Review by discoinferno84

"Now can't you see, it's burning out of control..."

It's over. Mankind has narrowly missed a grisly demise. Had Orochi managed to make a successful return to the mortal realm, the planet would have been scoured in its wake. But thanks to the efforts of a handful of heroes, the disaster has been temporarily deterred. With the fate of the world no longer hanging in the balance, the storyline of The King of Fighters has officially halted. In fact, it's reversed. Rather than focusing on any more plot developments and whatnot, the series turns back the clock and focuses on what the fans really care about: a bunch of awesome characters beating the Hell out of each other in one of the best crossovers ever conceived. So forget about Orochi, ancient curses, and all that other stuff; The Slugfest has arrived.

They're back. Most of them, anyway. Since The King of Fighters ‘98 takes place outside of the series continuity (for those precious few that actually care about it), SNK decided to bring back some of the old school brawlers. Not only are all the characters you probably know and love have returned, but most of the obscure, fan favorites, and canonically dead have as well. The Orochi Team is alive and well, ready for yet another chance at slaughtering everyone. More importantly, Rugal is back on his feet for the first time in years, and he's even cheaper than before. Iori is teamed back up with Mature and Vice, despite their infamous scene in '96. Since so many of the teams have been filled out by newer members, tournament veterans Heidern, Takuma, and Saisyu Kusanagi have made their own ass-kicking triumvirate. Even the American Sports Team makes their triumphant return, despite the fact that no one really cares about them. While there is a notable lack of Geese Howard and the rest of the Boss Team from ‘96, the outstanding roster more than makes up for it.

Don't expect this to be like the older games, though. Despite the fact that The Slugfest features an ensemble cast of nearly every character in the series, it operates on system that made ‘97 so good. The usual array of punches, kicks, and throws are present and accounted for, as well as the wide variety of special attacks and Desperation Moves. Most of the older characters have been refurbished with brand new supermoves and a considerably tougher AI. As badass as Saisyu was in ‘95, his fiery punch combos (many of which are creative variations of Kyo's) make him nearly unstoppable. You might think twice about mocking Lucky Glauber's after he slam-dunks a basketball off your face. It should also be noted that several of the characters have been rebalanced in terms of speed, priority, range, and all that other subtle stuff you might take for granted. Rugal is quite possibly the cheapest regular character in this game; they made his already lethal moveset easier to use thanks to a few tweaks to the button commands. With so many minor upgrades and changes spread throughout the roster, you'll find that the combat is far more refined than those of the previous games.

Such improvements can also be attributed to game's focus on the energy meters and how they affect the gameplay. The Slugfest utilizes the options of the previous game: The Advanced and Extra Modes. The latter operates on the energy meter mechanics of the first couple of King of Fighters titles; if you hold down certain buttons, your character will charge up extra power and be able to use it to execute supermoves. You'll also be able to temporarily sidestep oncoming attacks, which might prove useful in tricky situations. It's simple and straightforward system, but ultimately flawed; you'll be forced to spend more time focusing on charging up than the fight at hand. It's all too easy for an enemy to get in few cheap shots because you've let your defenses down. The sidestepping maneuver doesn't lend itself well to the fast-paced combat, either; in a game where speed, tactics, and combos reign supreme, wasting a few animation frames just doesn't work. Instead, you're more likely to use the Advanced Mode, which allows you to build up power by giving or taking damage. Should you charge up multiple energy bars, you'll be able to execute several supermoves in a row. Depending on the status of your team (KOed fighters, relations with other characters, etc) you can pass on charged energy to the next contender. Most importantly, however, is the Advanced Mode's use of the tactical roll; not only does it do the same thing as sidestepping, it allows you to close or widen the distance between fighters and focus more on tactics and mind games. Considering the depth of the gameplay at hand, it's almost as if the Extra Mode was just put in there to appease the long-time fans of the series as opposed to adding anything useful.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, however. The Slugfest is meant to be a dream match, so it's not surprising that SNK decided to go all-out with the fanservice. Several of the older characaters have been revamped with new costumes and flashier moves; series veterans might shed a tear when they see Saisyu draped in the flaming crests of his clan, or how Rugal's fake eye glows in his intro animation. There's nothing quite as badass as Kyo and Iori's stare-down sequence, complete with their infamous flaming fists. Fans will also get to see Leona and Heidern square off for the first time in the series, but not before watching them salute each other. There are several not-so subtle references to SNK's other titles as well; Takuma dresses up like Mr. Karate for his family, and the main heroes of Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting have special moments with their respective girlfriends. It's the in-battle animation that really steals the show, though. The attack and movement animations run far smoother and faster than those of the previous games. There's nothing quite like dishing out a few of Iori's projectiles, running in for a few punch combos, and finishing it all off with a Maiden Masher in a matter of seconds. Or having Rugal plant a polished boot into someone's skull and spin around like a psychotic ballet dancer.

It's amazing how far The King of Fighters has progressed. What started out as a crossover between SNK's popular franchises has evolved into something far greater. It's got a massive ensemble cast that features almost every character that's ever appeared in the previous games. Not only does it refurbish old-school fighters with new moves, it rebalances the usual contenders, provides new moves, faster pacing, and more of everything else that made the last few installments a joy to play. The Advanced and Extra Modes offer tons of versatility in terms of tactics and mind games; fighting game enthusiasts will have their hands full trying to master every aspect of the combat. Faithful SNK followers will be rewarded with tons of fanservice and other details. But for those of you that haven't played this yet, go do so. Now. The King of Fighters ‘98 stands as not only the greatest of its respective series, but one of the best 2D fighters ever made.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/05/09

Game Release: The King of Fighters '98: The Slugfest (US, 09/23/98)


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