SNK has been rather kicking ass on their ports lately. Who would have expected that the first (that I can think of, anyway) 2D fighter with high-resolution sprites and 3D backgrounds would be a port of a 10 year old SNK game? And, very happily indeed, it supports progressive scan (in the usual "hold Triangle and X while the game boots up" PS2 way), like SNK's other recent KOF port, 02/03 (see entry 762).
The 3D backgrounds aren't of, say, Virtua Fighter or Soul Calibur richness and complexity, but they're very solid and pleasant in SNK's usual way (going back to the 3D backgrounds in the DC port of '98), somewhat flattish to evoke the 2D originals. The backgrounds here are the most liberal yet in interpreting the 2D background on which their based, and they incorporate many dynamic parts: loading cranes, moving ships, fighting on a helicopter-carried platform, etc. Most of them also manage to pack in cheering character sprites from other SNK games, which is kind of cute.
Each of the original backgrounds has been transformed into three versions (left, middle, center, or something like that--well, most of them) at three different times of day. It doesn't go overboard with color-tinting the sprites like 02/03 did, and they pretty much all look rather nice, and they fit right in with the high-resolution sprites.
Ah, the sprites. It looks like SNK basically took the old sprites, doubled their resolution, then smoothed out the jaggies, and added intermediate colors, on certain things like Chang's wrecking ball, to form smooth shading where the originals had pretty pronounced color-banding. They don't have new animation but still they look quite nice, in particular it's cool to see the facial detail possible with the increased resolution.
Most of the special effects, fireballs and the like, have been replaced with more sparkly translucent types of things, but still in the pseudo-2D style so they fit in with the sprites. Good.
There's a Practice mode, an Endless (ie Survival) mode, and then you can play single-player, team, or Edit, in which you put together your own team. There's a color edit mode where you can change the colors of any of the characters, and that's pretty fun to to mess with. Oh, the Practice mode has a "Watch" feature, and what I like to do with these is to put random character switching on for the player that loses, and random background switching, and just leave the thing going as a hyper-kinetic screen saver. Rugal gets on a nasty run sometimes though.
Oh, the announcer and music have been redone, and they sound pretty nice. Well, the music; the announcer still sounds dorky, but then again he doesn't have much to work with aside from calling out names.
Oh! I forgot some mode type of things. There's a "10th Anniversary" options menu where you can view video presentations/slide-shows on the main two KOF plot lines: the "Orochi" plot from 94-97 or whatever, and the "NESTS" plot from 99 to whenever. They're pretty well edited, but in all Japanese, so eh. And then there's a longish animated intro, similar in style to the one added to ports of KOF '98 (see entry 143--at least I think the PS1 version had it... I know the DC one did). Quite well done in kind of an 80's Saturday morning cartoon style--reminds me of GI Joe, really, and that's not a bad thing.
You can switch to the original 2D backgrounds behind the high-res sprites, if you want. You can also go to "NEOGEO MODE," which the manual refers to as "NEOGEO ROM," and which is pretty much the original version complete with low-res sprites, original music, etc. Only Single and Team play is available there.
My edition came with a "mook" ("Magazine" + "Book" I guess) with recyled artwork and lots of writing in Japanese on nice shiny paper.
I'm starting to hope that SNK goes back and re-ports all their games this well. This is cool. Although I don't much like '94 as a KOF. The super moves are tough and seem to require two arbitrary simultaneous button presses, and then just the inputs on some regular special moves are weird and touchy. And there's no rolling, just a quick sidestep dodge (and with 3D backgrounds, this turns the entire background slightly, which is distracting), and then you manually charge the super meter, and um oh the AI is a real bitch. At least King's in it; that counts for a lot.
Oh, there's also an online mode, which I gather has a matchmaking service and chat mode for online bouts. I don't know if you have to be in Japan to use it--I don't think you do, since it's broadband-based--but I'm still not likely to try it myself, not having a PS2 BBA and all, and not much interest in gettting one. Still, it's a good move by SNK, and hopefully one that continues in their PS2 ports.
There are references to "Multi Matching by KDDI" and "Access Netfront," with a Japanese support phone number in the online section of the manual. It's possible that there may be a small subscription fee required, but I don't know.
An amazing thing happened in this remake: SNK removed all the full-screen flashing effects '94 (and the other NeoGeo KOF games) had, there are no red flashes on counter hits or match-ending hits (the "Flash" option in KOFs starting with '98 let you turn that off), and no full-screen white/black flashes during super moves--so it's pretty darn easy on the eyes for a fighting game, and one of the few KOFs I'll let myself inflict on my eyeballs now. ... Now I really wish they could have carried this forward to '96 and '97! : o
If it only had a 240p mode for the NEOGEO version it would be just about perfect.
Gameplay full-screen flashes are gone, but there are still some flashy things in the game that mean I'll probably avoid playing it regularly, including:
- Hit sparks in '94 are really big in comparison to later KOFs, so those are constantly flashing right in the thick of the action. - If a character powers their meter all the way up, they flash for the duration of the powered-up state. - Meters and the timer in the game UI flash when nearing critical. You can turn off the display of all meters and the timer in both modes, but this makes the game kind of confusing (it turns *everything* off except the score, pretty much!), and then doesn't cover the character shadows partially as it would in NEOGEO mode. - Character shadows flicker: the usual old NEOGEO shadow effect. In Re-Bout mode, there's no lower meter to hide them partially as there is in the NEOGEO version (and the shadows render upward, right behind the character, so a meter below their feet wouldn't block them anyway). And even in NEOGEO mode, the meters aren't that big, so they don't hide the flicker as much as in later KOFs. - The screen clears to white when a team's last character is KOed. (This happens even in later NEOGEO KOFs like 2000, so, I've kind of learned to live with it. :p) - When the CONTINUE timer runs out at the end of the game, a half-screen graphic of the team's silhouettes flashes red/blue--it's pretty bad as far as flash FX go. - Kyo's flame sets characters on fire with a color-cycling effect that is pretty flashy. - Joe's whirlwind fireballs flicker as they move along.
The GAME OVER blue/white/red sequence is still somewhat brutal, there's a flashing lighting intro to the 2D version of the Korea stage, and what really got me still in my latest play attempt is the strobing Pao Pao Cafe "neon sign" intro to the 2D Mexico stage or whatever it is--I had to edit those sequences out of my recorded version, after my eyes ended up zapped. So I guess I'll have to keep avoiding this game, blah.