Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fighting games take a simple concept - beat the snot out of your opponent without getting beaten yourself - and turn it into a complete game. Good fighting games have enough plot, depth, and character development to carry the simplicity of the gameplay. Rival Schools showed us that a fighting game could have a cool plotline, silly characters, and off-the-deep-end gameplay without sacrificing the quality of the game. Rival Schools Fighting Diary 2 shouldn't be considered a sequel to Rival Schools, but it's still a better game.

The plot still centers on five educational institutes that have been pitched in a bitter rivalry since time began. And, of course, the only way to settle the eternal question of which school is better is to knuckle up and beat each other down. Each university has its five or so fighters, and they each represent their school with the institution's particular brand of athleticism. There's the soccer goalie who specializes in kick attacks, the generic schoolgirls, the volleyball player who spikes flaming balls of death at you, and the swimmer who beats you with his flippers and forces you to synchronize swim with him until you die. Unfortunately, there's only two new characters selectable from the main screen, but the intro hints at more than five new hidden characters.

The graphics aren't any better, or worse, than Rival Schools. At a distance, the 3D models all look OK, but when you go in for a close-up, you'll notice the grainy textures and polygonal breakup. The effects when you start or complete a super-attack are pretty cheesy as well. The backgrounds, all in 2D, are nice enough. Since the gameplay revolves around school life, the fighting takes place in locker rooms and soccer fields, mostly - no exotic locales here. One thing I really did enjoy was the loading screen. There's a ton of character art from the game that randomly switches out while the game is loading. Most of the screens are really cool, and it makes the load time bearable. The sound is pretty good. The opening and ending music is funky J-Pop, but the in-game music is mostly bland instrumentals. The sound effects are standard fighting fare - grunts, shings, and thwaps aplenty. They're all overlookable because of the sheer fun of the fighting engine.

If you think this is a serious game, you're definitely wrong. Capcom went out of its way to take the gameplay into the silly dimension, and the fighting takes a backseat to the sheer wackiness of the characters, special attacks, and team attacks. You still pick two characters - a primary fighter and a reserve fighter, who can be called out for team attacks. The team attacks depend on whom you pick as your secondary fighter - his effects range from the standard multi-hit offensive flurry to the ability to heal your fighter or power up his special-attack meter. Once a round is over, you can switch to your reserve character or stay with your current configuration. The controls are all really easy. Doing a special attack is as simple as hitting L1 or L2, while a team attack is always done by simply hitting two buttons. This makes it especially easy for anyone to play and focuses more on the extreme wackiness of the team or special attacks. Like the import version of the original Rival Schools, Fighting Diary 2 has an edit mode, a survival mode, a training mode, and some minigames. The minigames carry the school theme of the game, with a home-run derby, a goal-kick competition, a track-and-field event, a volleyball serve contest, and a Bust-a-Groove-style dance-off.

Rival Schools Fighting Diary 2 isn't really a sequel by any means. With only two new characters and no real change in the gameplay it's not that much different from Rival Schools. However, it's still a lot of fun and does feature the edit mode. From an importer's point of view, there's enough Japanese in the game to make the edit mode useless to those who aren't fluent in the language but everything else is easy enough to figure out. If you don't own any version of Rival Schools and don't mind not knowing exactly what everything says, I would suggest importing Fighting Diary 2. However, if you're looking for something new in the Rival Schools universe, you'd be well advised to wait until Capcom releases a real sequel.

BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger Review

For many years, Arc System Works quietly earned a fan following with the flashy 2D fighting action and totally over-the-top characters of the Guilty Gear series. The studio has started anew with BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, a new game with new characters and an evolved fighting system that adds to Guilty Gear's basics. Unfortunately, there are only 12 playable characters in this one--a smaller number than most conventional fighters. Still, they're all very different from each other--and as you might expect from Arc System Works, a few of the characters are completely insane. While you may have trouble wrapping your head around the game's crazy cast and its many different gameplay nuances, which have such esoteric names as "drive attacks" and "guard libra," you'll find plenty to do with the many different offline play modes--plus robust online play that works great. BlazBlue may not be the easiest fighting game to get into, but it still has a lot to offer.

