King of Fighters is just one of those games that nobody outside its immediate fan-base follows; a series of sleeper hits if there ever was one. Because of this, not too many will be able to appreciate just how great Neowave is when it comes to the entire series. Taking the series’ greatest characters, along with numerous other improvements, Neowave is one of the best games in the series, and right now, is a great pickup for any Xbox owner.
Not many people know the intricate details of the KOF series. Since its creation back in 1994, it has been one of the most popular series on SNK’s rare Neo-Geo console, and a staple in any decent arcade. The series was initially made to be a compilation of all of SNK’s greatest games, and characters like Athena (from SNK’s arcade platformer, Psycho Soldier), Clark (from the run-and-gun Ikari Warriors), Ryo Sakazaki (from the fighting-RPG Art of Fighting) among many others are all from various games of entirely different genres brought together into one realm, fighting alongside new characters as well as old allies. Up until 2002, KOF was made to be compatible with the 24-bit Neo-Geo. After, a new arcade system called the Sammy Atomiswave came out, and quickly took the place of SNK’s long-lived console (it lasted about ten years). To mark the KOF series’ new home, they put out KOF Neowave, a “dream match” game that has many of the more-popular and recurring teams since the series’ conception in 1994, making up a roster of over 45 characters that makes it the biggest KOF ever.
Neowave uses KOF’s standard three-man fighting system, but lacks the tagging option from KOF2k3 instead going with the regular “lose-and-leave.” One of the major flaws in Neowave is that KOF fans will quickly recognize that in many ways, this is virtually identical to King of Fighters 2002 from the KOF2002/2003 bundle pack from last year. To set it apart, however, it throws in three different gauge systems, each with their own advantages, as well as a few characters that got swapped in and out (including secret characters from each, K9999, Angel, May Lee, Goenitz and Orochi Iori are missing in Neowave, but Saisyu Kusanagi, and Jhun Hoon were added). Some new moves were added and subtracted, and characters were adjusted, making it more-balanced. King of Fighters Neowave is a great game, that’s just not debatable. However, if you own 2002/03, it may not be worth picking up. 2002 offers a larger roster of icharacters than Neowave, and 2003 has more diversity in its characters, as well as the tag system, used in King of Fighters XI, the latest KOF (only released in Japan, at the moment). Whether or not this is worth buying boils down to whether or not you’re going to play this on Xbox Live. Since its release, almost all of the Live players have migrated to Neowave, leaving 2002 and 2003 relatively deserted. Because of that, if you want to play a KOF online, go with Neowave. If you’re going to go for casual offline play with some friends and family, then the 2002/03 two pack may be the better bargain. Those who do play online mode, though, are in store for one of the best Live fighters there is, with a very low amount of lag, and the infinitely helpful Lobby feature.
Graphically, this is the best King of Fighters released in America (the only ones that beat it are KOFXI and KOF94 Rebout, which haven’t made it to American shores). The characters have been nicely improved, compared to the Neo Geo-based KOFs. However, the sprites still don’t have the level of detail and clarity found in Guilty Gear, or the excellent fluidity of the movements found in Street Fighter 3. When it comes to sound, this one is significantly improved over KOF 2002, with clearer, better voice acting, sound effects, though sub-par music, make it roughly equal to KOF 2003.
KOF Neowave is one of the last few good games left in the Xbox. Its excellent Live features and minimal lag make it one of the best online fighters on the console, as well as one of the best 2d fighting games this generation. To make it even better, the game has a $19.99 price tag. Anybody who has actually played it will agree that this is a fighter worth checking out.