• King Of The Fighters 1999 Evolution Review - Sega Dreamcast

    Every fighting game fan knows the old joke with Capcom and their multitude of Street Fighter 2 games, "When will Super Hyper Street Fighter Champion World Tour Edition II come out?" Strangely, I have never seen anyone joke abut the fact that SNK releases new versions of their prized King of Fighters series every year or so.

    But should SNK and their King of Fighters series of games be made fun of just like Capcom's Street Fighter II series? Read on to find out.
    Surprisingly, among the biggest changes between KOF Evolution and Dream Match is the graphics. Those people that thought the backgrounds in KOF Dream Match were extremely pixelated don't have to worry about that in KOF Evolution. All of the backgrounds have been redone in polygons, look great, and have a very polished look to them to say the least. Furthermore, almost all the backgrounds change between rounds and their are two versions of every background to boot! One of my favorites include a stage that takes place next to an airport runway. During the fifth round the plane that was getting ready for a flight throughout the fight finishes it's taxi to the runway and takes off. It is really cool to see. The 2D character sprites didn't receive such a drastic makeover during the porting process compared to the backgrounds, however. The characters look to be simply ripped from the original Neo Geo release with no modifications. Nevertheless, the characters look great with distinguishable fingers, folds in their clothing, and more. Of course, you may remember me saying practically the same thing about the characters in KOF Dream Match. If you have played last year's version, only expect better backgrounds to be the lone graphical improvement over Dream Match.
    The quality of the music is pretty much the same quality as Dream Match as well, which means it is good/great. Pretty much all the teams have new music and sound great, especially the New Hero Team/Japan Team, the Ikari Warriors Team, and the Korea Team. The only really bad piece is the Fatal Fury Team music. Of course, that team's music was awful in Dream Match and the new piece is just as bad, if not worse. Among the most important improvements in the music department is the fact that when playing in single player team battle mode, the music doesn't stop at the end of a round and then restart at the beginning of the next. It is one of my favorite improvements over last year's version actually. Much like the music, the sound effects are of the same great, clear quality as those found in KOF Dream Match.
    Now, from the look of this review thus far, KOF Evolution seems to be last year's edition with new backgrounds and new music, and I wouldn't argue against that idea. However, KOF Evolution differs from Dream Match enough in gameplay areas to make it worth a look from owners of last year's edition. For example, players no longer choose whether they wish to play in Advanced or Extra modes. Instead, one plays the game as if you were playing in Advanced and Extra modes at the same time. For example, in the previous edition the type of dodge technique the player was able to use was dictated on what mode he had chosen to play in. When playing in Extra mode the character would move into the background and attack from there when doing a dodge technique. In Advanced more the player could do a roll to get behind the enemy, however, he could not attack until the roll was completed. In KOF Evolution the player can do an evasion technique that allows them the option of either rolling toward the enemy to attack them or they may opt to simply roll around them to get to their backside without attacking. Other changes include the inability to charge one's power bar and a modification to the backward dash technique that allows the player to jump back at the last moment in order to avoid an incoming attack and then automatically jump toward the opponent to strike with a counter attack. These changes make for a quicker, more close range style of fighting that no longer allows users of the Extra mode to just sit back and charge their power bars.
    The last major gameplay changes to the King of Fighters formula are the inclusion of "Strikers" and the time-limited Counter/Armor Modes. If you have played Capcom's Marvel vs. Street Fighter, you can probably guess what strikers are. And if you haven't, well strikers are helper characters that jump onscreen, do a quick attack, and then jump back off screen. Every character can be a striker, all you have to do is pick 3 principle characters like in all the KOF games, and then pick a fourth character to be your team's striker. With every character having a different striker attack, a lot of new gameplay possibilities should have been added through their inclusion. However, thanks to the fact that it takes WAY too long for the strikers to come into the fight, their possibilities toward giving the player new tactical options during a fight are severely lessened. If a striker gets a good hit on the enemy, it is possible to start a combo off their attack, but do to the slow speed of unleashing a striker, more often than not you will be hit before the striker hits the enemy. Hopefully the striker system will be implemented better next year so it add significantly to the gameplay depth, but right now the majority of striker attacks are too slow to be useful against a good player.
    Fortunately, when the Counter/Armor Modes are initiated during gameplay the player is not left vulnerable like when using a striker. After the power bar is filled and Counter mode is put into effect, player can use an infinite number of Desperation Moves (just another name for Super Attacks) for a limited amount of time and special moves can be canceled into Desperation Moves. On the other hand, Armor Mode makes it so your character's attacks are not interruptible and you do not suffer block damage from an enemy's special attacks or Desperation Moves. Now, this should add a lot of new possibilities on how to end a fight, among other things, but the problem is that I never felt like using either mode.
    The reason for this is that the enemy's AI rarely uses strikers or the two new modes. In fact, it like they just wait for me to use one of these new options, and once I do, they will do the same. It all just ends up making all the new modes and options boring to use. Thankfully, the rest of the AI is quite strong and provides a good challenge. Of course, the final boss is as difficult, and as cheap, as ever.

