The lifespan of the Neo Geo Pocket Color may have only been brief, but one thing for sure, it certainly knew how to bang out a great little fighting game in style. What made a fighter particularly special on this particular system was down to how reluctant SNK was to create a powerful portable device. Instead, they chose to lean towards something more simple on the eye, strong on battery life and light on the wallet. Sure, it was much more powerful than the Game Boy Color ever was, but its technological restrictions for the time lead to a certain unique charm that could only have ever worked on the party-sized portable SNK device.
One of the more iconic fighting games released for the system, King of Fighters R-2 was certainly no exception. It somehow managed to keep most of the trademarks of its giant coin-op series counterparts while cleverly taking advantage of the handheld’s comparatively modest graphical capabilities. It’s also worth remembering that the Neo Geo Pocket only ever had two buttons which seems like a bizarre design choice in hindsight considering the system was clearly tailored with fighting games in mind. Yet the mindset of tapping or pressing a button to determine attack strength, (a common feature in Neo Geo Pocket fighting games) does introduce an interesting gameplay tactic of its own right.
As with the earlier released SNK Gal’s fighters for the Nintendo Switch, it marks the first time King of Fighters R-2 has legitimately ever shown its face outside the ill-fated microswitch-pad infused 16-bit handheld. Witnessing it being resurrected on a hybrid system such as the Nintendo Switch certainly suits its pocket-size nature, and makes it feel at home amongst the already strong catalogue of SNK games available.
There are a total of 14 characters to choose from as well as a handful of unlockable alternate personas based on styles from other games of the series. The meat of the gameplay overall is modelled more around King of Fighters 98 with an optional 3-on-3 battle system and a choice between an Extra and Advanced fighting style.
The optional fighting systems changes the overall mechanics, such as the ability to stand in place to charge up the special meter in Extra style – similar to what you would find in Dragon Ball FighterZ as a more modern example, or having the ability to roll evasively out of the way of danger when selecting the Advanced fighting system.
However, the move list that differentiates each character is still set in stone, and King of Fighters R-2 does a grand job at translating the characters iconic move sets in such an elegant way. The unique chibi style and wonderful animation still look as superb today as it did back in 1999 as series veteran, Kyo sends his fiery Ara-Gami haymaker home. It’s little wonder why developer Cardboard Robot Games was keen to reprise the Neo Geo Pocket style in their own excellent little indie title, Pocket Rumble.
While the game may not exactly be hammered with extra content, the Making mode does add a bit more longevity for the single-player. It’s basically an RPG style survival mode where you choose your favourite character to fight for upgrades and skills. Each segment has various battle conditions to overcome which will reward the player with new abilities and advantages. Skills can evolve or even break, sometimes forcing the player to experiment with different abilities. It’s a decent little mode, and one I happen to spend most of my time with during my recent playthrough.
In conjunction with the other Neo Geo Pocket Color selection range available for the Nintendo Switch, Code Mystics contribution to emulating King of Fighters-R2 ensures for a simple, smooth and enjoyable experience. There are several Neo Geo Pocket Color console skins to choose from to decorate the screen with, an easily pannable screen size option, customizable button layouts, a handy high-res scan of the game manual for nostalgia nerds such like myself, and several multiplayer methods including the novel ability to literally play head to head with the Joycon attached to the system. There’s also an optional filter to replicate the Neo Geo Pocket Color LCD screen, although the overlay does seem a bit on the strong side. It would be nice if there was a choice to tweak the opacity of the filter for it not to appear so dominant.
If you are of a younger age and are more accustomed to modern fighters, King of Fighters R-2 may very well seem a little bland in comparison. With that said, there is far more under the hood of the game’s simple yet pleasing exterior. While King of Fighters R-2 happens to be a decent fighting game in its own right, whether it holds up or not is really beside the point. For me, I see it as yet another source of gaming artefacts contained in a portable museum. Like a slice of wonderful nostalgia pie sat in the window of a cakeshop of gaming history.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SNK Corporation