Like the Guilty Gear games, BlazBlue is a fast-paced 2D fighting game with multiple attack buttons--three are for standard attacks of varying strength and the fourth is the drive attack, which produces an entirely different effect for each character. The character Jin's drive attack freezes his enemy solid; Ragna's steals his enemy's health with each strike. Every character also plays in a totally unique fashion, though there are callbacks to Guilty Gear's roster. The game's protagonist, the spiky-haired, sword-wielding bad boy Ragna takes cues from the spiky-haired, sword-wielding bad boy Sol Badguy. There's also a "big strong grappler who can't run" character in Iron Tager, who is similar to Guilty Gear's Potemkin. Then again, BlazBlue also features a grinning hooded catgirl with gigantic paws; an evil vampire child who hurls exploding, whoopee-cushion-shaped bats; and a masked blob that oozes its way into battle.

It's clear that the developer specifically intended for the characters to look totally different, as well as play differently, from each other. While this definitely makes the game seem new and makes each character seem distinctive, this uniqueness makes it harder for your skills to transfer from character to character, especially if your frame of reference is more-conventional fighters like Street Fighter or The King of Fighters.

However, if you're a Guilty Gear fan, or just a fan of sci-fi anime cartoons that have really strange characters, BlazBlue will feel like coming home. In fact, much of the fighting system is clearly based on an improved, faster version of Guilty Gear. Like in that series, BlazBlue lets you chain together multiple standard attacks, start juggle attacks that propel your opponents up in the air, and dash forward or backward both on the ground and in the air (with the exception of the aforementioned Iron Tager). There's a decent variety of strategies that work among the different characters--some have fairly strong defensive games, but more often than not, being able to mount a strong offense will serve you well. Fortunately, the game supports a strong offensive game with the standard chain combos (strings of normal attacks, or revolver action as they're known here), as well as extensive air juggling and a defensive blocking meter (known as guard libra, in this case), which determines how long you can block incoming attacks before your defense simply fails.

Thankfully, there are also many defensive counter options based on enhanced versions of previous Guilty Gear mechanics, such as the ability to use a well-timed defense to reduce the amount of time your character stays in blocking animation (known as instant guard); an active defense system (known as barrier); and a defensive counterattack setup that lets you turn the tide of battle (known as barrier burst). BlazBlue moves fast--sometimes dizzyingly fast--but if you can keep up, you'll find a good balance between offensive and defensive tools in your arsenal and tight, responsive controls.

In any case, BlazBlue is an attractive game with big, well-animated characters set against colorful background stages and flashy special effects. As you might expect from a Guilty Gear successor, BlazBlue has a wailing rock guitar soundtrack, and in any given match, both combatants are generally flying around shrieking the names of their mighty fighting styles while the game's announcer calls out successful defensive maneuvers and counterattacks. When matches get very intense between two characters with especially flashy moves, there's a great deal of loud noise, bright flashes, and ballyhoo onscreen that the scene borders on being confusing, especially to beginners who aren't already fighting game experts.

However, you'll be able to get the hang of it if you understand the basics of performing combination attacks, juggles, and defensive counters--and if you can tune out some of the fireworks. It'll also probably help if you tune out the game's needlessly elaborate terms for gameplay features (guard libra, barrier burst, revolver action, and so on) and its completely superfluous story, which puts Ragna in the center of some kind of futuristic postwar conflict among a bunch of different factions that never really affect the game.

However, the story does play into BlazBlue's offline Story mode, which offers an interesting new experience for newcomers and veterans alike, since it branches in different directions and offers different unlockable content depending on whether you win or lose to different opponents. The game also has Arcade, Score Attack, Versus, and Training modes, plus an unlockable gallery. There's also a replay option to save and watch offline and online matches, including matches from the leaderboards, which you can peruse for your entertainment, or study carefully to learn to be a better player. And BlazBlue has extremely strong online multiplayer that makes it easy to jump into ranked and unranked matches. The online lobby uses an icon-based interface that lets you quickly find other players with good connections, as well as players of similar experience levels in the game. Actual online play is quite popular at the time of this writing--there's plenty of competition out there, and if you're on a good connection, you'll probably experience very little lag, if any, during an actual match.

BlazBlue is weird, bright, and loud. The colorful artwork, wild action, and totally unique characters may intrigue you, assuming they aren't too much for you to handle. If you can get past the noisy presentation and bizarre characters, you'll find a very solid fighting game with plenty of offline options and excellent online play.

Legend of the Dragon Review

Legend of the Dragon is a fighting game from Game Factory that's based on a cartoon that currently airs on Toon Disney as part of its Jetix programming block. It's about a pair of 15-year-old twins, Ang and Ling, who are on opposite sides of a martial-arts-themed conflict involving humans that can transform into beastlike creatures. The fighting in this game is uniformly terrible, giving you the feeling that the product was constructed as a licensing tie-in first and a game second, but the ugly graphics and lack of character speech mean that this probably won't do much for fans of the show either, making it a failure from every angle.

