The King of Fighters 2002 / 2003 Review

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Graphics: 6.5
Sound : 6.0
Gameplay : 7.5
Multiplayer : 8.0
Overall : 7.6
Review by Alex D.
Nostalgic fans of the King of Fighters series—which once so dominated the world of NeoGeo—finally have something to rejoice about. King of Fighters 02/03 is a two-disc compilation of everybody’s favorite 2D fighting game. Although the visuals and sound effects aren’t exactly top notch, King of Fighters easily makes up for its flaws with various gameplay modes and vast character collection. Although the King of Fighters 02/03 discs won’t knock anyone unconscious in terms of innovation, they still manage to deliver a solid body blow of gameplay that will satisfy anyone’s fighting desires.

The 2002 and 2003 versions both come on their own discs, and obviously there is a reason for this separation. While they are still based upon the same fundamentals, the two versions each carry a distinct feel. The 02 version is clearly the more traditional King of Fighters title, consisting of the lovable three-on-three tag team bouts. As you might have guessed, the gamer can select 3 characters to partake in battle, and when one warrior is killed another will take his place. Essentially, the first team to completely wipe out their opponent’s forces is deemed the victor. Aside from an optional one-on-mode bout mode, there aren’t too many enthralling gameplay modes here. The game’s cast consists of over 40 characters, who are all visually different, though certain combo and special moves appear recurrent across certain characters. Many combatants who were dropped off in previous SNK titles have found their way here to please some of the older fans. Some warriors are clearly better than others, but the sheer number of different abilities and combos will make trying out different fighters worthwhile.

Everything else aside, the gameplay replicates the quintessential 2D fighting title. The battles are filled with a seemingly infinite amount of basic and super moves, as well as the intense button-mashing combos. Generally speaking, King of Fighters 02 is a straightforward fighting game that is easy to pick up and play without having to worry about setting up a game intricately or investing the time to learn complex control methods.

To make this ‘value’ pack truly valuable, King of Fighters 03 is the more technically developed of the two; comprised of more game modes and special features than its predecessor. For starters, the three-on-three combat system is still in place, but this time around the ‘R’ trigger can be used to switch between fighters on your team. While the changing of characters can seem a bit jumpy, it’s still nice to mess around with different character combinations to further exploit enemy weaknesses. Now, the battles seem to be a bit more hectic amongst all of the swapping, which is more than enough to keep gamers on their toes from the beginning to the end of every bout. A new Survival mode pits the gamer with the character of their choice and 3 bars of health, giving plenty of time to string together some pretty big combos against hordes of opponents. Other modes include Arcade Play, Team Play, Team VS, and Single VS features. Unfortunately, the pace of battle isn’t quite as furious as in the 02 version. Whether you’re being caught up in a 20-move combo or in a chaotic character switching frenzy, the 03 edition has a few too many frills—which tend to detract from the pure hardcore fighting feeling. To make matters even worse, the plethora of characters prevalent in King of Fighters 02 is nowhere to be found in 03, which also damages the enjoyable diversity element. However, despite these flaws, King of Fighters 03 still does enough to live up to the standards required from the series’ biggest fans.

While both of the single-player experiences achieve nothing short of expectation, the most memorable experience from this collection arises via Xbox Live. KoF 2002 has a slightly different online setup than 2003, and sadly it isn’t quite as polished as we could hope for. 2002 has a nice display of game statistics ranging from different time periods and the various game modes, easily allowing you to check on your strengths and weaknesses. There is also a traditional lobby for finding friends or foes to challenge, and is basically a barebones multiplayer feature. The gameplay can get extremely laggy at times, which makes the fast-paced gameplay suffer tremendously. Suprisingly enough, KoF 2003’s multiplayer setup more than makes up for the bugs found in the single-player portion. 03 still has the statistical breakdown system, but it also has a new competition creation process. Now, a user is capable of easily setting up a tournament with over 100 entrants. Hour after hour of nonstop battling will never cease to entertain any 2D fighter fanatic, and obviously reigning supreme over everyone else is quite an accomplishment. Basic character coloring customization is also possible online, allowing the more visually demanding gamers to give their characters a hot new look. To top it all off, there is hardly any lag to speak of here, allowing King of Fighters 2003 to keep the pace of battle up to speed. While KoF 2003 is the superior online title, both versions are definitely worthy of countless hours on Xbox Live.

For those who were familiar with the KoF series on NeoGeo, you should realize that the overall presentation is far from jaw dropping. The character models are 2D and have a few cheap movement animations. Some of the special effects are vibrant with color, but the animations are still on the corny side. Backdrops with some 3D objects are offered to give the environments an in-depth feel, but the graphical aspect of the game is clearly not where KoF is supposed to attract newcomers. SNK has attempted to adjust the resolution to be a bit more acceptable on televisions, but everything still looks just like it always has. The audio field is also some way short of being impressive, but still manages to arrive as satisfactory. The combatants have some generic battle cries, catch phrases, and uninspiring sound effects. The background music consists of an awkward ‘80s type synthesized beat, which gets old very quickly. Even though King of Fighters 02/03 isn’t likely to win anyone over through its production values, it’s still easy to fall in love with the classic beat-‘em-up style of gameplay.

King of Fighters 02/03 is an entertaining fighting game, despite being visually two dimensional and slightly out of date. With the fast-paced battle combat, vast array of playable characters, and intuitive battle system that yearns to be perfected, it’s hard to not find anything to like about this double disc collection. For gamers out there who can hear and see past the retro audio and visuals, King of Fighters 02/03 for Xbox will not fall short of anyone’s battling expectations.