|Not having played one of the Neo*Geo KOFs for a while, it was something of a shock to be reminded here that they didn't run at anything like 60 frames per second; it's probably lucky if it hits 30, and there's lots of slowdown on certain moves and hits, although much of that is probably intentional.|
What KOF really had going for it was a large cast of appealing and even somewhat wholesome street punk characters who seemed peppy and alive. KOF '99 started moving away from that trend a bit with the introduction of a new starring character, the morose and somewhat bizarre K', and his matching entourage. 2000 continues moving away from lovable street punks by adding, in a roster that comes out to somewhere around 35 characters, a Mortal Kombat escapee who spits poison, and a purple pixie who spits ice.
All is forgiven, however, due to the addition of Vanessa, a fox in short-sleeved business attire (C. Viper in SFIV seems to have ripped off her costume design, only with less class) with a delightful array of boxing moves. As is the case with most of the KOF cast, her moves are plentiful and highly intuitive, so you can dive in and start pulling off fun maneuvers without breaking your fingers. Seth, a stern guy also sort of in office wear, is another addition, and seems solid, although I haven't been tempted to use him much...eh which is probably because I prefer to play female characters. :P
2000 continues the "Striker" system started in '99, where you pick an additional character to call in during the match for some extra, automated hits on your opponent. They probably got the idea from Capcom (Marvel vs. Capcom, entry 333), but it's a fun addition anyway. In 2000, they did a little extra work, and now each character has an alternate extra striker-only character ("Another Striker") you can select instead, which is fun because it's a way for them to bring back--partially--old characters like Chizuru.
So in play, in addition to the plentiful special moves each character has, and their three supers (two regular ones and a third that requires three super meter stocks), you can also hit button combinations to do extra stuff: the first two buttons do rolls (a KOF staple), the middle two buttons call the striker, the end two buttons do what may be an unblockable attack, not sure, the first three buttons use a super charge to activate "Counter" mode, where you can cancel more moves than usual into supers, I guess (I'm not sophisticated enough to use this), and the last three buttons activate "Armor" mode, where you can take a hit but continue whatever attack you're making, which is handy.
I wish I'd been cool and collected enough to be able to activate Armor mode against the boss, Zero, properly, because in the best (and possibly worst) KOF tradition he's a real jerk to fight. He isn't as bad as some of their other bosses, though, so I suppose one can't really complain. As is also usual for KOF, the rest of the cast is pretty fun to fight when controlled by the AI, because they aren't very predictable, and aren't robotically perfect; they won't hit you with an anti-air move EVERY time you jump in naked, for instance, unlike, say, Street Fighter. Each one also tends to fight differently from the others due to their different moves, again unlike Street Fighter, where half the cast is a clone of Ryu.
Another thing I appreciate about King of Fighters particularly is that the large number of unique and intuitive special moves per character, the three-characters-per-side battles (each side has three playable characters, who have to defeat the other three; when one falls, the next steps in; the port does allow a single-character mode, though), the evasive roll in/out moves that every character has, the high/low jumps that every character has, and the overall fast movement speed of the characters combine to create matches that are very free-flowing and reactive; every character has so many options for moving and attacking that battles feel less like the highly refined Street Fighter's chess matches and more like scrappy street battles won by quick wits, initiative, and reflexes. It makes the series very approachable without being button mashy.
Despite the very fun puzzle mode, KOF 2000 feels stripped down by modern port standards: there are no in-game movelists, so you have to keep the manual handy to look up a character's moves (and the manual only shows three special moves per character, even if they have way more than that, so you just have to figure the rest out on your own), and there is no "Survival" or similar mode that would allow you to play in a more extended fashion than the usual series of eight or so fights up to the annoying boss character.
It does, at least, have a Training mode, and while the Training mode is lacking things it really should have--movelists and a display showing your control input so you can tell why you're whiffing moves--it has a wonderful extra feature that I've only seen in the later KOF ports, "Watch," which puts the game into a self-playing mode of an endless series of (optionally) random CPU vs CPU matchups; this makes a great "screen saver," so you can just set it on Watch mode and have the AI duke it out for your amusement while you're twiddling your thumbs or whatever. It's also fun for being able to see how well the characters match up when controlled by the AI.
The (2D) backgrounds and music in 2000 are among the best SNK produced; the backgrounds in particular are memorable, with fantastic settings like sandy, wind-blown ancient ruins in a desert, or a hallway in a crowded public aquarium, with floor-to-ceiling fish tanks on either side.
2000 was, unfortunately, something of a high-water mark for the series for a while; after this one, SNK went through severe financial trouble, at once point nearly dissolving, and development of at least the next two (2001 and 2002) shifted to another, less inspired company called Eolith. Fortunately, SNK would recover, and things would start coming back on track for the 2003 version of the game.