This King of Fighters collection from SNK Playmore offers the first five games in the series, starting with The King of Fighters '94, going through the Orochi Saga that drove the stories behind '95 through '97 and ending with the "dream match" of KOF '98. While the annual nature of the King of Fighters series doesn't quite make each preceding year totally obsolete, it's tough to go back to a lot of the earlier games in the package, especially when '98 is so much better than its predecessors. So it's hard to justify paying $30 on the PSP and Wii (the PS2 release is only $20), even if you're the sort of 2D fighting aficionado that considers KOF '98 a true classic and one of the greatest games of all time.
After a brief video intro, you're dumped into a selection screen where you can choose which of the King of Fighters games you wish to play. Or you can opt for a challenge mode, which gives you specific requirements, such as winning a fight with all of the lifebars and other on-screen elements disabled, or a set up where enemies only take damage if your super gauge is completely full. Completing these challenges unlocks artwork and music for you to check out in a gallery. Not to get too far off-track here, but does anyone actually look at unlockable concept art anymore? Zooming in on shoddy scans of promotional posters has never been my idea of a good time, even for games that have plenty of high-quality concept art to consider.
If you're already familiar with these SNK classics, then you know what you're in for. While never achieving the level of popularity of Capcom's Street Fighter games, the KOF series offers up some wonderful 2D fighting with tons of characters, especially in KOF '98, which brings together over 30 different characters without relying on a lot of duplicates or clones. The fights take place in a team battle format, with each side choosing three fighters, then the order in which they'll appear. It's an interesting format because it forces players to learn at least three characters, rather than just relying on one to succeed. The games can get a bit more technical than most other 2D fighters, with multiple ways to use your stocked up super attacks and, occasionally, more-difficult controller motions than the standard "double fireball" sort of stuff that's the norm in today's fighters.
The games in the collection are emulated from the original Neo Geo versions, and they run in arcade mode. The emulation isn't perfect, and it's slightly different between versions. The PSP and PS2 versions of the game stop to load a lot more frequently than the Wii version. The PSP has pretty long load times when jumping into a game, too. For some strange reason, the PSP and PS2 versions have the buttons backwards in their default control settings (which can be easily fixed).
The Wii version is missing a few things here and there, like the red and white flashing that occurs whenever a fight ends in KOF '97. Also, the Wii version offers a lot of different control options for players using a Wii Remote or a Remote plus a Nunchuk. These options are all terrible. The game supports GameCube controllers, but a Classic Controller is the best bet for proper button configuration. Lastly, the Wii version doesn't offer any in-game options for changing aspect ratio. If you have your Wii set to widescreen, the game will stretch out its original 4:3 aspect ratio to fill the screen, forcing you to either reset your Wii's screen setting or adjust your TV if you want things to look proper.
So no version is perfect, but the faster loading makes the Wii version the best choice, provided you've got the right controllers on-hand. Also, it's nice to get a collection of good, classic 2D fighters on the Wii, which doesn't have a ton of games like this. That said, it's still sort of hard to recommend the collection, especially if you already own KOF '98 in another format. The $30 price point on Wii and PSP is a bit much, and PS2 owners would probably be better off waiting for the updated version of KOF '98, called Ultimate Match, which Ignition is scheduled to release later this year.