in mind is that Ultimate Match is not really a remake. The PS2 version is a port of a port. The original game released for Neo Geo systems back in 1998 (hence the name) and was brought back to arcades last year as Ultimate Match, which was essentially the same game with a few extras thrown in. The PS2 version, therefore, is aimed strictly at the hardcore KoF fan, as this is a very niche title that’s likely to be greatly overlooked by the rest of the thinning PS2 audience.

Ultimate Match is a 2D, anime-style fighter that borrows heavily from the Street Fighter series. However, it offers a slightly more straightforward control set-up that makes for a nicely balanced middle ground suited well to folks who like a good challenge but don’t necessarily want to spend years learning the ropes.

KoF offers a four-button-combat set-up, with light and heavy kicks and punches, as well as variations of button presses to execute throws, Specials, etc. The analog stick gives you 8-way control of your character, allowing you to jump, block, and perform a wide variety of attacks and counters. The core mechanics are solid and hold up well using the PS2’s DualShock controller.

The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match screenshot

With 64 characters to choose from (including 10 characters new to this iteration), newcomers will have their hands full getting acquainted with the fighting system in Ultimate Match. That said, you can pause the game at any time during a fight to view a character’s move set. Basic moves and two-button Specials are enough to get you into the fray and having a good time with the game.

Ultimate Match brings together a slew of fighters from past SNK favorites like Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, as well as pretty much every character from each of the previous KoF games. Surprisingly, each character has a fairly unique fighting style, and there’s definitely something for everyone here.

The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match screenshot

What perhaps set KoF apart from its contemporaries back in the day was its match system, which continues today. Rather than doing several rounds with one set character chosen before each match, KoF lets you choose three characters beforehand, and when one gets knocked out, the next fighter in line comes in to carry on the challenge. It was a system that forced players to master reaction over memorization of a particular character’s set of moves.

Ultimate Match also allows players to mix and match the two primary fighting modes of the original game. In Advance mode, players build up their Power Gauge when they connect with their opponent with a Special Move. In Extra mode, players build up their Power Gauge by using defensive maneuvers, such as guarding. With the new Ultimate mode, players can choose from various options found in both Advance and Extra, and it’s a neat twist that rewards players based on their own preferred fighting style. Once your character’s Power Gauge is full, you can either perform a Deadly Super, which usually consists of a bit of twisting of the analog stick while performing a Special Move, or your character can enter Max mode, boosting either their attack power or defenses.

The gameplay options include Arcade, Single Play, Endless, and Practice. The Arcade mode is based on the traditional 3-vs-3 KoF formula, which you can play either against CPU characters or a friend. In Single Play, you choose only one fighter, and whoever wins two rounds first wins the match. We were a bit confused by the Endless mode, as losing causes the game to come to an abrupt end, but it’s basically a quick-play option of 1-vs-1 matches against the A.I. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t seem to allow you to back out of free-play matches, so anytime you want to return to the main menu, you’ll be forced to hit the reset button on the PS2.

The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match screenshot

There are a few extras as well, including artwork and movies. The package also comes with a bonus disc, which offers wallpapers and promo videos. The art is definitely a nice addition that fans of the series will likely savor, but the bonus disc – seemingly intended solely for PC usage – offers no auto-run feature or menu, so you’ll have to dig around inside the disc folders to find what you’re looking for.

On the production front, KoF98 still looks pretty good. The backgrounds are very detailed and attractive, though the character models haven’t aged all that gracefully. Fighters animate with too few frames to truly hold their own among today’s other fighting contenders, but the visuals have no adverse effect on gameplay. This is coming strictly from someone who appreciates the notion of “out with the old, in with the new,” so fans of old-school fighters, in general, will still likely enjoy pressing the virtual-rewind button when sitting down to play this game. There’s even an option to set the menu screen to the original Neo Geo presentation, and if you’re looking for a true arcade experience, it’s offered here in all its glory.

The real retro star of Ultimate Match, however, is the aural presentation. There are a ton of great themes and sound effects that will surely tap into a fan’s sense of nostalgia. Each character offers their own set of voice murmurs and gravelly grunts, and the announcer speaks in her original Engrish from the Japanese-arcade version… which is undeniably charming.

King of Fighters 㥪: Ultimate Match is a solid fighter for hardcore fans looking to either complete their collection or relive a bit of the past. But we have to ask – even at $20 – is it worth it? There’s no online gameplay, and it’s a product that likely could have been easily offered as a downloadable game for $10 on any of the three current-gen consoles. The bonus disc doesn’t add much to the pot, though the overall presentation of the package is still quite nice (fully colored manual, tons of art and movies, etc.) If PS2 is your only console option and you’re looking for another decent fighter, Ultimate Match is a respectable contender worthy of consideration. Just keep in mind this is a retro affair aimed at a fairly specific audience.

The backgrounds look really great, but character animations are a bit archaic. There’s a surprising amount of variety offered here visually, though, and overall, Ultimate Fighters is still a good-looking game. 4.2 Control
The fighting mechanics work really well with the DualShock, though it’s likely not the preferred controller for hardcore fans of this type of 2D fighter. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects are a great blast from the arcade past, and there’s a nice variety of themes to boot. 3.3 Play Value
It’s a generous presentation with lots to do… locally. Some of the extras are a worthy addition to the package, while others feel slapped together. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • 64 total characters including 10 not seen in KOF ’98
  • Includes the original NEOGEO version of KOF 98
  • New battle stages and “Special Features” for Geese, Mary, Yamazaki, & King.

  • To top