Born out of the union of two of SNK’s notable coin-op series – Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting - King of Fighters has always had to live in the shadow of the illustrious Street Fighter franchise here in the west; although it has a cult following, it’s never been anywhere near as popular as Capcom’s title. In Japan the story is slightly different – KOF is incredibly popular and continues to pull in the arcade-going crowds even to this day, and with the upcoming release of the highly-anticipated KOF XII on the horizon there’s never been a better time to relive some of the classic entries in the lineage, and thanks to King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga, we can do just that.
Containing five different games – ranging from ’94 (the one that started it all) to ’98 (still regarded by many fans as the pinnacle of the entire series), KOF Collection is, on paper at least, superlative value for money. All of the titles featured here are emulated with a high degree of competence and retain all of the features that made them so prolific as coin-guzzling arcade machines.
If you’ve never experienced a KOF title before then a little tutorial is probably in order. Instead of the usual 2D fighting setup of one character facing off against another until one ends up in a blood-splattered heap on the floor, KOF uses a team-based system. You pick a trio of fighters and should one of them fall in battle, the fight stops and your next fighter steps in. The first player to defeat all three of their opponent’s characters is the winner. This concept was incredibly unique when it first appeared with KOF ’94 and even today it allows the series to stand out from other 2D brawlers on the marketplace.
Compared to the often chaotic nature of Capcom’s 2D scrappers, KOF as a series sometimes seems a little too pedestrian for its own good. While the action lacks the pyrotechnics of say, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, the gameplay is infinitely deeper and more rewarding. The tactical element of employing not one fighter but three means that players also have to master a trio of styles as opposed to sticking slavishly with just one. This encourages you to dig deeper into the game and explore the many possible team options; with KOF ’98 there are 38 different combatants which means there’s an awful lot of scope for experimentation.
As you might expect, there are some radical changes to be seen across all five games; for example, KOF ’94 doesn’t allow you to select the individual members of your team (that privilege didn’t occur until the ’95 instalment) and embellishments such as mid-air blocking, three-stage super-move meters and life-saving evasive rolls appear in the later games but not the earlier ones.
This sadly renders the ’94 and ’95 entries obsolete; compared to ’98, the first KOF game looks positively archaic and it’s unlikely that you’ll want to play it for any period of time. ’96 and ’97 are a little more enjoyable but when you consider that ’98 is (by the developer’s own admission) a ‘dream match’ for the series that collects all the best elements of the franchise up to that point then it could be argued that SNK might as well have just stuck that game on the disc on its own. Completists will disagree and will no doubt be overjoyed at the ability to play these games without having to connect up their oversized Neo-Geo MVS setup, but everyone else will most likely ignore 80% of the software contained on this disc.
If you happen to be playing this on anything larger than a 32” LCD TV then be prepared for some seriously blocky visuals. No attempt has been made by the developer to smooth out the pixels in any of the games and as a result everything ends up looking distinctly chunky. This thankfully doesn’t prevent the gorgeous 2D artwork and lush animation from shining through; all of the KOF games stand as excellent examples of hand-drawn videogame art and if you happen to own a retro-friendly CRT television then it’s worth ‘downgrading’ when playing this; these games simply weren’t intended to be viewed on high-definition sets.
There are also bonus features to enjoy here. The ‘challenge’ mode presents various tasks to perform which also help to improve your understanding of the game mechanics. Completing these challenges unlocks bonus media such as artwork and soundtracks. The long-term usefulness of such a feature is debateable but KOF fans will be pleased all the same.
When we reviewed the Metal Slug Anthology we were disappointed that support for the Classic Controller wasn’t included. Thankfully that oversight has been rectified with KOF Collection, and we're pleased to report that the pad is idealfor this kind of game - the four fascia button setup is exactly the same as the standard Neo-Geo layout, so this is about as close to perfection as possible without using the original hardware. the GameCube pad is also an option, although we wouldn’t recommend it as the d-pad and fascia buttons aren’t really suited for 2D fighters. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk setup is equally useless, which means that unless you own a Classic Controller, there is little point in picking this game up. All of the other control options are worse than useless.
Ironically, placing five different KOF games on one disc is both a blessing and a curse; on one hand it allows fans to get hold of a large selection of games from this well-liked series in one fell swoop but on the other it means that four of the five games might ultimately be ignored because the ’98 instalment is so brilliant. If you’re a fighting game fan and you own a couple of Classic Controllers then this is on the fringe of being a ‘must have’ purchase, but be warned that you’ll essentially be paying for five games and only actually playing one.