"I'd rather have a good fighting game than a good woman."
SNK Neo Geo USA Consumer Corporation ( what a name! ) makes a big splash with their first North American release, entitled King of Fighters 2000 / 2001. As the title suggests, this is a double pack of games–two DVDs in one package, retailing for $29.99.
Once you crack the shrinkwrap, you'll find two discs inside an Amaray flip-style case (The first DVD is held in an additional plastic tray on the inside of the case and the second DVD is held in place in its normal position). The first disc holds King of Fighters 2000; the second contains King of Fighters 2001.
The value in this double pack is impressive–
Before I launch into the nuts and bolts for Joe Average Gamer, I'd like to give diehard KOF fans the only tidbits of information they'll need in order to decide whether or not to pick up this compilation. (1) The combos, moves, and CPU A.I. are "arcade perfect," and the PS2 controller is well-suited to the SNK 4-button setup. (2) SNK removed the bouncy boobs animation for Mai and other characters. Boo! (3) The load time between rounds in KOF 2000 is about 1 second. The load time between rounds in KOF 2001 is about 2 seconds. (4) King of Fighters 2001 also has a new set of 18 high-resolution backgrounds to go along with the 11 original backgrounds found in the arcade game.
With that stuff out of the way, here's what you need to know if you're just an average gamer looking for a good fighting game to add to your collection…
Both games pretty much play the same. The object, like it is in every other 2D fighting game, is to punch and kick your opponent until his stamina bar runs out. Best 2 out of 3 rounds wins. The controller is setup so that the upper face buttons (square and triangle) perform weak and strong punches, the lower face buttons (X and circle) perform weak and strong kicks, and the L1 and R1 triggers perform taunt and striker attacks. Since fighting games are old hat these days, there's no reason to get into the nitty gritty about KOF 2000 / 2001's fighting system. All you really need to know is that special moves and super moves are performed by inputting quarter- and half-circle motions (a la Street Fighter) and that each character has a handful of unique combo attacks that can be performed by chaining together specific attacks. Every good 2D fighting game uses these conventions.
The King of Fighters series differs from the Street Fighter series in two important ways. First, KOF games are team-oriented. When you start up KOF 2000 or KOF 2001, you have to choose a team of four characters. During the match, if one of your characters is knocked out, the next character in line replaces them. To win a round, you have to knock out the entire opposing team.
The second major difference between KOF and Street Fighter has to do with the "striker" system. When you're setting your team order, you need to specify one character (or 2, or 3, in the case of KOF 2001) to be the team's "striker." Strikers are like the guy in the corner during a tag-team wrestling match. If the opponent catches you off guard or has you trapped, just tap the R1 button and your striker will jump into the ring and perform a quick attack. In King of Fighters 2000, you can perform 3 striker attacks per match–end of story. The striker system in King of Fighters 2001 is a little more complicated however.
King of Fighters 2001 uses a ratio-based team setup, similar to the one used in Capcom's two Capcom Vs. SNK games. In contrast to KOF 2000, where you can only assign one teammate to be a striker, KOF 2001 allows you to assign multiple strikers. The downside to this is that you end up with fewer fighters competing in the match, so an opponent could defeat your whole team by beating just 1 or 2 characters instead of 3 or 4. The upside is twofold. First, for each striker on your team, you get an extra MAX super bar. MAX supers are just like the super moves in other fighting games–multiple hits, big damage–so the more you have, the better off you are. The second upside to picking multiple strikers is it gives you the chance to can call in the striker that best fits the situation. Some strikers attack with low attacks, some with punch combos, and some with quick uppercuts or flame attacks that can yank jumping opponents out of the sky. While it may sound smart to put 3 or 4 characters into the fight, it's more beneficial in some cases to have an extra "uppercut" striker around for air defense. Another difference in KOF 2001's striker system is that striker use is linked to the amount of energy in your MAX super bar. You can perform a super attack when the bar is completely full, or call in a striker when it's half way. The nice thing about this setup is that it lets you incorporate strikers into your overall fighting strategy.
Personally, I prefer King of Fighters 2000 because I hardly use strikers and would rather just beat the opponent's team with my own fighters. But, there's no denying that King of Fighters 2001 does a better job of incorporating strikers into its play setup. Players are more likely to use strikers since the game lets them pick as many as they want, and because it doesn't limit them to just 3 striker attacks per match. A few punches and kicks are all that's necessary to reload another striker into the MAX bar.
The play modes in both games are identical (team, team-vs, single, single-vs, practice, and party). Fighting fans will recognize most of those. The party mode is merely a variation on the "survival" mode that you'll typically find in the home ports of arcade fighting games. Instead of picking an entire team, the party mode lets you choose one fighter and one striker. The goal is to see how many CPU controlled characters you can defeat before you run out of health. Unlike a traditional survival mode, however, you don't regain any health between matches. Instead, you gain a little health each time you land an attack. But, watch out, the same goes for opponents. Another twist exclusive to the party mode is that the 5-minute timer doesn't indicate how much time you have left, but how much time is left before the game starts slowly draining your health during matches. After that, the only way to keep your health constant is to stay aggressive and keep pounding the opponent. It's only a subtle twist, but it makes the party mode in KOF 2000 / 2001 much more invigorating than the survival mode usually found in fighting games.
One thing that players have to seriously think about before grabbing this set is what they're looking for in a fighting game. In particular, do graphics matter to you? 2-D fighting games are generally very deep, but even the best hand-drawn animation often pales in comparison to the beautiful polygons and lifelike graphics found in most 3-D fighting games. It's a matter of taste. The characters in King of Fighters 2000 and King of Fighters 2001 have dozens upon dozens of attacks, and the animation is generally smooth from one move to the next. The backgrounds are typical of the genre–an intersection in a shopping district in Hong Kong, a street next to a canal in Italy, a tiled corridor inside a giant Seaworld-style aquarium complex, etc.–but they're fun to look at because they're so lively. In most stages, there are pedestrians milling around, cars driving by, or big gusts of wind blowing dirt and trash all over the place. The fish and sea lions in the aquarium even swim up to the glass to watch the fight going on.
SNK came up with a new batch of backgrounds for the PS2 version of King of Fighters 2001. These new backdrops make use of some of the system's visual FX capabilities (scaling, lens flares, etc.) and they're drawn at a higher-resolution than the original arcade backgrounds. Again, taste will dictate whether or not you like these enhanced backdrops. Personally, I find them too busy and prefer the arcade backgrounds, which can be enabled in the options menu. Furthermore, while the backgrounds in King of Fighters 2001 are technically impressive, I don't find them to be as artistically inspired as the backgrounds in King of Fighters 2000.
After all that gab about how the games play and how they look, I really don't have much to say about the music and sound effects. The character voices and sound effects are excellent. You'll probably find yourself mimicking comments like "bare knuckle" and "Nippon Ichi" (sounds like "Mai Bouncy" for some reason) after an hour or so of constant play. The music is tolerable… decent… I have to admit that the only SNK fighting game soundtracks I've liked so far have come from the Samurai Shodown series. Both KOF 2000 and KOF 2001 have the original arcade music tracks. KOF 2000 also has an "arranged" soundtrack option as well.
Ultimately, the main reason to pick up this 2-pack is its "bang for the buck." Two excellent fighting games for $30 is a bargain.