Review by YanDaMan263
"Unlimited match. Unlimited possibilities. The greatest KoF to date."
The King of Fighters is SNK's flagship fighting game franchise that have been ongoing for over 15 years and still going strong. Starting with The King of Fighters 94, each successive year gave us a sequel up till one point, and out of all of these titles, 98 and 2002 stood out to be the most successful of the bunch prior to SNK's rebirth as SNK Playmore.
Just like popular old fighters like Street Fighter 2 Turbo, KoF 98 and 2002 are still widely played today. Because of their enormous popularity and demand from the fans, SNKP decided to give both games a re-balancing update, similar to Street Fighter 2 and Guilty Gear X2 fashion. The first game, King of Fighters 98 Ultimate Match gave us characters from 96 and 97, while tweaking some character's moves and adding the new "Ultimate Mode" option. Other than that there wasn't much else added, yet hardcore fans were very pleased with the results. And now with the release of King of Fightesr 2002 Unlimited Match, we were all pleasantly surprised at what we see.
The original KoF2002 was released on the Neo-Geo arcade hardware. As you may guess, its capabilities are pretty low and the sprites had very jagged edges even on a small screen. Ever since SNKP upgraded their games to the Atomiswave hardware, sprites have looked a lot cleaner thanks to its filtering options. The same holds true for KoF2K2UM. Unlike 98UM, which retained the same jagged and low resolution sprites as the original, 2K2UM have graced us with smoother filtered sprites just as KoFXI did. This already makes the game look much better on a television screen.
Next are the background stages. While 98UM retained all of their original stages along with a few new ones, 2K2UM have completed recreated every single stage background from scratch. While they don't meet the 100% hand drawn aesthetic beauty of the KoFXII stages that we've seen from previews, the new stages here are almost equally interesting to look at, with a lot of things going on in the background. These stages are also littered with various cameos from other SNK fighting games such as Garou Mark of the Wolves and World Heroes, and much more. SNK enthusiasts will have a very happy time searching and identifying all of these characters.
Next is the game interface. We have our opening movie showcasing some impressive frame by frame animation, along with some cool character artworks. The menu screen looks much better than the plain blue background for the Neo Geo version. The character select screen is gorgeous, with each character panels and their team nicely positioned in a hexagon pattern, while showcasing some very beautiful and impressive character artwork for whoever you have highlighted. The order select screen and victory screen looks very nice as well. One last neat effect is the zooming and "opening" of the screen before the first match starts. Which can either get you pumped for your fight or simply skip it.
Another minor graphical update are the special effects to some characters. Many character's special moves have an added visual enhancement to make them cooler to look at. A very good start to a true remake.
Another thing about KoF is that while its old background music were nice and catchy, its quality was on an obvious downside, and I suppose we can thank the Neo-Geo hardware for that. While 98UM had some nice arranged versions of its original BGM, this game have completely redone every single BGM from scratch. Not only do these sound great but its instrumental quality is the best to ever grace a KoF game so far. Many popular soundtracks received a great updated remix while many of the new characters added got a totally new BGM. These music range from upbeat, to intense, to dark and moody, to epic and much more. The music is so well done in this game that you may just find yourself listening to them in the Sound Test over and over. Many characters have also received new voice samples as well. Not a very major upgrade but definitely better than the old version.
Before we talk about some of the changes in this upgrade, it should be well noted that unlike it's original release, 2K2UM boast an impressive roster of 66 characters, arguably the largest roster in a fighting game up to date. Many fans wished to use characters that have only appeared a few times in other KoF games, and SNKP respond to them by literally including every single characters from KoF99 through 2002. Even each series's bosses and minibosses have made it in, along with the exclusive characters for the PS2 console release of the original 2002. Did you always wanted to play with Jhun on the 2002 engine? Now you can. Lin, Hinako, Xiang Fei, Heidern? By all means.
Starting with the system changes. KoF2K2 featured a system that lets you freely cancel special moves from one another by sacrificing one gauge of your super meter, called MAX mode. Press B+C to activate, a timer will appear above your super gauge, it will slowly deplete itself, as well as a percentage of it for each MAX cancel you do. You can also do a Quick Max where you are able to cancel normals into MAX mode and continue your combo with MAX mode active, which would use up two super gauges instead of 1. Before the timer runs out, you can still activate a Desperate Move without losing another gauge.
