Better late than never, King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match is finally released for the Playstation 2, but can an eleven year old game with a bunch of bells and whistles added still satisfy the needs of the fighting masses of today?
King of Fighters ’98 was considered to be one of the best 2D fighters of its generation, so naturally it got the Ultimate Match treatment after it was released giving extra play to an already robust game. Now we finally get the game on our shores with even more enhancements thrown into the mix. For the first time in the series, you have access to every KoF character in your roster. That’s a total of 64 different characters each with their own particular fighting style, more than any other fighting game available on the market. And this is just the tip of the extras iceberg, beyond the inclusion of the original King of Fighters ’98 for historical purposes; the game boasts options galore to difficulty, presentation and modes of play.
Practice mode is quite helpful and essential for anyone not familiar with the fighting mechanics, and while the mechanics are straight forward, mastering each characters special attacks and combos is an awesome time sink. Arcade and Single Play modes are standard story games that pit 3×3 and 1×1 matches as you continue up the ranks to try to attain the title of King of Fighters. These have minimal story involved but are quite interesting as you can finally see different characters from the KoF series meet and interact with each other. Mulitplayer is limited to 2 person Vs mode, with no online functionality available, which isn’t too big of a surprise since that really wasn’t available when the game first came out. Challenge mode gives you specific criteria to complete such as blocking X amount of attacks or using aerial combat X amount of times. Completing these unlocks artwork extras that are really intended for the die-hard fans. Finally, endless mode was my favorite as you choose one character who has to survive the one on one fights with the remaining characters without health replenishment.
In addition to all of this you also have the option of mixing up the command system to tweak your characters to your hearts content. The previous KoF featured two separate command enhancement systems called Advanced and Extra with different skill sets to choose from, and while that scheme is still here, Ultimate has been added in which you can mix and match from both systems to create a highly specific command set for each character. This really gets deep fast and will probably only attacked by the true afficianado. And even if you don’t lean towards the hardcore mindframe, once matches are complete you can lower the bar by decreasing enemies health and difficulty while also giving yourself a full energy meter from the beginning to get an edge. Everything in this package is geared towards giving you the most content for a very inexpensive price of 20 bucks.
Graphics are where everything starts to fall apart. For 1998 graphics they are awesome, nice hand painted backgrounds and spectacular 2D animations, but unfortunately it is 2009, and the retro vibe just feels off for spending the dough. Sure they added 3D backgrounds which you can select from the options menu, but it doesn’t quite justify the option. Similarly the music feels dated, which is fine for the nostalgia, but doesn’t help the non-initiated.
This game has a lot of things going for it; mechanics, depth, nostalgia and price, but for the average gamer it may not be justified. What it amounts to is a decision: is it more valuable as a collection piece or should you save your money for the next-gen King of Fighters XII? Either way, 20 bucks isn’t too much to sink into a game with as much depth or playability that satisfies on many levels.
ESRB: T for Teen, featuring straight-forward arcade style over-the-top fighting
Plays Like: Arcade fighter
PROS: Tons of characters and play styles to choose from with plenty of fighting customization thrown in to boot
CONS: Dated graphics and feel that only a KoF enthusiast could relish