The fighting is stripped down, with only one punch and one kick button and very basic combos that string those two attacks together. While you can push in a direction to execute different punches and kicks, you don't have any special moves in your human form. As in most modern fighting games, as you fight, a meter fills up with energy. Once it crosses a certain threshold, you can transform into your character's guardian form. For the main characters, the forms are largely human still, just armored. Others turn into decidedly snakelike, or ratlike, people, and so on down the line. Your basic abilities don't change when you're transformed--you can still attack, and the game still plays like a bad 2D fighter with 3D ring movement buttons. But you can also use your power meter when transformed to execute three different special attacks that make the game feel like it's trying to ape the Dragon Ball Z Budokai series. One attack launches a DBZ-like energy beam at your opponent, and at that point, a button-mashing or controller-waving frenzy breaks out, which either causes more damage or nullifies the attack, depending on which player can mash faster. Another special attack has the player enter six button presses or controller motions at random. If the opposing player can memorize the string and enter part of it, that player will block the incoming attack. The third attack launches a series of fireballs in a rhythmic fashion, and the defending player can dodge these with well-timed button presses or controller waves. Unfortunately, these attacks are identical for every fighter in the game.

In addition to a stock of standard fighting modes, like survival and practice, there's a quest mode, where you move Ang or Ling around a map screen as though it were some kind of board game. There are temples at several spots on the map, and at each temple, there's a challenge for you to complete. The game tries to get clever here and change things up by giving you stipulations for each fight, like in Soul Calibur's quest mode. So some fights have time restrictions, others can be won only with specific attacks, and some fighters are only susceptible to combos. If any part of the fighting were even remotely enjoyable, this might provide an interesting change of pace. But it only manages to frustrate, because it's very easy to knock opponents out of the ring accidentally, which will lose the fight for you if you needed to do something else to your foe.

Legend of the Dragon is available on both the PlayStation 2 and the Wii. The PS2 version has very standard controls, with buttons for blocking and throwing. The Wii setup uses the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk and is very similar to the PS2 controls, though on the Wii you'll block by pushing down on the D pad, and you'll throw by pressing down on the D pad and waving the remote toward your opponent. All of the special attacks require some form of Remote movement, and none of them feel precise. Graphically, the two games are very similar--both of them have bland visuals, with a generic cel-shaded look and weak animation that makes all the characters look pretty bad. The backgrounds are also ugly and plain. Because the game is based on an animated series, you'd hope for some form of voice acting, but other than the typical fighting game grunts and a few very short voice clips here and there, it plods on in silence, using text to convey the quest mode's nonstory.

Because of the game's dull fighting system that doesn't play well against the computer-controlled opponents or against a live human being, it seems almost impossible to have fun with Legend of the Dragon. When you factor in the total lack of detail in the attempt to mimic the cartoon's look and feel, you're left with a game that even diehard fans of the relatively obscure cartoon will probably hate. Do yourself a favor and keep your distance.

Fight Club Review

Given the antimaterialist undertones of the 1999 movie Fight Club, it seems a little strange that it has been spun off into a video game, especially this long after the fact. Granted, Fight Club is a modern classic, and its surprising story, dark humor, and graphic depiction of raw fistfights still hit home today just as strongly as ever. A Fight Club game doesn't necessarily seem like that great of an idea to begin with, but a fighting game based on the movie at least basically seems to make sense. Such a game would hopefully capture the sheer intensity and brutality of the movie's battles between men fed up with a stifling society who are looking for a pure, primal release of all their emotions and frustrations. Unfortunately, Fight Club the game--in stark contrast to publisher Vivendi Universal's far more successful movie-to-game efforts earlier this year--is a resounding failure. Unless you're a masochistic Fight Club fan looking to purposely have your sensibilities offended, then you'd be well advised to stay far away from this game.

Want proof? When you finish Fight Club's story mode--which is a series of mind-numbingly easy and repetitive battles punctuated by poorly prerendered images overlaid with terrible voice-over that is rife with pointless swearing--and which has the audacity to try to tie in with the events of the film, you unlock Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst as a playable character. His distinctively harsh rap-rock vocals, which are completely incongruous with the Dust Brothers' electronic music featured in the movie (and some parts of the game), are also used to quickly establish (in the opening cutscene) that this game isn't going to try to do a good job of being faithful to the spirit of the movie.

