While many associate the one-on-one fighting genre with Capcom's legendary Street Fighter franchise, there was a point in the '90s when SNK was arguably at the vanguard of this particular game style. Its King of Fighters series became a firm favourite in arcades all over the world, with yearly updates satisfying the desire and demands of a legion of fighting game aficionados.
For the best part of a decade SNK published a stream of titles in the franchise, each one offering improvements and refinements on the last, but if you were to quiz series fans about which one represents the zenith of this proud lineage, there's a good chance they'd cite the 1998 instalment, King of Fighters '98.
If you've never played a King of Fighters game before, it's worth noting at this stage that they're a little different from typical one-on-one brawlers. Instead of picking a single fighter, you choose three. As a result, each bout will last at least three rounds, as this isn't a "best of three" system like Street Fighter II; the objective is to wipe out every member of the opposing team. Damage is carried over from one round to the next, but truly skilful players can demolish an entire team with just one fighter.
While other games in the series attempt to follow some kind of story arc, King of Fighters '98 was pitched as a "best of" entry, pulling together a massive roster of combatants without trying to tie things together with any kind of storyline. Given the sheer size of the cast list - which includes boss characters like Rugal who died at the end of King of Fighters '95 - it's easy to see why fans hold this instalment in such high regard; there's a huge mix of play styles on offer here, as well as weeks and weeks of potential play time as you work your way through each fighter, mastering their many specials, combos and super moves.
Another thing which makes this entry so popular with fans is the fact that it arguably represents the most refined version of the game. The four previous instalments gently refined the core concept and '98 is, in the eyes of many players, the end result. It uses the "Advanced" and "Extra" modes seen in King of Fighters '97 to add a little player freedom to proceedings, too. With Advanced you can stockpile up to three super moves, while Extra will appeal to old-school SNK fans who prefer being able to manually charge up their super meter. Innovations which occurred after this entry - such as King of Fighters '99's Striker system - feel like window-dressing when compared to the purity of '98's mechanics.
As is the case with other ACA Neo Geo releases, this port of King of Fighters '98 benefits from enhancements such as screen filters, save state support, high score leaderboards and the ability to choose between the western and Japanese versions of the game. The customisation options go deeper, too - you can turn blood on and off, change the difficulty level and much more, making this one of the most "complete" ports of the game yet seen.
Given that fighting games rely on precise inputs and swift reactions you may well be concerned about playing it with the Switch Joy-Con's analogue stick; while it's true that it doesn't offer the same degree of precision as a digital pad or micro-switched arcade stick, it gets the job done well enough - although some of the more complex moves in the game are quite tricky to pull off.
The tiny size of the controller isn't an issue and the four-button arrangement mimics that of the Neo Geo controller perfectly, so it's not all bad. If you're really fussy about control then the Pro Controller is a must - there's also a proper arcade stick on the way from Hori which will no doubt improve matters. However, if you're looking to play the game in portable mode when you're out and about, the good news is that the Joy-Cons should suffice - as long as you don't mind putting up with a few missed moves. Like pretty much every fighting game, King of Fighters '98 really comes alive when it's played with another human being, and thanks to the portable nature of the Switch it's easy to rope in other challengers.
King of Fighters '98 is without a shadow of a doubt one of the finest one-on-one fighting games ever produced; it came at a time when SNK was truly firing on all cylinders. The large number of characters combined with the deep and rewarding play mechanics make for an engaging experience in single player, but add a second challenger and you've got a title which can last a lifetime - as is evidenced by the fact that fans of the franchise continue to shout from the rooftops about how amazing this game is.