The Gang is all here, back on the Nintendo Switch!
When it comes to game companies, each one has its own “mainstay” series. Nintendo has Mario and Zelda. Sega has Sonic. Sony has Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, among others. With SNK, they’re known mainly for Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, and Metal Slug. I’d argue their biggest franchise, however, is King of Fighters. First appearing in 1994, King of Fighters was a sort of Super Smash Bros. before Super Smash Bros was really a thing. Featuring characters from SNK’s past as well as brand new characters made just for the franchise, King of Fighters is a 3-on-3 fighter that has had (almost) yearly entries not only on SNK’s arcade and home hardware since 1994, there have been games on other systems such as the Dreamcast, Xbox, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and even the Playstation 4 and Switch with the release of the King of Fighters XIV. SNK’s portable Neo Geo Pocket Color also saw the release of a title with the release of the King of Fighters R-2 in 1999.
Ah yes, Super Babe Team, my favorite!
King of Fighters R-2 features an impressive roster of 23 fighters. Either in pre-built sets of 3 or you can choose your own!
Boasting an impressive roster of 23 characters and an edit-a-fighter mode, King of Fighter R-2 is a great fighting game for Neo Geo’s underrated handheld. I own an actual Neo Geo Pocket Color and a copy of King of Fighters R-2, so having an opportunity to play this recently released eShop port was interesting to me from a comparison standpoint. Of course, I’m a sucker for original hardware. But seeing how well ports of classic games are handled is always fun, and with how well Samurai Shodown! 2 was handled (you can read my review here), I was very much looking forward to checking out King of Fighters R-2 as well. It goes without saying that this port has been knocked out of the park by SNK and Code Mystics as well.
From the instant you start the game up, King of Fighters R-2 is bright and colorful. The Neo Geo Pocket Color didn’t have a ton of horsepower, but SNK knew how to utilize it well. Character art and sprites are nicely detailed, crisp, and clean. The backgrounds are also well-drawn and have a lot of shading too, which is surprising given the rest of the game’s simple presentation. Oh, and speaking of presentation, just like Samurai Shodown! 2, the Switch port of King of Fighters R-2 features several overlay modes to suit your liking. By default, a skin of a to-scale Neo Geo Pocket Color with different color options is available, which can be turned off at your leisure. You can also adjust the screen independently to have scanlines or be pixel-perfect, and you can zoom in and out to size the screen as you want. No matter your preference, the graphics on the Switch port are crisp and clean. Every character’s theme plays while you fight them too, and they all sound pretty darn good given the original handheld’s limited output.
It takes some getting used to if you’re used to playing on real hardware, but King of Fighters R-2’s controls are sharp and responsive.
As is the case with all fighting games, controls are important. King of Fighters is a technical, combo-driven series and requires a fair amount of practice and mastery to be good at. Even with the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s limited button layout (2 buttons as opposed to other Neo Geo system’s 4), the original version played very fluidly, mostly due in part to the handhelds excellent micro-switch equipped thumbstick. The lack of such a stick on the Switch kind of makes things feel numb in comparison, but the controls are translated nicely regardless and are very responsive. After a bit of practice, I found myself getting comfier with the Switch port. The game is still challenging even on the base difficulty, so you’ll need to practice quite a lot to make it very far. The three on three fighting system gives you plenty of opportunity to practice per-fight and also helps you learn different playstyles and movesets in one go as well. Even with the changes in hardware, King of Fighters R-2’s controls are tight and intuitive.
OK, but what if Kyo had a GUN?
King of Fighters R-2 features a build-a-fighter mode, which yields hilarious results.
In addition to the rest of the core game, the “MAKING” mode of the Neo Geo Pocket version of King of Fighters R-2 makes its way to the Switch as well. This bizarre, slightly unorthodox mode enables you to customize your character’s movesets to your liking. Want to give Kyo a gun? Well, you can if you wish. You can also set up the Switch in tabletop mode with a friend to fight locally – a nice change from the old handheld’s clunky (but understandable for the time) setup of two games, two handhelds, and a link cable. Just like Samurai Shodown, King of Fighters R-2 also features a nice, clean full-color scan of the original manual. It’s a nice little throwback and is also handy for quick reference to each fighters’ movesets. This comes in handy, given King of Fighter’s mostly technical nature.
Bite-Sized Fighting Fun on the Go
Though the Neo Geo Pocket lacks the overall power of the base Neo Geo MVS and AES Hardware, it was a pretty potent little handheld that had a solid library, and seeing these games ported to the Nintendo Switch to open up access to people that never got to experience it for a very low cost of entry is awesome. The lack of a micro-switch joystick might make things feel a little alien to you if you’re used to playing on real hardware. However, if you’re just delving into the Neo Geo Pocket library on the Switch, that shouldn’t be an issue, and with some practice, more seasoned players can get used to it as well. If you’re looking for some good fighting games for your Switch on a budget, King of Fighters R-2 and other Neo Geo Pocket fighters should add some muscle to your library for cheap.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: SNK; Developer: Code Mystics; Release Date: August 7th, 2020; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of King of Fighters R-2 given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher