Review by Isegrim
Recommended to KOF fans...for the most part!
Before I go on to the review itself, I should make a confession. I am not a KOF fan...well, not a hardcore one anyway. More accurately, I'm a Capcom Street Fighter fan who also likes KOF as an alternate avenue for 2d fighting games. I didn't consider SNK games until well into KOF '97 when certain SNK-esque issues in their fighters were discarded and replaced with a more Capcom-like feel. Therefore this review will probably focus more on those issues rather than appeal to the hardcore KOF or SNK fan. Not that this review would matter. They'd probably buy this title regardless review or no review.
KOF '94 Re-bout is simply put, the best remake of a classic fighter I've ever seen. How I wish Hyper Street Fighter II and Capcom Fighting Evolution was given the same treatment. The presentation is simply marvelous, everything is done for one purpose, to re-introduce and immerse players into the world of KOF as if new and hook them in...which it does but only if they can appreciate the gameplay which could be a problem.
This review is based on the Japanese version of the game since no English version exists yet as of now.
Character sprites have been retouched. If you've used edge enhancement options in an emulated KOF title, these are what the sprites would most effectively remind you of but the effects are much better in KOF 94' Re-bout due to the loving attention of SKNP programmers. The result, very minimal pixellation whatsover and looks even better than most Capcom sprites. The characters now look like they stepped out of a comic book but don't let it fool you. These are still the same '94 sprites but look oh so much better. Just don't expect it to animate anywhere near Street Fighter III's quality.
The new 3d backgrounds are fantastic, probably the best ones I've ever seen in a fighting game. There are SNK cameos everywhere, not just from KOF but from every SNK game imaginable. There are no static stages. Every stage has a different interpretation transforming with each battle when team members change. Thus, day turns to late afternoon, evening and into morning with cameos changing in between. Some even have different viewpoints such as the China Team stage with one night location set in front of an office building and the other one, a long street with a most beautiful fireworks effect lighting up the sky. Absolutely breathtaking were the moving backgrounds. The Paopao stage for example has the floor moving quickly where one can see glimpses of cameos, cafes, elevator shafts and rooftops whizzing by with no sign of repeated scenery until the next battle when everything resets. The Ikari Warriors has a most luscious view of greenery seen from above a high flying suspended platform via helicopter.
Music is re-arranged and mercifully, doesn't have a quick loop time. The music sounds wonderful with best BG music going to the China Team with Athena singing her classic Psycho Soldier song, quite catchy. The music utilizes wonderfully re-arranged full orchestra renditions of the '94 themes. No techno music here! I am so sick of techno for BG music!
Sound effects and voices however, seem to be unchanged from KOF '94. Want to hear Terry's voice samples from Fatal Fury Special? That's what they used in KOF '94 and you'll find it still here.
The meat of the matter. But the meat still isn't tenderized.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is still basically KOF '94, the first of the KOF games and also, the most unrefined. If you're like me who got into KOF later on and never experienced the early SNK titles, this could be a problem.
Being the first KOF ever made, the game is nowhere near to having the fast and furious multiple combo-oriented action later KOF titles have. Thus, this game plays much slower than its predecessors and feels more like a dinosaur in comparison if not for the spruced-up graphics and sound.
I was painfully reminded of why I couldn't get into the initial SNK fighters the way Capcom games did back then. One issue was SNK's high altitude, low distance jumps. This was corrected in later KOF titles with the inclusion of hops, normal jumps and super jumps. In this KOF, characters jump way too high and for too long uncomfortably clearing only a short horizontal distance making jump-ins quite unreliable.
A second and even more annoying issue was the old SNK's use of very unconventional joystick motions that's little used today. Some of the joystick motions for Desperation moves (Super Moves) like Kensou's and Mai can be really tricky to pull off, far different from their present incarnations. Thus, if this is your first time to play '94 having previously enjoyed the more recent KOFS, prepare for some difficulties.
Which brings us to a third even more important issue. Early SNK fighters utilized a cruder fighting engine that had trouble recognizing moves unless they were done exactly as prescribed by SNK. For example, Mai's DM was listed as Forward, Down-Back, Forward + BC. Unless this was done exactly as directed with no provision for going into additional directions (such as doing Forward, Down-Back and a Quarter Circle Forward + BC which is what usually happens in the heat of battle), the move has a good chance of not triggering or worse, doing something else and leaving her open for attack.
Fortunately though, KOF '94 Re-bout's engine has been re-tweaked as well. I find that even the most annoying moves can be done now with some consistency unlike the original where I had to struggle through numerous attempts triggering Kensou's DM. Moves still aren't as silky smooth to pull off as easily as KOF 97's engine and above but there seems to be noticeable improvement when compared to the original '94. Nevertheless, one still has to be as tight as possible in the move's execution.
For those intending to play single player mode, I should also mention that the AI is pretty cheap and highly kineto-reactive like most early SNK fighters. On default, the CPU usually stands still and counters almost any straight out non-strategic attack perfectly. For people who complain fiercely about cheap AI, this game is definitely not for them especially when they reach the boss Rugal. '94 Rugal is simply hellish and in a way, worse than KOF 2001's Igniz due to the lack of universal options. His first incarnation has even more priority with his normals than SFIII's Gill. His second one is far worse with endlessly thrown projectiles and a massively damaging Genocide cutter. Unless you quickly find some CPU flaw to take advantage of, you may find yourself continuing against him again and again into the wee hours of the early morning.
Alas, the intermissions, winquotes and dialogue are all entirely in Japanese, completely devoid of the language selection capabilities of the original. Thus far, unless this game is released for the U.S. PS2 (rumors of which point to a negative conclusion), it'll most likely stay that way unless it somehow makes its way to X-Box.
The storyline is pretty basic. Rugal, a black market arms dealer invites several fighters from around the world, most of them based in one way or another from pre-'94 SNK games, to participate in the first 3-on-3 tournament. The dialogue is basically trash-talking for the most part between Rugal and your characters with possibly a few gems of character insight and some humorous remarks especially coming in from the Women Fighters Team. Some specific winquotes though depend on which team your characters defeated and who made the final blow. I found some of them quite humorous which is probably the only real loss to having the game devoid of English translations as far as the main game is concerned.
IV. Presentation and Additional Modes.
Presentation is everything as far as this game is concerned. Aside from the new 3d backgrounds, enhanced sprites and re-arranged full orchestra soundtrack, there are a plethora of new modes and goodies for KOF Nostalgics.
First of all, there's the 3 minute Japanimation intro that appears when you first boot up the game. The animated sequence is pretty short but will leave you stoked. In my case, it re-ignited my waning interest in KOF. After watching it and the other movies, I'll probably be playing this and KOF '95-2003 with bouts of Capcom vs. SNK 2 in between for weeks. This is the closest and best thing to an actual KOF OVA.
Team Mode of course is regular arcade mode. But an Edit team option is also available for those wishing to pick their own team members. This completes the game seeing as this was the only KOF that didn't have it in its original release.
Single mode, Team Vs. Single vs. and the usual survivor mode (called Endless Mode) is also available for even more ways to play. There's also Network Mode for those wishing to play online but probably unusable unless you're a resident of Japan.
Movie mode is available for those wishing to see the Animated Intro without the Press Start message in the middle of the screen. In addition, there are two History of KOF movies available. One explains in detail the official storyline of the Orochi Saga (KOF '95-97) and another, the Nests saga (KOF '99-'01). The movies are told by a narrator (in Japanese of course) explaining the story with scenes and intermission sequences taken from the games themselves along with some voice acting of the main characters. A nice addition but for non-Japanese speakers, some prior research on KOF's storyline (or by playing the games) would probably be useful if you wish to venture an educated guess on what's happening.
Finally, there's also Neo-Geo Mode where you can play the game exactly as it was in it's pixelly Neo-Geo form. Strangely enough, in the options menu, there's an alternate Neo-Geo mode that can also be triggered different from the aforementioned. Triggering it will give you the Re-Bout game with the new sprites but the old Neo-Geo backgrounds and rules for partner assistance.
V. Final Recommendations
Personally, I have mixed feelings about '94 Re-bout. Had this been a straight port from the Neo-Geo, I would definitely give this a low score. The gameplay is outdated and the controls quite taxing. However, I feel that half of Re-bout's value lies in it's gorgeous presentation, movies and additional options. Seen in this light, I recommend this wholeheartedly to most KOF fans and people wishing to delve (in my case) into the more nostalgic aspects of KOF. But for those weaned on today's more flashy, combo-oriented fighters and seeking more of the same, look elsewhere!
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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