I am told that King of Fighters ’98 is considered to be the pinnacle of its franchise – or at the very least one of its high points. I will admit, I am no expert on the 2D fighting genre, but even so it is easy to see that this is a very accomplished brawler. It’s just a pity that the version now being sold on the Nintendo Switch isn’t the best way the play this classic.
As with other entries in the series, KOF ‘98 requires players to master its combat mechanics, rewarding technical skill and perseverance over flashy combos and special moves. The basic controls are simple – the four face button each execute different attacks while the joystick allows the player to move about on a 2D plane. Moving back will block incoming attacks, holding down will make the character to crouch and flicking upward will cause them to jump. It is easy to grasp but the real challenge comes from trying to break through an opponent’s guard while preventing them from doing the same.
Then, there are the super moves. While they aren’t the game-changer they are in Street Fighter, these formidable techniques are still a force to be reckoned with. The game offers two modes that control when they can be used, called ‘Advanced’ and ‘Extra’. Advanced allows players to stockpile up to three super moves at once, while Extra grants one power gauge which can be charged manually. Whichever one you want to use is a matter of preference. However, relying on super moves is not a good idea as they are quite difficult to execute and even when used they can be blocked like any other technique.
Another thing to note is that while this is a very well-crafted brawler, it is also a very old-school one. The game’s AI doesn’t pull any of its punches and even on the lower difficulties, it manages to put up a fight. Fighting game veterans will find a worthy challenge here, though newcomers and novices may feel a little overwhelmed. Despite that, KOF ’98 is surprisingly balanced considering its large roster. While certain fighters have advantages over others, there is usually another that can run rings around them. Even then, I rarely felt like the outcome of most matches was decided solely by what character I was using or facing against.
Regarding the roster, this particular instalment is unique in that it doesn’t tie into the series’ ongoing storyline, instead choosing to include every character in the series up to that point in a special ‘Dream Match’ edition. The cost is that the game has no story mode of any kind, but the trade-off is an impressive roster of 38 varied and distinctive fighters to choose from. Speaking of visuals, KOF ‘98’s 2D pixels still hold up reasonably well. Animations are fluid, characters are well rendered and the backdrops are nicely detailed. Obviously, the technology has come a long way since then, but KOF ’98 still manages to look impressive for its time.
Sadly, the format of the game doesn’t really do it any favours. This is a straight port of the NEO-GEO arcade version and the result just feels archaic and not at all at home on a console like the Switch. Playing requires ‘credits’ to be inserted, which is simulated by tapping L1. The button required to start the game and make decisions is, for some reason, mapped to one of the shoulder buttons. Every menu screen has a 30 second countdown, forcing players to make decisions within a very limited space of time. Playing multiplayer is only possible if the second player starts the game, and even then the game throws the winner straight into the arcade mode at the end of the match.
Worst of all, most of the important game options, such as match type, difficulty and button layout, are hidden away in an extra menu that game doesn’t really go out of its way to tell you about and implementing any changes requires the game to completely restart. All of these are just obtuse holdovers from when the game was on a ‘90s arcade machine and while it is understandable that publisher chose to just transfer the original version over as is, it is baffling that more wasn’t done to make it feel more at home on a new console.
The Switch version of the game offers both the original English and Japanese editions, as well as a Hi-Score and Caravan modes. Though this sounds like a substantial package, in truth there very little difference between these modes aside from the score attack nature of the latter two. It also supports all of the Switch’s available control options and can be played comfortably in both TV and handheld mode.
To clarify, King of Fighters ‘98 is by no means a bad game. Quite the contrary, it is an exceptional fighting game that could well be one of the better examples of the genre. It is just that the format of this particular version hampers it somewhat and your enjoyment of it will depend largely on whether or not you can tolerate or overlook it. If you think it won’t be an issue, then by all means consider the score a few points higher and go buy it. For me, however, it is an unnecessary and irritating hurdle that just spoils what should be an excellent fighting experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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