To be fair, much like how the main character(s) of Fight Club yearned to fight such figureheads as Mahatma Gandhi, William Shatner, and Abraham Lincoln, it's possible that Fight Club fans might appreciate the idea of seeing Durst get the snot beaten out of him. Unfortunately, they won't get much satisfaction out of the actual process here, because Fight Club is one of the basest fighting games in years. While the game includes multiple characters from the movie (as well as some original concoctions), they all fall into one of three categories: brawler, martial artist, or grappler. And these three different fighting styles aren't that different from each other, either. Characters all rely on basic strings of punches and kicks, and the occasional throw, to do damage. There is a distinctly limited number of moves per character, and a lack of depth that's immediately apparent in the gameplay. You could probably whip through the game's story and arcade modes just by mashing on the punch buttons without even looking at the screen.

The game's not horribly broken--it's just bad. There are a few early moments in which Fight Club shows a hint of promise. Some of the moves look painful when they connect, such as head-butts that cause both the victim and the assailant to reel backward in pain (one with a hurt forehead, the other with an apparently broken nose). Other times, blood splashes all over the screen, an effect that's rather shocking at first, but soon becomes repetitive and stale. Matches also sometimes end with a slow-motion finisher, such as when one fighter breaks his opponent's arm at the elbow. These moves do look nasty, but there are a very small number of them, so their impact quickly dissipates. And, as mentioned, these sorts of moves are the exception. Much of the animation in Fight Club looks stilted and weak, resulting in battles that really look nothing like the savage fistfights from the movie. The game's fighters do bear the unassuming look of the movie's average Joes (notwithstanding Meat Loaf's character, Bob; incidentally, none of the movie stars' likenesses can be found here). Also, the game's fighting arenas are lifted directly from scenes from the movie. But this window dressing doesn't help matters much.

In addition to standard arcade, versus, and survival modes, Fight Club features online play and a create-a-fighter option. These normally desirable features are basically squandered on this game, since no matter who you play and which character you choose, you're unlikely to derive any sort of meaningful satisfaction from all the repetitive, simplistic combat. These features are functional but also pretty threadbare, though that's to be expected. For what it's worth, the game shows another inkling of a good idea with its option to let you play either normal or "hardcore" versus matches, in which your created fighter stands a chance of being forced into early retirement if he suffers too many bone-crushing injuries. If things are looking bad, you can tap out of a match to end it early to avoid this type of fate, or you could simply not play Fight Club, which has the same effect. Also, the Xbox version of Fight Club already sports some downloadable content, including an additional fighter who's not noticeably different from any of the other fighters in the game, and some additional music. Again, this stuff doesn't do anything to address the game's fundamental flaws. Apart from the downloadable content, the Xbox version looks somewhat sharper and cleaner than the PS2 version, and the between-match loading times are better. But for the most part, the two versions are very similar.

Fight Club's graphics are the best thing about the game, but don't take that to mean this is a good-looking game, either. It looks decent. Some of the lighting is nice, as you can clearly see the fighters' expressions and how their faces get bruised and bloodied as a match wears on. The game also maintains a good frame rate, particularly on the Xbox. On the other hand, as mentioned, the animation is stiff and awkward. Also, the characters are strangely drawn and proportioned, and the fighting arenas are flat and sparsely populated. The game's menu system, which flies you around the movie's dilapidated building on Paper Street, is a nice touch, but the actual graphics during the fights are pretty hit-and-miss. The same can be said of the sound in Fight Club, which, in many cases, is simply missing. The fights sound strangely subdued, as only the occasional punch, kick, or bone-snapping effect, or groan from one of the fighters, can be heard. When a fighter wins a match, you'll see him verbally taunt his opponent, but you'll hear nothing at all. The game lifts a few memorable pieces of music from the Fight Club soundtrack, but these stick out like a sore thumb next to the pale imitations that are used in other cases.

If you ignore the fact that Fight Club ties into the movie (and novel) that bears its namesake, and consider it purely on its merits as a game, what you're left with is an undercooked fighting game that's far worse than fighting games from more than 10 years ago, and not much better looking. And when you also consider the game's botched attempts at including some tie-ins with the movie, the results look even worse.

The quality of the Naruto games that Namco Bandai has been cranking out over the past few years hasn't come close to matching the quantity, though last year's Naruto: Ultimate Ninja was the rare exception. The core one-on-one ninja-fighting action favored speed and simplicity over depth, and some distinct graphical theatrics made it a fun, ridiculous game to watch. Twelve months later, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 delivers much the same experience, though the cast of playable characters has been expanded and the story mode streamlined. These changes are sure to be enough to please many Naruto fans, though they might not impress anyone else.

