The King of Fighters series has seen numerous entries over the years receiving an annual iteration from 1994 to 2010, but not all have been a smashing success – leading to only a single release since then. One that has stood the test of time is The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match, which is back with a vengeance with an all-new online mode. A remake of The King of Fighters 2002, Unlimited Match was originally released on PS2 and X-box in 2009 and was then re-tuned and re-released by developer SNK in 2015 on Windows and then in 2021 on PS4.
With the largest roster in the series, revised game balance and additional moves, there’s little more a newcomer could ask for here – but what about a KOF fan? Does this offer value or is it an attempt for the once-great franchise to regain relevance with an almost identical re-release?
KOF’s strengths over the more popular 2d fighting series are obvious as soon as you put up your fists. A long list of attacks combined with hypnotically animated and detailed character sprites give each character personality, but the real joy of this title stems from mastering the game’s ‘Max Mode’ system which allows for the blending of combos into one long highly destructive move. With the already impressive list of moves available, this feature adds a depth and replay value that few fighting games can boast as there are so many different ways to use it. Pulling them off within the game’s strict input window represents another aspect KOF games are known for – their difficulty. It needs quite the dedication to become proficient, and although it’s not required to have fun with the title, it might seem unappealing to those accustomed to other more accessible fighters such as Super Smash Bros and Street Fighter.
While it’s hard to find any faults with the fighting system per se, one thing I did find disappointing with the visuals is a lack of frames present in the fighting animation, which contrasts greatly with the buttery smooth standing animation. It’s forced to cover too much movement frame to frame, making the fast action feel quite jerky, and leaving potential on the table right from the drop of the hat.
All the standard modes return with 3-on-3 team play, which is a change from previous KOF iterations at release which had a ‘striker’ system similar to the aid characters in the Marvel vs Capcom games; single play, challenge mode, which acts as a tutorial; endless mode and a practice mode. You’re also able to adjust the graphics settings by adding or removing scanlines or making the character sprites smoother.
Aside from the main modes which are almost identical, there are actually fewer extra features compared to the PS2 version, with the gallery and Neogeo modes now missing. Why character profiles or some semblance of a story couldn’t have been added for newcomers is a bit puzzling, especially considering that SNK’s re-releases of KOF 98 and SNK’s Garou: Mark of the Wolves both included numerous additions, but what do I know? What does carry over, however, is the PS2 version’s lackluster overall presentation. Whether it’s the obnoxious main menu, the slightly blurred character selection and quote screens, the irritating narration, or the omission of any real guidance on how to use the Max Mode system correctly, there’s little added value outside of its battle system.
The game’s real selling point though is its online functionality which lets you play opponents from around the world with rollback netcode, cutting edge technology that ensures a stable connection with your opponent regardless of their internet speed. It also has the ability to view replays of your last 10 online battles, which may or may not be something you’ll (*cough* I’ll) ever want to look at.
With its upgrades and online functionality, The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match represents the best KOF has to offer on a 2D axis. While it must be said that there are more accomplished 2D fighters available, for those looking for deeper combat and a more involved experience there are few better alternatives.