One of the longest-running fighting games series has undergone so many tweaks and changes, for better or worse, but it remains a strong contender in the genre. The King of Fighters brings together fighters from multiple SNK fighting games, giving us one of the most diverse rosters out of them all. Forget your Ryu, Ken and Chun-Li, Fatal Fury’s Terry and Andy Bogard, Samurai Shodown’s Mai Shiraniu, Art of Fighting‘s Ryo Sakazaki are here to kick major ass. So, now the remake of The King of Fighters 2002 release dubbed ‘Unlimited Match’ comes onto current generation consoles. A full-fledged remake but not in the traditional sense. It more adds changes to gameplay balances, a new character, new moves and rolled back netcode.
The King of Fighters 2002: UM has the largest roster of the series, sporting a whopping 66 playable characters, including 43 characters from KOF 2002 who return, and in addition, there are 3 EX characters, 12 new NESTS characters, 7 new bosses, and an original character “called” Nameless. All fighters cover pretty much all martial arts disciplines and have a massive variety of special moves and brand-new desperation moves to really help get you back into the fight if things don’t go your way. Unlike other games in the series, KOF2002UM has no story, which allowed SNK to whack in characters left, right and centre.
This version amps up the content too with all new and improved stages, like Neo Geo World, Ancient Ruins and Mediterranean Sea, which have all undergone some changes that really help bring them to life. Unlike the original PS2 version, this version keeps all stages in two dimensions. Animations are top notch here, and they really remind me of the high standard pixel art seen in such games as Street Fighter III: Third Strike, which enhances its appeal tremendously. I would easily say that this version of KOF2002 is one of the best games in the entire series thanks to the aforementioned roster and rich game mechanics. Cancels are easier to pull off, and although unleashing your desperation moves and super moves may take some practice, the button combinations aren’t nearly as tough as the earlier Guilty Gear games. No need to perform finger gymnastics to pull off the flashy moves, we’re talking half-circle and quarter-circle motions on the thumb stick plus two buttons, not hard. This age-old system is an easy to learn but hard to master system, and it’ll take some practicing to become efficient in pulling off those long combo strings, which become sexy-looking, flashy screen-fillers once you have quickened your fingers.
The boss characters are super fun to play as. Krizalid, the final boss of KOF ’99, is now fully playable and is a force to be reckoned with. Mixing fire, energy and slashing attacks, mastering his move set will enable you to make short work of your opponents. The same can easily be said about Igniz, who was the final boss from KOF 2001. He has psychokinesis and superhuman speed and is able to project projectiles back to their owners. He is super fun to play and has the personality to match his prowess.
Fights are 3-on-3 bouts where each member of your team will fight until they are defeated, in which case the next member takes their turn. The order of who fights when is decided by the player at the very beginning of the fight. Halfway through the arcade mode, you will fight Nameless as a mid-boss, who may be on his own but is tougher with a higher life bar. Then, you will proceed onto the rest of the battles before fighting the boss. Sick of fighting the computer? Well, this rendition of KOF2002UM has a rolled back netplay system that enhances the latency of the online mode, meaning you will have smoother matches with quicker matchmaking, and it certainly works. I was in a match within 30 seconds of selecting the online mode, which was impressive, to say the least. Even modern fighting games, such as Tekken 7 and Street Fighter V, struggle with online gameplay at times, but I saw little lag during any online matches, and even when I did, it was rare. Aside from these modes, there are single play, challenge mode, which acts as a tutorial; endless mode and a practice mode too.
My overall gripe with The King of Fighters 2002: UM is its presentation. With the bordered window, it feels more like emulation rather than a full-on port, the character selection screen is overcrowded and could have done with a Tekken Tag Tournament-type of screen as this one diminishes the characters’ portraits in favour of fitting more in. There’s also no real incentive to play; I’m not saying it’s not fun, quite the contrary, but with no unlockables to earn, such as characters, modes or even imagery, it felt pointless to play through the single play mode.
With the massive roster and much improved online play, The King of Fighter 2002: UM is one of the best games in the series and should be experienced by any fighting game fan.
Developer: SNK Playmore
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Release Date: 9th February 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match was provided by the publisher.