King of Fighters 2002/2003

King of Fighters 2002/2003

Written by Cyril Lachel on 10/14/2005 for Xbox  

Over the past few years SNK Playmore has done an excellent job of porting their recent (and classic) Neo Geo games to the current generation consoles.  From Metal Slug, to Samurai Shodown, to the Kind of Fighters, fans of SNK and their 24-bit arcade system have had a lot to celebrate lately.  The Kind of Fighters 2002/2003 may look like every other SNK collection, it features familiar 2D graphics and a roster of returning characters, but there’s no doubt that this is SNK’s most diverse collection yet.

Although the King of Fighters franchise has always featured a lot of characters, diversity has never been its strong suit.  From year to year the King of Fighters installments felt like nothing more than roster updates, sort of like the fighting game equivalent of the Madden series.  Despite the fact that the Kind of Fighters series had gone largely unchanged up to the 2002 installment, this Xbox collection really is worth buying in large part to how dissimilar the two installments are.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the King of Fighters series, in the mid-1990s SNK decided to combine a few of their popular franchises into one large, team-based battle.  With characters from games like Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and even Ikari Warriors, the King of Fighters was a fun mix of styles, characters, and backgrounds … something Capcom would later copy and make their own.  With its large cast of unique characters and deep fighting mechanics it’s easy to understand why fans of 2D fighters come back to this SNK series year after year.

You won’t need to have played any of the older King of Fighters titles to appreciate the 2002 and 2003 edition. Although the franchise has a unique feel, most of the moves will be instantly familiar if you’ve played any of Capcom or SNK’s early 2D efforts – Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Fatal Fury, etc.  The fact that you aren’t forced to re-learn a complicated set of attacks makes these titles extremely easy to get into no matter what experience level you are.

The King of Fighters 2002 is the perfect example of the style of game play the series has stuck with for nearly a decade.  You choose three characters out of nearly 50 fighters available to you; each character fights until he or she is knocked out, then your next fighter jumps in and continues the fight.  These three-on-three fights are what the King of Fighters series is best known for, and there’s no doubt that this 2002 edition does it as well as anybody could want.

It features a roster of familiar faces, including Ryo, Joe Higashi, Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, Athena, and of course Blue Mary.  The rest of the characters are just as interesting as this group (even more interesting, in some cases), but there are simply too many to talk about at any kind of length.  It’s a robust roster that should have fans of 2D fighters interested for at least a few days.

The King of Fighters 2003 looks a lot like the 2002 edition; it features a lot of the same characters, and the moves are largely unchanged.  But it won’t take more than a minute before you realize that SNK made some drastic changes to the formula, a controversial change that may have some people frustrated by the title.  In like the three-on-three battles of before (where your character battled until they were knocked out), now you are able to switch between fighters mid-battle.  If you’ve played Capcom’s Mavel vs. Capcom series (or even Capcom vs. SNK 2) you’ll know exactly what to expect.  Being able to bring out other characters to better match up fights is a great way of pumping some life back into the system, even if it’s not universally loved.

The good news for those who hate this game play revision is that you are able to go back to the old school method.  Heck, if you want to, both games allow you to take your battles down to the one-on-one style that resembles almost every other fighting game on the market.  With 35 characters and plenty of ways to play the game, it’s hard to be too upset with SNK about this 2003 edition.

Both games feature incredible backgrounds, the type that you rarely see outside of 2D fighting games.  The best part of SNK’s backgrounds is how they detail them for different times of the day, so round two will be later in the day than round one, and round three will often be at night.  There are a lot of fun details for each background, not to mention plenty of cameos from other SNK characters.  2003’s arenas tend to have more going on, including a few that are moving (such as a dramatic battle on a train).  The characters may not have improved much in the series 8 installments, but the backgrounds sure have become more exciting.  With dozens of different levels between the two games you won’t soon bore of the same level over and over.

Since these two games are packaged together you would expect them to feature similar Xbox Live experiences, but SNK decided to go a different route.  When it comes to King of Fighter 2002 you can frequent a lobby and check your stats.  The 2003 edition also features the stats (as well as the other basic ways of locating a game, friends, etc.), but instead of a lobby you get a Competition mode.  This mode allows you to take part in a multi-player tournament that is set up for a specific time and must be registered for.  This is a great addition I hope other online fighters use in the future.  Unfortunately this mode is not available in the 2002 edition, which features quite a few more characters to play with.

Although I ran into some lag in my online battles, it was a pleasant time for the most part.  One complaint is that the game has a tendency to simply spit you out to the lobby when you’re done with your fight, which can be kind of frustrating when you’re ready for a rematch.  Most people will be able to work around the few online hiccups without too much trouble, but it would be nice if SNK would get around to making a fully functional online experience that doesn’t contain these simple problems.

Besides the various arcade modes and the Xbox Live function, both games manage to offer some extra content.  Beyond the usual art galleries you will find a few different challenge modes, a few of which may hold your attention for ten or fifteen minutes before you move back to the standard arcade battles.  By all accounts these two games are pretty bare bones, but considering that most people have never played them, the amount of the extras hardly seems important.

If you’ve ever thought about picking up a King of Fighters game this 2002/2003 set is a great place to start.  Chances are you’re not going to find another SNK collection with this much diversity.  They may not look as good as the 3D fighters of today, but both King of Fighters 2002 and 2003 are fantastic fighting games with a deep roster of unique characters to choose from. 

The King of Fighters 2002/2003 may not look as good as Soul Calibur or Dead or Alive, but with it’s cast of nearly 50 characters and deep fighting mechanics it’s just as easy to get addicted to. SNK has managed to release a collection that is not only a good bargain but also features two diverse experiences, something you don’t usually say about SNK’s fighting games.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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