Hyperkinetic fight sequences between mystically charged ninjas are a defining characteristic of the Naruto anime and manga series, and they're also one of the biggest assets in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2. With one button to perform up-close melee combos, one for throwing projectiles, and a rather versatile jump button, it should take a first-timer only a few minutes of fumbling around to get the hang of it. That's not to say there's no nuance to the action; it will take a little practice before you're dashing back and forth across the screen, countering your enemies' counterattacks and performing crazy, acrobatic combo attacks. It's the special chakra attacks, though, that really charge the action in Ultimate Ninja 2. Pulling off one of these attacks, which can take some pretty precise timing, puts the brakes on the regular action and provides a series of severe, dramatic camera angles that look ripped from the pages of a comic book as the attacking character dishes out an involved, protracted attack.

The chakra attacks have been updated a little since the first Ultimate Ninja, giving characters new attacks and changing the way the level-three chakra attacks work. Rather than execute a set of random button presses faster than your opponent can, as is still the case with chakra attacks for levels one and two, you now have to mash wildly on a specific button or rapidly spin one of the analog sticks. A meter at the bottom of the screen shows who's currently winning the struggle. The net effect is that you sometimes need endurance more than precision to get the most out of certain chakra attacks. Ultimate Ninja 2 introduces a glut of new characters to play as, nearly doubling the cast of the original, which means there are many more chakra attacks to be seen. While these attacks always look great and give the game a lot of its flair, they sometimes produce a lot of sound and fury without actually dealing much damage. Also, they can go on for quite a while, dragging out the length of a fight.

The chakra attacks look great, and the rest of the game isn't too shabby either. Solid cel-shading effects, as well as specific effects such as textured shadowing and the dramatic use of Japanese writing, go a long way in making the game look like a manga come to life. The huge cast of characters animate smoothly, and their attacks really pack a punch. The game sounds as much like the Naruto anime as it looks like the Naruto manga. There's plenty of voice work from the American cast, which is great for authenticity, even if some of the voices are instantly grating.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 consolidates two of the single-player modes from the original into the new ultimate road adventure, which has you playing as several members of the Leaf Village ninja clan as they deal with foes and rivals from all sides. Unlike the scenario mode in the original, which provided just enough context to string the fights together, the story here is much meatier. Still, you'll probably need to have existing Naruto knowledge to be able to make total sense of it. Often, simply beating your enemy isn't enough to advance, and as you progress the victory conditions can become quite demanding and specific. Sometimes you'll have to beat your enemy, perform three level-three chakra attacks, and finish the fight still carrying a level-two chakra charge; other times, you'll be charged with not beating your enemy, running down the clock, and finishing the fight with a certain percentage of your health bar left.

While the various victory conditions can radically change the flow of the gameplay from fight to fight, it can also be frustrating when you've managed to meet five out of the six victory conditions, only to have to do it all over again. The ultimate road feels much more cohesive than the scenario and mission modes from the original Ultimate Ninja; it would seem that you'll be able to blow through the single-player portion of Ultimate Ninja 2 much more quickly. There's still the two-player versus mode to fall back on, but more single-player content would've been appreciated.

The expanded cast of characters and the improved story mode in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 will likely be enough to bring back Naruto fans for more. It's not bad for a fluffy, flashy fighting game, but it's still too similar to the original to warrant much attention outside the Naruto fan base.

IMPORT - Capcom has been releasing its Dreamcast fighting games in Japan with a feature that never makes it over to the US releases - online play. Not content to deal with the latency involved with the Internet, Capcom's fighters play over a custom online matching service, and players must pay additional fees to use the service. The result is an online experience that is far more playable than it would be if played directly on the Internet, but there's still a bit of latency involved with online play - usually just enough to totally ruin the game. Aside from its big-ticket fighting releases, Capcom has released a couple of other games that feature support for its online matching service, but they're only available in limited quantities via mail order. The first was an enhanced version of Vampire Savior. Now, Capcom has released Super Street Fighter II X for Matching Service for the Dreamcast. The game, which is an online-compatible version of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, is definitely close to arcade-perfect, but when you consider the game's age and its place in the Street Fighter universe, the resulting product isn't terribly impressive.

