The King Of Fighters: Dream Match 1999
As it is, the King of Fighters series has always brought SNK's superstars together in one convenient package. Although you won't find any characters from Metal Slug or Samurai Shodown in a KOF game, you will find the cream of the Fatal Fury-Art of Fighting-crop standing alongside the original KOF combatants. Now, with the Japanese release of King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999, you get the best of the past three incarnations of the series, plus some Dreamcast-exclusive features that make this the best installment of the series without a doubt. Although this isn't the "true" KOF '99 (it's more like a KOF '98: Special Edition), fans will easily forgive SNK for attaching the "1999" to the title.
To begin with, 38 fighters are available from the get-go, with alternate versions of some opening up after you've reached certain criteria. All of your King of Fighters' favorites are here. Stalwarts to the series like Kyo Kusanagi, Joe Higashi, Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, lori Yagami, Robert Garcia and Billy Kane return along with newer characters like Heavy D, Lucky Glauber and Kyo-wannabe Shingo Yabuki.
While previous non-Neo-Geo installments of the series were of varying quality (Saturn versions usually being pretty good, PlayStation versions, err, usually not so good), the Dreamcast proves more than capable of handling the lush, speedy 2D visuals of SNK's premier franchise. Instead of the usual 2D bit-mapped backgrounds, SNK has seen fit to enhance these BGs with 3D elements, while still retaining the famous SNK "feel." Boats, islands, locomotives all move about in the backgrounds, while the characters with their "realistic" shadows romp around in the foreground. The short of it is that the overall look feels a lot more complete than the series ever did before. The action is fast and smooth, with almost no slowdown and the newer characters are extremely well-animated. Loading times are also kept to a minimum due to the large amount of onboard RAM and the 12X GD-ROM drive.
Perhaps the coolest new feature, graphical tune-ups aside, is the link-up capabilities between the Dreamcast and the Neo-Geo Pocket Color version of King of Fighters R-2 (see sidebar). With all the usual modes present (team battle, single battle, versus, survival, training, etc.), this might be the fighting game purist's ultimate wish. Strongly rumored to be arriving in the U.S. at the Dreamcast's launch, The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999 could give Marvel vs. Capcom a run for its money.