Aside from your DMs (Desperate Moves), each character have SDMs (Super Desperate Moves) and HDSMs (Hidden Super Desperate Moves). SDMs are listed as MAX Supers in your command list while HSDMs are listed under MAX2. DMs uses up 1 super gauge, SDMs and HDSMs uses up 2 while HSDMs can only be activated when you have only 20% or so life left and your life bar turns red. Originally, to perform a SDM or HSDM, you had to activate MAX mode first. One problem with this is that it made it very obvious that you were attempting a SDM or HSDM soon, causing your opponent to be a lot more careful and defensive. Because of this, unless you were able to combo your opponent with MAX mode activated, it made most SDM and HSDM almost unpractical to use. KoF2K2UM however now allows you to use your SDM and HSDMs without going into MAX mode but doing so will cost 3 gauges instead of two. While this may seems a steep price to pay, also makes every single SDM and HSDM more practical to use, as without having to activate MAX mode, the surprise can really punish a careless opponent.
The next major change is the characters themselves. While KoF98 was deemed to be near flawless by the players, 2002 suffered from some balancing issues. But unlike most other unbalanced games, the problem with 2002 wasn't that the characters themselves were inferior to another, but rather because many attacks in their arsenal, namely their SDMs and HSDMs, were almost useless. KoF2K2UM have fixed this, many characters have their HSDM tweaked to be either practical, or more useful. Many characters also gained DM versions of their SDM, or their SDM simply was changed to a DM while they may have gained new moves and new DM/SDMs. For example, Seth who was one of the weaker and lesser used characters on the roster can now use his Counter super as a DM instead of just an SDM. This alone makes him much better than before, because as I mentioned earlier, you were forced to go into MAX mode to perform a SDM, and no smart player would attempt anything rash especially if they know what Seth can do, making it very hard to catch your opponent with his Counter SDM. Now however, the element of surprise is there, making Seth a much more formidable character than he was before. Another example is the character Angel. In the original she could only use her DM inside her unique UC Chain combos. In Unlimited Match however she can use them outside of her UC Chains, as well as using her HSDM without connecting with her counter SDM first. At the same time they fixed her infinite. The number of changes in characters are very large, and it would be impossible to list them all here. That will be something for you, the player, to experiment with and find out.
For those who knows their SNK history, they'll know why the character K9999 have been omitted and replaced with a new character named Nameless. The character itself is pretty cool in design, as well as retaining the same move set and play style of K9999. Nameless also have his own story which is actually tied in to the NEST saga (KoF 99-2001). However, Nameless also happens to be the one slight flaw I've found in this near perfect game. For a non boss character, he have more priority and invincibility frames than most of your average characters. It's nothing game-breaking and won't destroy anyone's enjoyment or the competitive scene, but a flaw is still a flaw, albeit a very minor one.
Outside of your typical arcade and versus modes, you got survival, practice, and challenge mode. Challenge mode contains 30 challenges with various goals, some of which serves as tutorials to the game's system and features. Once you complete these 30 challenges, the expert challenges opens up. These are the challenges that takes expert level skill in order to complete them. Completing the final challenge will unlock the most powerful boss in the game.
There is a gallery mode where you can view various character artworks, old and new, promotional videos of the game, and ending images. Thanks to all the new characters in this game, there are much more special team pictures you can unlock similar to KoFXI fashion. There is also the Neo Geo mode, where you can play the original KoF2002 if you wanted to.
The replay value of the game is not too high as after you beat all the challenges, there is not much to do by yourself. However like all Fighting games, Versus mode where the game shines. Grab some friends and watch the hours flies by.
Many fans were excited when they heard that 2002 was getting an upgrade. What most of us didn't expect was the sheer amount of extras that went into this upgrade, especially for those of us who've played 98UM and were expecting the same level of additions. However KoF 2002 Unliminted Match feels like a completely brand new game while keeping the core of 2002's engine intact, making weaker characters more practical to use, as well as giving us a great new interface and soundtrack. KoF2002, being already one of the widely played KoF games today, this upgrade truly turned it into the best KoF game to date. Veterans of the original 2002 should be able to jump right back in with the skills they already have, while players who wishes to test out the new balanced characters may just find some new staple characters for their main team. For the few who may not like the changes made in KoF XII, this game will please them.
Final Score: 9/10
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/06/09, Updated 04/20/09
Game Release: The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match (JP, 02/26/09)
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