Just when I decided I was completely fed up with portable game
systems (how many have been released in the last three years?
A half dozen? A dozen, maybe?), and just when I started losing
interest in the King of Fighters series, along comes this terrific
handheld translation of KOF '98 that restores my faith in both of
King of Fighters R-2 is kind of like a Flintstones
vitamin... you get your recommended daily allowance of fighting game
goodness in a bite-sized, sugary sweet package. Unlike
Takara's GameBoy adaptations of popular SNK fighters, R-2 flows
smoothly, controls surprisingly well, and looks terrific. Even
on an emulator, special moves and even a few supers are a cinch to
perform, and because your fists and feet have such long reach, you
never have to worry about hugging your opponent to guarantee a
hit. The one fly in the ointment are the rather touchy attack
buttons which dole out heavy punches and kicks unless the keys are
tapped very gently. Fortunately, there's a simple solution to this
if you're playing the game from an emulator... just set your Gravis
or compatible joypad to turbo fire mode and you'll get a seperate
button for each attack, just like in the Neo-Geo versions. Viva la
The background are accurate (if slightly washed out)
representations of the locales in King of Fighters '98. The
fighters themselves could use a little color in their cheeks, and
just about everywhere else, but the pale, pudgy heroes animate so
well that you probably won't care. All of the characters'
trademark poses and attacks have been exaggerated, making the
already great animation look even better. As for the music,
well, let's just say that it's a good thing the only Neo-Geo Pocket
emulator available doesn't have sound support. When I'd heard
the game at E3, I wanted to run from the SNK booth screaming... it's
that bad. Seriously, why does every portable game system on
earth have to have a rinky dink Z80 processor handling the music?
When you consider that the GameBoy's design was inspired in part by
Sony's Walkman line of cassette players, and that every major
handheld from the GameBoy on up has a headphone jack, you'd think
maybe the designers would spend a little more time with the audio
instead of throwing in a tone-deaf sound chip like the Z80 and
calling it a day. Oh well... I guess that's what that volume
control dial is for...
When a party's this good, you'd expect more people to
attend, but alas, there are barely any fighters to choose from in
R-2. and that's definitely its one major weakness. Worse yet,
the ones that did make it in aren't always gems. Take the
Orochi Team (out of the King of Fighters series, if possible).
Did we really need two versions of Yashiro, Chris, and (bleech!)
Shermie when we could have had Yamazaki, Blue Mary, and any one of a
number of Fatal Fury Real Bout Special stars instead? The
making mode attempts to put a Band-Aid over this gaping wound by
allowing players to beef up their favorite characters and port them
over to the Dreamcast version of King of Fighters '98, but until
this feature really lives up to its name and lets you design a
fighter from scratch, I'd much rather have the cast of dozens in the
Still, R-2 looks so nice and plays so much like its
big brother on the Neo-Geo- especially when you compare it to
Takara's miserable King of Fighters translations for the GameBoy-
that it seems almost silly to gripe about the small cast of
characters and, ahem, "music" (I guess that's what you'd call
it...). I admit, I was really skeptical of the Neo-Geo Pocket
at first, but titles like King of Fighters R-2 and Samurai Shodown!
2 forced me to take the system a lot more seriously. This is
one fighting game that's just too good to be this small!
This is one of only a few fighting games that I own
and is currently my favorite. My first contact with this title
consisted of everyone raving over it. But I took one look at some
screen shots and didn't believe the acclaim. The characters were
practically monochrome and I figured the game would have lousy play
control, like nearly every other fighting game for a portable
Boy, was I wrong.
The praise for this game was, however, enough to
convince me to buy a copy when I was purchasing a NGPC for an
entirely different reason (Rockman Battle & Fighters to
be exact but I won't go into that here). And I am exceedingly glad I
did. Let me go through the highlights by category:
Well, the sprites are only two colors, three counting
the outline (which does make a difference; sprites without outlines
tend to look flat--see the original Super Mario Bros. for an
example). I suspect this is a system limitation, identical to the
Color Game Boy one, but it can be circumvented if the developers
really try. After all, the NES also has a four color sprite
limitation (three shades plus transparency), yet Mega Man has five
colors in his sprites, so clearly such limitations can be negated
with a little bit of effort.
I really can't complain, because the sprite
animations in MotM are absolutely brilliant. Every character has a
gazzillion frames of animation. Not only that, but despite being
black and white plus one other color, the sprites somehow manage to
be finely detailed and yet very clear. You can see Zangief's fingers
flex as he prepares to battle, and watch Dan stick his tongue out
when he gets hit. Felicia rolls her hands around, which makes her
sprite look anything but flat. Haohmaru's sword tilts up and down in
a steady rhythm and you can even see Mai's breasts bounce. Everyone
has hair and clothing which flows in perfect unison with their
body's motions. I've never before seen this much detail and this
smooth of animation in sprites this tiny. It's absolutely fantastic.
The backdrops have more colors than the sprites, of
course. When I first saw the screen shots my impression was that the
backgrounds were so well painted that the monochrome sprites clashed
in comparison. However, you really don't notice while playing, and
the fact that the backgrounds use more pastel shades and possess
less contrast than the sprites means the sprites stand out nicely,
rather than blending into the backgrounds such that you can't see
them (a common problem in handheld video games...I won't name any
names). Also most of the backgrounds animate and contain parallax,
from waves crashing onto rocks to Mount Rushmore scrolling by in the
distance. I also like the birds flying away in the Germany level.
Also you have to give them credit for making noon/nighttime
variations of all of the levels...
Street fighting games aren't usually known for their
plots. Most have a few lines in the manual to establish why everyone
is fighting each other, and then each character usually has an
ending which may involve some storytelling. However, MotM goes way
beyond this and includes cut scenes during the game to advance the
overall plot. There are two big evil bad guys here with their big
evil plot, and you even have to fight their brainwashed soldiers.
While the plot isn't mind-blowing in any sense, it's entertaining
and does explain the two psycho hidden characters. They also built
in alternate plots to handle certain character combinations that
would otherwise mess up the normal plot line (for example, if you
have Ryu in your team when you encounter evil Ryu, Geese and Bison
specifically call the evil version a clone, thus explaining why
there are two Ryus in the same room).
One thing I love about the plot are the character
interactions. All of the characters have at least one rival to whom
they will react with customized pre-fight sequences and win quotes.
I just love watching Ryu and Ken face off, or Ryu and Kyo, or Mai
and Chun-Li, or any of a dozen others. Also if you team up certain
combinations of characters you'll get a custom team name. All of
these interactions really spice up the game and give the characters
a ton of charm and personality.
There is one downside to the plot, that being the lack
of grammar that is typical of translated games. For example Geese
has an abundance of inappropriate apostrophes in his big bad guy
speech for no apparent reason (even more strange: M.Bison says many
of the same lines and his are all fine). There are other grammatical
glitches here and there that sadly could have been easily fixed with
a little bit of proofreading. It's a shame most game companies don't
bother. But anyway, this doesn't hurt the plot of MotM that much,
since most of us know what the characters really meant to say.
MUSIC AND SOUND
Er...well, it's a Neo Geo Pocket Color. So it's not
bad, considering. The sounds are pretty appropriate and a lot of the
music is in stereo. That's pretty much the most that I demand.
A dream. I really have no complaints at all about the
play control. The characters respond wonderfully to the controls,
and the game is fast and smooth.
MotM contains the tag feature that made Capcom's "VS"
series so popular, and super moves which are also well loved. There
are also lots of other options, from single to team, Counter to
Rush, to make the game fit just about any type of play style.
What more can I say? Buy this game. You won't regret