Despite being the fourth in the series, The King of Fighters '97 is only the third to reach the Wii Virtual Console, SNK Playmore having skipped King of Fighters '96 in favour of its bigger, beefier brother.
Without '96 to bridge the gap, the jump from King of Fighters '95 to '97 is huge: there are six more characters for a total of 30 playable fighters, improved animation and backgrounds and more balanced CPU artificial intelligence.
In an effort to appease fans of earlier titles, '97 features two play modes: Advanced and Extra. The former — based on KoF '96 — allows you to 'stock' up to three super moves as your gauge builds power, while '94 and '95's Extra gives you one gauge that you charge manually, bestowing MAX power when filled. The choice is yours, and while it's not as advanced as the Groove or ISM systems that featured in later 2D fighters it's still a welcome touch of variation.
SNK included another throwback with the inclusion of a secret playable '94 Kyo Kusanagi, complementing an overall excellent line-up of favourite fighters: Iori, Terry, Kyo, Mai and Kim all feature alongside less well-known characters such as Choi Bounge, Chin Gentsai and Chang Koehan. It's a well-rounded selection that — with the exception of Kyo — stays away from alternate versions of its big names, giving you more reason to learn the rest of its 30-strong roster.
Whoever you pick for your team of three, gameplay is more balanced than '95: defensive players can use Extra mode while aggressive fighters have the option to use Advanced, tipping the scales more in the player's favour. Of course it's still an occasionally punishing game and anyone picking this up as their first KoF will likely struggle at first, but perseverance is rewarded.
KoF '97 also features some of the best graphics and sound to come out of SNK's audio visual departments in the '90s, with memorable tunes and superb backgrounds and animation.
KoF '97 is an excellent fighter and a very welcome addition to Wii's Virtual Console. Like all fighting games it divides players — for everyone who prefers King of Fighters there's a Street Fighter II fan, just as Tekken and Virtua Fighter polarise opinion — but if you're after a solid scrapper you can sink some serious time into, you can't go far wrong with King of Fighters '97.