Review by KLantis

"Still king of the hill, but not the best in the series"

Every year, we all look forward to something. Super Bowl, Christmas, getting girlfriends (ahhhhhhh...:P). Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes expectations fall short. And as with every year tradition, SNK has decided to launch what happens to be the fifth game in the series (now, second only to Fatal Fury in the SNK lineup), and the last one of the century (what's with ''this is the last one of the century, so it better be the best'' kind of crap?). Accordingly to the beginning of a new century, SNK has decided to change the milestone engine of the KOF series to adopt new rules, such as the Striker system and the Counter/Armor modes. However, these options are still not enough to save this game of falling short of what it had been expected for...

As with every new KOF game, you get new fighters. Some are new, some are ''borrowed'' from the Fatal Fury or Art of Fighting series. The main deal is that no longer are Kyo and Iori the main characters...they are still there, of course (can you possibly imagine a KOF with no Kyo and Iori? It's sorta like SF with no Ryu and Ken), but they have been replaced by K', the new anti-hero who shares the same power as Kyo, but K' being a lot more violent. He teams up with his big, bulky buddy Maxima to join Benimaru Nikaido and Shingo Yabuki, two close friends of Kyo, to enter the tournament, which takes place after the Orochi battle (bear in mind that KOF '98 was nothing more than a sidegame). As you can see, teams have grown in number from three to four members per team, due to the new ''Striker'' system. Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, and Joe Higashi welcome Mai Shiranui to form the REAL Fatal Fury team, while King (who also lost Chizuru Kagura) calls Blue Mary, along with returning Kasumi Todoh, and newcomer Li Xiangfei (from Real Bout 2). Kim Kaphwan receives the visit of his old training partner and rival Jhun Hoon, and discuss the true meaning of justice as poor Chang Koehan and Choi Bounge stick around (SNK has some sort of fixation for these guys). Takuma Sakazaki joins his sons, Ryo Sakazaki and Yuri Sakazaki, and his student, Robert Garcia, for the complete Art of Fighting team. Leona, Ralf, and Clark receive yet another enigmatic partner: female soldier Whip. Athena Asamiya and Chin Gentsai take little psycho boy Bao in, as Sie Kensou begins to lose his psycho powers himself. As with the past two years, two single entries are admitted, being TWO Kyos! However, they don't seem to know anything about Kyo's past life....

As you may have seen, the Striker system applies to the new rule for this year. Three of your four team members will take care of all the dirty fighting, while the fourth will remain as a partner you can only call on for a limited amount of time (press B+C, Light Kick+Heavy Punch), as they execute a move that can either set the opponent up for more damage, recover the character's energy or power meter, or decrease the opponent's power meter. You can only call them for a limited amount of times. Huh? Sound a bit like the helper system of Marvel vs. Capcom? OK, sound a LOT like the helper system of MvC? I have to agree there. Though the damage possibilities are not as hefty as in MvC (choose Psylocke or Colossus, call them in, you do super, bang bang boom boom), the ghost of doing mega hyper combos off them is still in the air. Eventually, there ARE ways that some characters can create big fat combos off a striker, which sort of ruins the sense of balance the game seemed to carry from KOF '98.

As you may have also seen, there are no longer Advanced/Extra modes like in the past two games. On the other hand, you get two in-play modes: Counter mode and Armor mode. You need to have three stocks to activate them, though (stocks are like SF's super levels: you raise your meter with normal and special moves, until you get enough meter to gain a stock. Stocks are also NOT passed on anymore, unlike the way Advanced mode did it in the past few games). To activate Counter mode, press A+B+C (Light Punch+Light Kick+Heavy Punch), and B+C+D (Light Kick+Heavy Punch+Heavy Kick) to activate Armor mode. Activating Counter mode makes the character glow red, and they are able to do ANY Desperation Move (which is, the super move) anytime they want, even after a special move (which wasn't normally possible before). Armor mode, besides giving you a yellow tan, grants you ''super armor'', as you can't be pushed back by normal hits (once again, any resemblance to Hulk or Zangief from MvC?). These modes last certain amount of time, and after they end, it's gonna take you about 13 seconds to use your super meter again. While the price for it seems hefty, the damage capacity more than makes up for it. Especially if we're talkin' Counter mode. Now, correct me I'f wrong, but wasn't super cancelling some of the major gripes of SF III?. Why try it here? Come on SNK, it's OK to copy sometimes, but if you copy wrong things, well...

The rolling system that was in KOF '96, and in Advanced mode of KOF '97/'98 has been slightly changed. You now execute a ''rushing dodge'' attack by pressing towwards + AB (Light Punch+Light Kick), and if you press any attack button, you nail the opponent as you advance (this is something like the counter dodge technique seen in KOF '95 and in Extra mode in KOF '98). If you press back + AB, the character leaps backward, but then quickly leaps forward. Both allow for some truly mindbending strategies, adding more thinking to rolling than before. Now you have to watch the opponent's every step to get a clean hit. This clearly raises the tension levels up close.

CD counters (press CD after blocking an attack, but only if you have a stock), have been thankfully weakened. Having been relied on heavily in the past two games, this time is different: they do NO damage at all. While this still allows some players to use CD counters to keep the opponent away while the clock is ticking down, at least it is no longer such a valuable weapon in turtling.

At heart, KOF '99 seems to be like KOF '98 plus a few more things. While the animation is a lot more different this time around, the combo system seems to be the same (aside from the screwed Striker system). You can still chain normal moves into command attacks, and command attacks into whatever seems fit (special or super moves). However, not ALL tactics from '98 applies here, as most of the old characters' motions have been tweaked, and also, some move properties have been messed around with (Mary's M.Spider is blockable this time around, King's old Tornado Kick makes a comeback). You basically have to relearn some characters from scratch.

The feel of the game also, well...doesn't feel all that right. While personality is still a big part of the KOF series, it seems less obvious now. Only three victory poses per character and two colors don't add too much inspiration. The story, though not getting out of the typical KOF line (psycho wants to rule world, you need to trash psycho once before he gets REAL serious, then kick his butt again), does propose some interesting future possibilities (something to do with the good ol' Orochi).

Basically, KOF '99 fails to live up to what KOF '98 left behind. Though KOF '99 follows up the storyline, they sure didn't try to follow-up the gameplay. KOF '98 has about 38 characters and a lot more work on every one of them. KOF '99 has 28 (final boss Krizalid not included), and some of them lag behind of others, not precisely by the nature of their special moves, but the possibilities they can cause after a Striker combo. KOF '99 is looking more and more like a Versus game, which isn't a very good point in my book (nor in any other avid SNK player's). It isn't the first time SNK messed up with a series when they have tried to change the engine (KOF '96 and Samurai Shodown III come to mind, but at least KOF '99 has some redeeming qualities), but they have refined it through time. We will see if time will tell. Meanwhile, KOF fans may get a kick for ' least for a while, until the innovation passes out, get frustrated a while, and looking forward to the first KOF of the century! (Or is it next year. Ah, damn Y2K hype....).

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/24/00, Updated 01/24/00

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