This game isn't as bad as I thought it was at first. First impressions were that it looked quite dated, had spotting collision detection, little style, ugly backgrounds, small sprites, and a weak selection of characters. We played some Vs. mode and came away disappointed.
Having put a little time on my own in to the Arcade and Survival modes, I'm willing to be a bit more generous. Although the old KOF sprites are here pretty much unchanged, many of the new sprites animate pretty well (though Hugo is a pale shadow of his SFIII version as far as animation goes), some of the stages look pretty good, the music is mostly decent, and the game is challenging, at least initially, even with an AI that is sometimes a bit spotty. A few of the new sprites, such as Dmitri, look awesome--then again some (Tabasa) are not so hot.
The fighting system is pretty darn basic. I'd have liked to be able to roll, at least, but no go. You can do a super-duper "Exceed" move when your power meter is maxed out at three levels, and that's pretty much it for twists on gameplay as far as I can tell--well okay, FAQs say that there are a large variety of cancels and super cancels and things, but subtlety like that is a bit beyond me anyhow, although it sounds nice.
Like recent KOF ports, the game has a "Watching" mode in Practice, where you can watch the AI go at it. I like Watching modes, so yay. There's also a gallery--I haven't unlocked anything yet. In fact it kind of annoys me that most of the most interesting characters are locked at the beginning. Bah, I want Mars People!
The Graphics Options screen has a few unexpected options. You can select between "Normal" and "Arcade" modes--"Normal" has transparency effects on fireballs, smoke, etc, which looks pretty nice, whereas "Arcade" looks probably just like the original, no-transparency MVS version. Then the "Screen Mode" setting lets you stretch the slightly-lower-than-normal-NTSC resolution of the MVS game up to NTSC resolution (mode "B"), so you don't have the black borders around the screen. I don't recommend that you do this because it results in some rather ugly and irregular stretching of the graphics.
So that's where I am now--liking it more than I thought I did initially. It doesn't have bells nor whistles, and lacks any particular style, story, or theme, but it's... solid. Yeah, pretty solid. Oh and load times are pretty near instantaneous, a nice change in SNK ports. :)
I think I like this less now. You can't roll, which feels pretty sucky when trying to play the SNK characters like SNK characters--which they otherwise feel like, and the Capcom sprites look weedy: icky colors, spotty shading, and sort of lanky, malnurished-looking builds. The tarted-up effect sprites look blurry and nasty, too, and hell so do the backgrounds for that matter, mostly a set of lifeless, colorless industrial junkyards--why do this?
Looking at this recently on a PS3, I can see that the "Normal" graphics are actually high-resolution; not sure from my quick look if they're actually re-drawn in high-res--although this seems very unlikely, and at any rate they don't have that icky uncanny valley look of the re-drawn sprites in KOF '94 Re-Bout (see entry 765), for instance, or if they are just using some kind of "Eagle"-style sharp smoothing filter--but they didn't have any blurred look, they still appeared pixel-grainy, only at a finer scale. I'll have to look into this more, because it wasn't a bad effect, and I haven't seen it in any other SNK games.
Supports progressive scan. Like other PS2 progressive games, you hold Triangle and Square while booting the game--unlike the others, though, this one goes straight to progressive mode, without a confirmation prompt.
I'm liking this game more now. I was afraid I would have to drop it because I can't stand fighting Goenitz as the mid-boss in Arcade mode, and Survival is punishingly difficulty, KOF '98-style, but as one of the later SNK PS2 ports, it has the Practice mode "Beat" setting that lets you turn Practice mode into an endless series of 1-round matches vs the CPU, where the losing character is swapped out for a new, random character. I can keep going at that for *hours*. The game feels weirdly unbalanced, like a bag of pieces that don't all fit together very well, but somehow after a while the weirdnesses work together--most characters seem to be unbalanced in some different way--and it just turns into a very rapid-paced blur of fighting funkiness. I mean, the hit sounds are weird, the backgrounds are mostly forgettably bland or eye-wateringly hellish, but heck, this is I think the first game that actually has me enjoying playing Dhalsim, Guile, and Vega ("Claw")--even if I can't do half their moves. ; )
And where else are you going to get Demitri hitting Earthquake with "Midnight Bliss" and gender-swapping him momentarily?