    The character roster falters a little bit compared to last year, however. There are now seven teams of four characters each, two clones of Kyo (both of which play differently), Iori Yagami, a newly designed Kyo Kusanagi (complete with a new outfit and some major changes to his moves), and the final boss, Krizalid. Almost every team features either a new character or someone that was not in last year's edition of King of Fighters. The new characters include K', who is the new main character of the story. Through the use of a special glove, he is able to use the power of fire in his attacks and is one of the most well developed of the new characters. His friend is huge guy named Maxima, who is obviously a cyborg, with awesome punches and throws. Whip is the new woman on the Ikari Warriors team, and yes, she uses a whip and can catch opponents out of the air and smash them to the ground to impressive effect. Perhaps the least innovative is the new character Jhun, think of Kim from the Korea team with a slightly larger build, long hair, and a slightly different set of special moves and you have Jhun. Bao is the final new character and is a member of the Psycho Solders team. Of all the new characters he has the most noticeable personality, he is doesn't look older than about 14, can barely throw anyone (just looks for the hilarious throwing animation of him trying to lift a character over his head!), and I still have to wonder why he is even in the game. At least he fits the team perfectly and has a bright personality, just like Athena and Kensou. The final two characters are Kasumi Todo which hasn't been in a King of Fighters game since 1996 and is great fun to play. Finally, Xiangfei from the Fatal Fury series makes her first appearance in a King of Fighters game with King of Fighters Evolution. Overall, the cast is great but the new characters are a mixed bag. The only ones I play quite a bit are K', Kasumi, and Bao for his hilarious character. For those wondering, the characters that didn't make the cut as regular characters are the entire USA Sports Team (Yay!), Goro, Chizuru, Heidern, Saishu, and most importantly, Yamazaki and Billy Kane. Hopefully they (Yamazaki and Billy Kane) will return as regular characters when another 'Dream Match' rolls around, but for the time being, they are simply striker characters.

    Overall, King of Fighters '99 Evolution is a much better port than last year's edition. The background are far better, the music doesn't stop between rounds when fighting in the one-player Team Mode, and the new strikers are a nice touch (Yamazaki and Billy Kane, among others, weren't available as strikers in the original Neo Geo version of the game). However, while SNK tried to advance the series in a new direction with some new gameplay elements, I don't think they were implemented as well as they could have been. The new characters help a good deal, but in the end, I think the main thing King of Fighters '99 Evolution accomplishes is further advancing the best story ever in a fighting game (while I agree that stories don't matter in most fighting games, in the KOF series, I think it adds greatly to the series as a whole). For now, I think the KOF series improved enough since last year to not make the player feel like he is playing last year's version in new clothing, and hopefully those new gameplay modes will be implemented better next time around.

    Score: 6/10
    A review by James Hutton
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