Review by JIrish

"Now THIS is how you port King of Fighters!"

The King of Fighters series entered a new era with the 1999 game. New characters, new sprites for old characters, a new story, and new gameplay to go with it. Unfortunately, before it could be ported to the Dreamcast, SNK went bye-bye here in the States. But it was Agetec to the rescue, with their release of the port of KoF 99 under the name King of Fighters: Evolution, to avoid any confusion with the port of KoF 98 which here in the states bore the year 1999. Since I’ve only read about the Neo Geo original, I can’t really compare it to this, but I can tell you that this is a much more satisfying Dreamcast KoF experience than the port of 98 was.

Orochi is a memory now, as a new threat, as yet unnamed, turns King of Fighters into a new style tournament. Now, teams of four were allowed, with the fourth teammate allowed to jump in a few times during the fight to attack, then jump back out. The teams themselves have changed a lot. Kyo Kusanagi is seemingly missing in action, and Goro Daimon is retired. This leaves Benimaru Nikaido to team up with Kyo’s number one fan, Shingo Kusanagi, and two new faces. The first is K’ (or K Dash), a white-haired, tan-skinned, leather-clad, quiet man who seems to hate KoF and fights with a technique that bears more than a passing resemblance to Kyo’s. The other is Maxima, a large, sideburn-bearing powerhouse of man who seems to be a cyborg.

The other six teams have been with KoF since the beginning, but now they’ve started to change. The Fatal Fury team now adds Mai Shiranui to the mix, finally uniting the classic four characters from the series. The Art of Fighting team reunites with Takuma Sakazaki, placing all four Kyokugen practicing characters on the same team. The Psycho Soldiers add Bao, a young Chinese orphan with tremendous psychic abilities. Bao is also perhaps the most disliked of all King of Fighters characters. Anyhow, the Ikari Warriors add the creatively named Whip, a young lady who uses the weapon she’s named after quite skillfully. The Joshi Team only retains King from the last two years, but re-adds Kasumi Todoh, brings in Blue Mary from the “Real Bout” team, and gives Li Xiangfei From Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 her first KoF stage. Finally, the Korea team adds one of Kim’s old training partners and fellow justice fanatics, Jhun Hoon.

So where are Kyo and Iori in all this? Well, there are enough Kyos in this game to make you wonder just what the heck is going on! Shin Kyo is the new version, with a new look in a sporty white jacket and black shirt. Kyo 1 and Kyo 2 all play like older versions of the KoF poster boy. What these two are doing here, well, you’ll find out. Iori is present as well, and is back to having no team affiliation. Shin Kyo and Iori were hidden characters in the Neo Geo original, but here they are unlocked from the start, as is the boss character, Krizalid.

The older characters have been changed up in a few ways, too, I might add. Terry’s Power Wave has regained it’s range, and the Ground Wave is a more powerful but stationary version. Robert, in addition to being back to his old look, is now a charge character like Guile of Street Fighter fame. King’s Double Strike is now activated by a single quarter circle motion and the hard kick, rather than a double quarter circle motion and any kick. Andy’s Hishoken is a quick burst in the light version and a multi-hitting ball of energy in the hard version. Blue Mary’s Spider grapple move now has to come out of her Spin Fall. Ralf and Clark’s looks have been changed up to new color schemes. And Athena not only got a new outfit yet again, but has cut her hair! Chin also gains new clothes, and finally would be seated at a restaurant. “No shirt, no shoes, no service” and all that, you know. There are plenty more changes to be found, so experiment and see what you get.

Anyway, the game plays like the last years with some very notable exceptions. First of all is the striker. By hitting the left trigger or Y and A at the same time, you’ll summon your fourth character to do something quick, then jump out. You only get a few of these per match, so use them wisely. These can either not be used at all or can change the very dynamic of the game. You’ve also got a couple new tricks with your power bar. Advanced and Extra mode are both things of the past, now you only have 3 stores of power, and you use them one at a time for a regular super move. When you’re nearly dead, they can be used for a MAX super move. They can also be used to activate Counter and Armor modes. Armor mode adds a ton of defense, protecting you from chip damage (the little bit of damage from blocked specials and supers) and from being stunned by regular attacks, but you can’t use super moves or guard cancels. Counter mode means you have unlimited super moves (though not MAX supers) and can cancel one move into another, but again you lose the guard cancels. Both modes produce a burn-out period where your super meter does not increase. All this adds up to a whole new KoF, and the results can be entertaining.

Apart from the regular arcade mode, you’ve got a one on one mode that matches Arcade mode but for only one character with a striker. Survival mode returns from the last KoF Dreamcast port, but now in two flavors: Time Attack where you’re not only fighting to stay alive but also against the best times, and Endless which just pits you against everyone for as long as you can go at it. Single All mode puts you against every regular character, like the original Survival mode from last years game. These modes add a lot of replay options to the game, which was sorely missing from KoF Dream Match.

The other major addition to this version of the game are the Extra Strikers. Seth and Vanessa from KoF 2000 are available as striker-only characters right from the start, and they’re not the only ones you can use. Chizuru, Daimon, Billy and Yamazaki can all be called upon once unlocked, as well as Athena in her school girl uniform and yet another version of Kyo, this one in a black leather jacket that’s zipped up. You get them with the scores acquired from playing the Regular Arcade and the Single Arcade modes. There’s more of them where those came from, too, so keep your eyes open.

Graphically, this is still a King of Fighters game and there is no real change in the overall quality of how the characters look, though there have been plenty of changes, some of which have been discussed above. Characters on your team no longer root for you in the middle of the game, though. The stages have again been redone in 3D splendor, and some of them, especially the amusement park and the boss level, look spectacular. The only cameo I saw in this go-round was, oddly enough, Jubei from Samurai Shodown resplendent in a suit and tie while standing in a fairly bustling street.

Musically, these are some of the best KoF songs to date, and are all here in edited Arranged Soundtrack splendor. And the music doesn’t stop when a new fighter takes the place of a defeated one, either, this time! Woo-hoo! The game otherwise sounds every bit as good as the last one, and that’s nothing to complain about.

Of the two domestically released King of Fighters games, this is the one I prefer by a lot. The gameplay is better, the overall feel is better, and it just shows that what goes wrong the first time around can get better the second time. I highly recommend this one.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/30/02, Updated 09/30/02

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