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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


King of Fighters Collection (Wii)

SNK's latest compilation includes five complete titles from their legendary King of Fighters series. Each of these is a solid title that delivers plenty of depth thanks to their extensive character rosters, deep moves lists and solid play mechanics. The selections are some pretty good years ranging from '94 to '98 giving gamers the chance to see how the series evolved through some of its best installments. The Wii edition features excellent emulation with fast loading times, support for both the standard wiimote and classic controller plus numerous extras. Overall, it's a solidly entertaining and value-packed collection that fans of SNK's legendary fighting franchise will enjoy.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, SNK's King of Fighters stood as a pleasing and challenging alternative to Capcom's Street Fighter series. Both were one-on-one brawlers with extensive character rosters, but the similarities ended there. King of Fighters always emphasized skill and technique over stylish combo and elaborate attacks. This approach made KOF slightly more grounded in reality and also gave the series some depth. It began as a cross-over of SNK's Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting games, but grew to have a life of its own. One of its most unique and influential features was its team system where players could select three fighters from an extensive selection of characters and brawl against three others. These matches were quite intense and since players could select which order the characters would fight, the placement could become quite a strategic element in determining the outcome of each match. Beyond that, the characters shared many basic moves and techniques, though their effectiveness and damage levels would change with each one. The games themselves evolved over time, with improvements made in the character appearance, more elaborate backgrounds and a slowly refined gameplay system that added balance and depth. Another key element in the series' long standing appeal was its large selection of characters which swelled into the dozens as the series moved along. Unlike many other fighting games of the time, SNK's releases generally required a great deal of skill and practice in order to defeat, and there weren't a lot of shortcuts or flashy moves to use as crutches. This made the games themselves appeal to the hardcore, and their appearance on the niche-oriented and expensive Neo-Geo hardware added to their elite gamer allure.

Ironically, after all these years in some kind of obscurity, SNK has released their titles on probably the most mainstream console in a generation. The Wii edition, subtitled 'The Orochi Saga', is surprisingly good in a number of key areas. It includes complete versions of KOF '94, '95, '96, '97 and '98. From a visual standpoint, each of the KOF titles on this pack looks exactly as it did in the arcade, down to the last pixel. Character animations and movements are very much intact, and there's no noticeable missing animation frames or slowdown evident in this release. Players can use the wiimote in horizontal position, which makes the game control as it would in the arcade, though there are no shaking or waving motions to be found. Players can also use the Wiiís classic controller in this installment for an even more comfortable and traditional style of play thanks to its traditional button configuration and button layout. For an even more authentic arcade experience, players might want to check out Horiís Wii Fighting Stick controller, which almost makes you feel like youíre playing on actual Neo Geo hardware. The emulation's nearly flawless performance is fairly consistent and we had little trouble doing all the moves, using either the standard or analog pad. Obviously, the precision offered by an arcade stick is ideal, but the game remains excellent no matter which interface you choose. KOF Collection offers a very straight-up port of these titles, and their gameplay delivers what you've come to expect. The games load fairly quickly which allows you to jump right into the action with little delay. KOF Collection also includes several bonus media features that can be unlocked as well, such as art galleries and move trailers that adds to the bonus. Overall, the emulation in this package is excellent and provides players with near flawless translations of these arcade games.

The appealing roster of characters offers a diverse selection of fighting styles, special moves and attacks that gives the games plenty of depth and style. Mastering each one takes some time, but there are many skills and techniques that you can transfer between the titles. Each one of the games has a slightly different feel, but the general pacing and flow of the battles is consistent. KOF definitely has a unique feel to it, and this unique style of play, with its emphasis on realistic battle techniques, instead of the flashy combos seen in Capcom fighters, makes for a satisfying experience. These are some of the elements that you'll notice after extensive play where the depth and balance begins to come through. Going through this series of classic KOF titles, you can definitely see the evolution in terms of moves and styles that developed over time. This is why having all of these games on a single disc is both convenient and interesting, allowing you to see how a certain character's moves and attacks have evolved over the years, while also seeing how SNK changed the balance subtly over the years. Having said that, the titles become a bit redundant after awhile, but for the SNK fan the small changes can be significant and interesting. While the games look slightly dated from a graphical standpoint, the gameplay has stood the test of time, making this a solid argument as to SNK's legendary skill in making these fighting titles. It's uncompromising gameplay doesn't condescend to casual players, you won't be able to shake or move the wiimote around to perform special moves. Instead, you have to rely on your skills and memorize button combos and input moves in a traditional manner. This approach means that it probably won't appeal to many of the Wii's casual converts but KOF Collection is a solidly produced compilation for Wii owners looking for some classic hardcore gaming action.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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