With Nintendo still yet to release any information about their Virtual Console plans on the Switch, it’s up to the efforts of Hamster Corporation to scratch that nostalgic itch by releasing SNK arcade ports from back in the day on Nintendo’s latest console. But does time fair well for this 90’s classic that is The King of Fighters 98?
To some, the KOF series are all time classics. To others that may have never got the chance to play them, they were commonly mistaken as another Street Fighter clone that were only available on a NEO GEO arcade machine or its massively priced home console (Games were equivalent to about £350 in today’s currency). However, the series has always been popular in arcades, so popular in fact a new sequel was released each consecutive year that spanned well over a decade. The franchise grew stronger as they became more affordable on home console in the Dreamcast and PlayStation era. Even more so with the release of the excellent Capcom vs SNK of which included many of the KOF roster. KOF98, in particular, has been regarded as one of the best and most balanced in its franchise.
Unlike its predecessors, KOF98 doesn’t have a story to go by. It’s more of a “what if” battle royal in which you take control of three fighters of your choice from a roster of 38 combatants from various styles spanning from Thai boxing, Taekwondo, Akido, Boxing etc. It even has a Jackie Chan inspired drunken master character called Chin Gentsai.
The roster itself is flexible enough to meet many tastes of play style. The default 3 vs 3 setup of the game persuades you to experiment with different characters and their move sets. You can, however, choose to fight one on one if you so desire by changing the settings in the in-game menu, but I found that playing it as it was intended faired as a better experience overall.
Along with the many different fighting styles available there’s a choice on gameplay mechanic known as,” Extra” and “Advanced.” Extra gives you the ability to dodge on the spot with a timed counter opportunity. You are also able to hold all four attack buttons to charge your meter to gain a super move quickly that will dish out more damage when full for a short period of time.
Advanced allows you to roll around and even run to either evade an attack or close the distance. Giving you more freedom of movement. The way you manage your meter differs from Extra as you cannot charge it. It does, however, stock up so you can perform multiple super moves or activate a timed max mode where your damage output becomes stronger, although not as damaging as it is in Extra mode.
As daunting as it may seem at first it does open up a much deeper and more tailored way in how you want to play the game and if you want to beat the Arcade mode at a higher difficulty your approach in tactic can be crucial.
This is a fighting after all and as such, the best way to play a game like this is against a human opponent. Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer, only an online high score mode (survival) and caravan mode (high score survival within five minutes) where your score is sent across for all to see on an online leaderboard. Playing this locally is the way to go though and with the convenience of the Switch features, you can “share the joy” anywhere. Honestly. It looks great in Handheld and Tabletop Mode, almost like having a portable arcade machine in your hands.
Besides the score attack modes, this is a straight up arcade port of the original. Which also means that there is no training mode to practice combos or set ups. Which is a shame considering the potential depth the game has.
The arcade mode can be quite challenging (in a good way!) even on the standard difficulty setting as you progress but you do have the option to change the difficulty in the settings if you desire. On the Game Over/Continue screen you have a chance to spin a roulette that can help give you one of several advantages on your next go. You can, of course, choose not to spin the roulette if you wish to.
The end boss has its own unique stage and music that really emphasise the feeling that it’s the final battle. And of course, that accomplishment of beating it has that satisfying feeling that comes after securing your victory. There are no unique endings for any character which is a tad unfortunate and can reduce replay value slightly, but as mentioned before, there isn’t much of a story to be had here anyway.
Controlling the game with the Joy-Cons can be a little difficult at first. I actually found it easier to use a single Joy-Con as opposed to the Grip or in Handheld Mode. I found that I kept messing up my jump arch and stick commands due to the left analogue being higher than it would be if split. I also recommend using the Joy-Con strap, as it’s far more comfortable with it on. Using the Pro Controller is certainly the way to go, however, mainly due to the fact that the D-Pad is much, much better.
The fact that you only have four attack buttons (light/heavy punches & kicks) work well for the face of the controller so you don’t need to use finger gymnastics to get other attacks out as you would in a six-attack button game like Street Fighter. The SL and SR buttons are used as coin and start respectively. One thing that was a bit of an inconvenience was that you have to go into the Switch settings to set up split Joy-Con for multiplayer as opposed to there being a function in-game that allows you to do so. Not a big deal, just a tiny gripe.
It does have a basic emulation type menu system to play around with game functions which are surprisingly versatile. From switching screen filters to give it a more CRT screen-like display to fully customising the button layout. It even includes a game manual. I would like to of seen more variety on the screen borders rather than the dull grey that’s on offer. Especially with the franchises back catalogue of artwork, but again, that’s nothing major.
The music is excellent. It really brings back the arcade days of old. The tunes are catchy and fit well with the detailed pixelated background although some of the characters high pitched voices can grate a little the more you hear them.
The graphics have a great and seemingly lost style and charm that actually fit well in the modern day, especially with the current trend of pixel art graphic types getting brought forward by modern nostalgic inspired indie developers. Although it’s not as polished as Street Fighter 3 in terms of animation and looks, it’s distinctive enough to let you know you’re playing an SNK game and the animation is still fluid enough, with attacks that connect like they have some real weight to them. I wasn’t fond of the art in the character select thumbnails though. They seem a little misrepresented to the actual in-game character visuals which lead me to choose characters incorrectly than what was intended because of how different they look among the sizable roster.
The King of Fighters ’98 is a welcome addition to the Nintendo Switch library and kudos to Hamster Corporation for converting a classic on to the system so cleanly. With a deep gameplay mechanic and interesting character skill sets, it’s a classic brought back to life with the convenience of the console. Longevity of the game can be hindered by the lack of an online mode and even more so if you don’t have anyone to play with locally, but with its modest price point, it’s a must if you’re only half into fighting games.