Since its beginning the three-vs-three Team-Battling shenanigans of SNK’s The King of Fighters series provided enjoyable fighting action. Each instalment added and tweaked things, culminating in the superb “Dream Match” ’98 edition. This was followed unsurprisingly by The King of Fighters ’99, which HAMSTER has now brought to the Switch’s eShop.
Rather than adopt a “same again, but more” approach for the game, SNK made a few changes to the formula. The Advanced and Extra modes are gone, replaced with a single fighting style – albeit one that offers up two useful options once you’ve filled your power meter. Combinations of three buttons activate Counter Mode or Armor Mode, offering increased offensive and defensive capabilities receptively.
The big change is that you now pick four characters for your team, with the character in the number 4 slot being your team’s “Striker”. Unplayable during the fights, you can however call them into action a few times to attack the opposition with a move. You do need to time it right and know the range of their attack, as it is all to easy for them to hop onto the screen, flap about at thin air and hop off again. Getting into the needed position can put you in danger, so whilst your Striker can be useful during fights, you may end up using them as a distraction rather than a means to get some more hits in. It’s an interesting way to play, although it should be noted that KOF 2000 (also now available on the eShop) would refine the system.
Visually there’s some fun character animations as well as plenty of detail in the surroundings. Stages change as the rounds progress with different times of day and weather effects. There are also good touches like shadows on a background wall or a heat shimmer, and all of these pretty (but gritty) visuals are backed by a moody soundtrack.
Story-wise this game begins the NESTS plot, that sees a group of evildoers looking to clone the worlds greatest fighters. Scenes pop up throughout your playthrough explaining the plot en-route to the final big-bad Krizalid. Defeating him will of course get you the ending, with unique moments thrown in for the set teams.
There’s been a reduction in the number of characters available, with 30 on offer when you first gaze upon the character select screen. Its not as impressive a lineup as its predecessor but there is still a good variety here, even if two of them are clones of Kyo; the original Kyo is available as a hidden character, as is Iori. Returning characters include the likes of The Bogard Boys, Ryo, Leona, King and Mai Shirlythisisnotsensiblefightinggarb. Newcomers include new main character K', Xiangfei (from Real Bout Fatal Fury 2) and a whip-wielding fighter who has imaginatively been named Whip. With a range of differently handling fighters, there’s a variety of team-ups to experiment with until you find your preferred lineup, whether fighting against CPU or human opposition.
As an ACA release this game of course includes the usual options for tweaking things like difficulty, adding scan lines and turning blood on, whilst the Hi Score (1 credit) and Caravan (5 minutes) modes are available if you'd like a different way to play.
The King of Fighters '99 doesn't reach the heights of its immediate predecessor, but by changing things up there's still fun to be had from the different way of playing offered by the introduction of Strikers. There's a good variety of characters to play as and the game offers the expected enjoyable multiplayer with friends. However, just as earlier games in the series were "good, but not as good as the one after", KOF '99 would be improved upon by its follow-up. Those interested in story will want to see the beginnings of the NESTS storyline, but from a purely gameplay perspective KOF 2000 is a better option.