|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: Q4 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Pending||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
March 19, 2008 - When it comes to 2-D '90s brawling games, The King of Fighters didn't exactly live up to its name: It wasn't Street Fighter II, and it wasn't Mortal Kombat. It was the knight of fighters, or maybe the rook.
Still, much like SFII and MK, KOF built up enough of a fan base to support once-a-year re-releases with usually minor tweaks. The arcade machines sucked down their share of quarters, various console ports appeared, and the series has soldiered on into today's world of 3-D slugfests.
Five of the franchise's golden years -- 1994 through 1998, to be precise -- form the core of The The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga, set for an early-fourth-quarter 2008 release on the Wii, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable. Besides the Virtual Console's King of Fighters '94 and the Game Boy release of King of Fighters '95, this marks the first time these games have appeared on a Nintendo console in the U.S.
The arcade-on-a-disc will also feature unlockable bonus content, though it remains to be seen just what that means. The game is reported to support Wii-mote control, but a Classic Controller might be a good investment for those who want a more traditional experience.
Repackaging old material for a new audience is nothing new to King of Fighters; in fact, it's played an integral role in the franchise's history. For the first game ('94), SNK put together the best characters from its fighting titles Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Ikari Warriors, and Psycho Soldier, and pitted them against each other. Each subsequent year, the developer rotated the cast and added features. Even the "King of Fighters tournament" itself had taken place in previous SNK games.
There was some innovation as well, though, including the special three-character team system. Each fight ended when all of a team's characters had been beaten one at a time -- for you math geniuses out there, that means the longest a fight could last was five rounds. This forced players to learn multiple fighters. The 1994 edition had pre-set teams, but subsequent versions have allowed players to create their own.
The King of Fighters also launched a new, if convoluted, storyline. Wealthy trafficker Rugal Bernstein plays the arch-villain in the '94 incarnation, setting up the tournament for the purpose of fighting the winner. The explosion at the end, of course, doesn't quite kill him, and he comes back next year.
This collection's subtitle is a bit of a misnomer, because the Orochi Saga in fact comprises only the '95, '96, and '97 games. Orochi, evidently, is a snake-ish creature in Japanese mythology; in the series, it's a mysterious power and eventually the boss character in the 1997 tournament. Not that context means much when the goal is simply to beat your opponent to a pulp, a fact the '98 game (considered "non-canonical") recognized by doing away with the plot and positing a "dream match" between characters from previous KOF games.
Classic punch-and-kick action isn't exactly hard to come by these days -- in fact, with PlayStation's backward compatibility, one can still find used copies of KOF '95. But presuming SNK Playmore takes care in translating the games to the PlayStation 2, this title will provide a one-stop shop of throwback brawling fun.
CCC Freelance Writer