The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga Review for Nintendo Wii

The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga Review for Nintendo Wii

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.

The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga screenshot

Let’s start with the annoyances (we’re mean like that). Four 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.

The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga screenshot

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.

A third annoyance is that, when it came to control, the developers took a “throw a bunch of configurations at the wall and see what sticks” approach. There are no fewer than four ways to play: Wii-mote only, Wii-mote and Nunchuk, Classic Controller, and Gamecube controller. In each, you can assign the functions (normally two punches, two kicks, avoid, and knockdown) to buttons as you see fit.

The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga screenshot

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.

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.

The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga screenshot

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.

Even considering the years these games came out, they don’t look that great. 3.2 Control
There are four ways to play, but none are perfect. The Gamecube controller is best, with the Classic Controller ranking a close second. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Similar to the MIDI tracks and sound effects of Street Fighter II. 3.8

Play Value
It’s a great value for fans of the series, and it gives newcomers five games at a low price, but there’s no real reason to play these games instead of classic MK and SFII ones.

3.1 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • The most extensive KOF collection ever containing five complete games.
  • Includes the Orochi Saga trilogy (’95-’97).
  • Unlockable bonus content.

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