Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone



SNK has finally reemerged in the North American market after a long period of hibernation with various acquisitions and mergers resulting in the Japanese company becoming a division of Playmore. The new American branch of SNK has rewarded their long-suffering fans with a two disc release containing both King of Fighters 2000 and 2001 for the PS2. While neither game revolutionizes the genre, these solid installments should please fans with deep gameplay, solid animation and several new features. Today's casual gamer audience might find these KOF games a bit primitive, but hardcore SNK fans should appreciate the durable gameplay mechanics, solid arcade translations and especially, the low price for this pack.

It doesn't make sense: companies like SNK seem to hold on to an outdated hardware system, with primitive graphics. With so many glossy 3D fighters on the market, the majority of the gaming world has moved on to bigger things. There is no apparent logical reason why the company should even be making new King of Fighters games, yet they continue to come out every year and hardcore fans still snap up each installment. This success comes despite a reliance on the nearly antique NEO-GEO hardware that requires expensive cartridges that go for hundreds of dollars each. What's the secret behind this success? One key element is that with each installment in their long-running fighting game franchises, SNK has added layers of incremental change that improves the feel and flow of the action, while retaining the classic fighting gameplay players love so much. This King of Fighters two-pack for the PS2 is an excellent example of the evolution, and allows you to see how the developers continually tweak the gameplay elements just enough to keep things fresh. Both games include many of the same modes of play, with the standard single player Team Play, Team Versus, Single Play, Single Versus variations. Single matches are single characters, while team modes allow you to select a number of characters and build a team, divided into main fighters and strikers. The game also includes a decent practice mode and a survival match, called Party Mode, where you fight an endless supply of foes using either a single character or a team of characters. Players can also adjust a variety of game parameters in the Options screen including match length, button configuration, difficulty, and screen size.

As in most of the previous KOF games, both installments in this pack include an impressive array of more than 40 playable characters initially. More strikers can be unlocked by playing in the Party mode. Players can play one-on-one against a solo opponent, or choose to build a team of three or four characters to do battle. The gameplay itself stays within SNK tradition with each character given a good selection of moves and the abilities create an excellent balance between the normal characters. The exceptions are boss characters that are obviously more powerful. The bosses seem a little cheap and gimmicky which makes these battles frustrating and annoying at times. Aside from kicks and punches, players can block opponents' moves, and perform a variety of special attacks. Each character also has an array of more advanced moves that allow them to counter moves. These basic moves can be chained together to form combos and inflict more damage on opponents. As you inflict damage and block moves, your Power Gauge increases. Once filled, you can perform special attacks. The interesting thing here is that you can stack these up into Stocks. You can save up to three levels of Stocks, and each allows you to perform increasingly powerful moves. In addition, building up stocks reveals another new addition to the series is the Armor Mode. When enabled, this feature increases your defensive ability, and allows the character to reduce the amount of damage an opponent's strikes inflicts for a short time. This system adds a new strategic dimension to the bouts. In addition, advanced players can This adds yet another layer to the traditional KOF system, making battles more realistic. To help you master the moves, both games thoughtfully lets you call up a moves list, so you won't have to spend hours figuring out button combinations.

While the basics remain appealing, the Striker system seen in previous KOF titles has been refined and feels better integrated into the game. Striker characters are non-playable characters that you can call up during the match to aid you in your attack. There are a several options that players can use to customize their strikers, and can build their teams around these characters. In KOF 2000, players select three characters for their main team, while the fourth is automatically assigned the Striker role. KOF 2001 refines this system further and allows you to select four characters, then assign them their roles. It's a seemingly small change, but makes a huge difference in how you decide to form your teams. While many of the strikers have limited effectiveness and can be blocked, finding the right one can give you a distinct advantage. This is definitely a welcome addition to the series and lends each battle another layer of strategy since you have to decide when and where to use them. These new additions make for a flashier, more exciting game, but the underlying appeal of the classic fighting gameplay is still the most prominent feature. The deep strategies, extensive move lists and balanced roster players have come to expect from the series are here in abundance. A decent number of game modes lets you fight either solo, against the computer or take on a massive number of opponents. The Party mode is the only way you can unlock hidden content such as extra and additional strikers, plus bonus material such as movies and more.

The differences between KOF 2000 and 2001 are subtle. 2000 is a solid game with a lot of depth, but 2001 deepens the striker system and allows players more flexibility when assembling teams, as noted earlier. Some changes are cosmetic, with 2001 showing a marked improvement in its menus and score indicators, with flashier special effects. Both games feature decent backgrounds, but the latter title uses 3D backdrops more extensively and cleans up the rougher, blocky textures of the former title. KOF 2000 includes an exclusive Memory mode that allows you to view cinema scenes from every KOF title ever made. From a visual standpoint, both games show the series slowly evolving, with slightly better animations and backgrounds with each installment. From an aesthetic standpoint, neither title in this set matches the production polish seen in Guilty Gear X2 or Capcom vs. SNK 2 for the console, but there are some mitigating factors. While not the most technically proficient, the unique character designs show a lot of personality and creativity, which more than makes up for these problems. Unlike many previous SNK home translations, these games appear to run quite smoothly and accurately recreate the arcade games' speed and controls. While the standard PS2 controller does an adequate job, it still falls a bit short in recreating the arcade experience. Players are advised to invest in an arcade joystick controller for their PS2. This is the preferred mode of play because a decent stick allows the gameplay to shine with fluid motions allowing you to perform moves with ease.

The appearance of King of Fighters 2000/01 represents a welcome return to the domestic market. Between their solid play mechanics, tweaks and additional modes, both of these solid fighting games should remind players how appealing the company's franchises remain. While the approach of these games might seem a tad too traditional for some players, the classic 2D fighting gameplay stays true to form, and the twists and additions help to keep things fresh. While the series hasn't undergone any dramatic revisions with either of these games, the gameplay evolution and new additions are quite noticeable and should be appreciated by the series' hardcore devotees. KOF 2000/01's value price is the kicker, and makes it an irresistible purchase for fans of classic 2D fighters.

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