I hear tell on the Internet that this is basically a tarted-up KOF 2002 (see entry 141), and I guess I can see that. It was SNK's first game on Atomiswave hardware in the arcade, and they didn't really try to go nuts with their new graphical power: they kept the same old low-res sprites, and just went with high-res 2D backgrounds. For the PS2 port, they got a little more ambitious, and made full-fledged 3D versions of the backgrounds, usually at about three different times/angles per background. As usual with their 3D background work, they do a very good job of reproducing the 2D material, without really generating anything particularly spectacular. Here, though, their visual fidelity is particularly high, so kudos to them. I can't say that I think the backgrounds are very inspired--mostly toned-down areas without a whole lot going on, but at least in the 3D versions they introduce moving elements to spice things up a bit.
I don't know if I'm just getting jaded on KOF or what, but this game feels like it plays a bit slow. There's tons of slowdown during some fireball attacks, for instance. It's probably faithful to the arcade, and was probably intentional in the first place, but I don't like it. The game feels sluggish, especially when compared with 2D fighters from, say Arc Systems, Capcom, or whatever.
The presentation outside the actual stages is pretty lacking by SNK's pre-bankruptcy standards. The intro just shows the character portraits one by one, then the title. Wow. There is no story (like 2002); when you win a fight, it just says "Winner," and when you beat the game, you just see a very brief slideshow of the boss crouching, then his computer, and...roll credits. Uh?
I've seen people complaining about the music, and it's definitely a departure from SNK's old hair-rock style--more of a light jazzy thing, really. It isn't remarkable, but it isn't bad. I'm not sure yet if I like it as well in this type of game as the old metal guitar riffs, but we'll see.
The port offers a fair number of graphical options: lots of filters for scaling/antialiasing the sprites, if you want (I turn the filters off), and, as I mentioned earlier, you can switch between the original 2D and the new 3D backgrounds, although neither sets the artistic world afire, but they look well enough.
You've got 36 characters on the select screen, and then four or so more if you hold R1 over some of the characters (Whip becomes Vanessa, huzzah!), and then I hear you can unlock another handful by playing through the game in various ways. A pretty respectable character count, then (and Vanessa and King are both here! Yay!).
Oh, there's some new fighting system stuff. 2002 was straight 3-on-3, pretty much, but now when you choose a character you choose a "mode": two of which are highly technical guard break types of things that I don't really care about, so I just do the third one, MAXx2, which makes you dish out a bit more damage, and allows super duper super moves (that I can't really pull off, but I can dream). I think they really are getting too technical with these modes: they scream "twittle with obscure fighting game system features" rather than "pick me for fun!"
Practice mode has the "Watch" mode that they've included in most of their recent ports, and which I've always enjoyed, since you can just sit back and watch the CPU beat on itself. The CPU seems really lively with using supers this time around, which is nice, and also you can set the backgrounds to change randomly, and the loser character to change, which is keen. There is a downer, though: the boss character can get picked, and of course he just wipes the floor with everyone else, forever, which kind of kills the random character selection aspect once he comes up.
I really don't like this boss: he is a downright bastard tit. SNK always does this, I guess, but damn. And the copious slowdown during the fight doesn't exactly easy the frustration factor. Bah. I go cheap and take the 1/3rd opponent life option when I continue.
Fortunately, there's an "Endless" survival-style mode, and it's pretty good as these go since it ramps up slowly, so you get through a good many fights and it doesn't just turn all hard on you after the first few. Good way to stay busy.
Not a bad game, but not inspired at all, and feels like yet another rehash. Fortunately, SNK's next Atomiswave effort, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum, is looking like something actually new and exciting. Until then, I guess we can play Endless mode on this a bit, and then maybe some 2003. Or maybe I'll just go back to playing Vampire...
I think I must have been subconsciously blocking out memory of the fifth button. Yes, it seems that SNK decided they had to make use of every button on the default Atomiswave control panel, and have committed the heresy of making use of a fifth button in the game. This accursed device toggles a stupid red-flashy mode in which you do extra damage while slowly losing life. A stupid and needless complication, if you ask me. Boycott the fifth button!
The Super meter charges really really really fast in this game, you kind of need to do a super every ten seconds or so to stay ahead of it. Maybe a bit overboard there.
The backgrounds are not attractive; I guess they were going for an industrial look and they got it, but rust combined with low-color artifacting (why is this happening on that hardware?) looks pretty bad, and even ones that are set elsewhere, like a garden, just look like masses of blurry pixels. The 3D versions are a lot cleaner, but pretty low-poly, looking back at it.
This game is really not very fun to go back to. :P