Super Street Fighter II, and its eventual update, Super Street Fighter II X, were some of the first games designed using Capcom's CPS2 arcade hardware, a hardware set that would later power the entire Darkstalkers line, all of the Street Fighter Alpha games, the company's Marvel-licensed fighting games, and a smattering of shooters. At the time, moving to the new hardware was meant to breathe new life into the Street Fighter series without forcing Capcom to design an entirely new Street Fighter game on the new hardware. Essentially, Super added four characters to the game, beefed up the graphics, added an extremely annoying announcer, and brought in a couple of new moves. SSFIIX (released as SSFII Turbo in the US) came shortly afterward and added adjustable speed settings and super combos. It would be the last of the long-running Street Fighter II line, though not the best, as many of the series' purists still cling to the CPS1-driven Street Fighter II Turbo as the best game in the series.

Super Street Fighter II X for Matching Service provides some of the standard modes we've come to expect from a console fighting game - a dedicated versus mode and a small training mode add to the game's main draw, online play. Other than that, the game is pretty stripped down. Since you can't play the online mode from anywhere other than Japan, the result is a game that really doesn't offer much to anyone other than the most die-hard Street Fighter fan. Sure, the game looks great, but chances are anyone with a serious love of Street Fighter already picked up this game when it was released as part of the Street Fighter Collection that Capcom released for the PlayStation. That said, the Dreamcast rendition of SSFIIX is a good one. There aren't any real loading times, and the game looks and sounds just as good as its arcade counterpart.

In the end, your love for Capcom's last Street Fighter II game will directly affect whether or not this game is worth importing. If you're not nostalgic for the old stuff, you'll probably get bored with this game fairly quickly. But if you're tired of all the flashy gameplay of Capcom's newer stuff, an imported copy of Super Street Fighter II X for Matching Service might be just what you're looking for.

The King of Fighters '99 Evolution for the Dreamcast successfully reproduces just about every aspect of SNK's original NeoGeo fighting game, The King of Fighters '99, and actually improves on several of them. It features all-new, fully 3D backgrounds, hidden striker characters, and new play modes. In fact, it's an excellent port - but it's a port of a disappointing game, especially if you've played Dream Match, the previous King of Fighters game.

KoF Evolution looks about as good as it possibly can on the Dreamcast - it has all The King of Fighters '99's characters, and each character has every single frame of animation intact. What's more, the game features crisply rendered, fully 3D versions of each of the original game's backgrounds, as well as a number of attractive all-new backgrounds, the latter of which are probably the best of the bunch. That's because the rest of KoF Evolution's stages are as subdued and as plain as the stages in the NeoGeo version of The King of Fighters '99; all the fancy 3D graphics in the world can't make an open sewer filled with brown water seem exciting or appealing. In addition, unlike Dream Match, which features a full-length anime introduction, KoF Evolution features an only slightly modified version of the original King of Fighters '99's disappointingly brief introduction sequence.

KoF Evolution also faithfully reproduces all the sounds from the original NeoGeo game and features the arranged soundtrack music. All the game's voice samples and sound effects are clear, as is the music, and, unlike Dream Match, the music doesn't cut out between fighting rounds, which makes the KoF Evolution's already reasonable load times seem even shorter. Unfortunately, the original NeoGeo version featured some of the most boring and forgettable tunes ever to appear in a King of Fighters game, and not even the most high-fidelity recording can make a bad song sound good. As with the original NeoGeo game, most of KoF Evolution's soundtrack consists of half-hearted techno music - with the exception of Terry Bogard's jazzy but entirely too-laid-back theme, which is, as in the original NeoGeo version, lifted directly from the Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition soundtrack.

Of course, sound and graphics aren't as important to a game as gameplay. And KoF Evolution reproduces the gameplay and control scheme of the original King of Fighters '99 for the NeoGeo more or less perfectly. SNK's original King of Fighters '99 is itself a solid fighting game that borrowed much from its predecessor but is a disappointment when compared with it. Dream Match features two very different modes of play and lets you choose four different character colors and four different win poses. KoF Evolution only features one play mode (which most closely resembles advanced mode from Dream Match) and only lets you choose two colors and three win poses per character. In addition, Dream Match features 38 playable characters plus 13 alternate versions of existing characters, for a total of 51 choices, so you are bound to find at least a few characters you'll want to play. In contrast, KoF Evolution features 33 playable characters, but three of these are variations of Kyo, and one is the game's boss character and official fashion disaster, Krizalid. Krizalid happens to be one of the worst boss characters ever to appear in a fighting game; he's stiffly animated, freakishly ugly, and absurdly overpowered. All these drawbacks grant him the most dreaded ability a fighting-game boss character can possess - the power to completely drain all the fun out of the game the moment you face him.