Blast from the Past: The King of Fighters ’98 (Neo Geo / Switch)
It may not seem that way these days but The King of Fighters series used to be the king of fighting games. The King of Fighters has received a lot of love over the years and while XIV maybe hasn’t been as widely accepted, the series is once again stepping into the limelight. Even though I doubt we’ll see The King of Fighters XIV see support similar to games like Street Fighter V, let’s still take a step back in time to see where this series has come from.
The Grand Daddy of Fighters
I feel like I’m a complete newbie to the King of Fighters series as the I’ve only really jumped into the series with The King of Fighters XIV. While I have played previous entries in the series casually, I only came to understand the nuances of this team based fighter when I actually dedicated some time into the latest entry. As with any long-running game series one recently comes into, you tend to go back into the game’s history to see where it has come from. When you look at the older King of Fighters titles two iterations tend to stand out: ’98 and 2002. Now 2002 is regarded as one of the best entries in the series, but ’98 was the moment people started to take note.
While The King of Fighters ’98 is held with a quite high regard, it’s unfortunately not a great game to go back to if you’re more familiar with later entries in the series. That’s not to say that it’s awful or shouldn’t be revisited, but you’ll definitely come to miss the feel of the later games. One thing that you’ll definitely notice is how certain characters have progressed as the years have gone on and become far, far more enjoyable as time goes on. I know I’m being a whiny scrub by complaining about this, but I far prefer the easier Robert Garcia of later versions instead of his earlier iterations that required work to win with.
It’s not all salty opinions however as it’s still quite an interesting look into the past of such a long-running series. The game itself feels quite well-balanced with a rather interesting and diverse collection of characters who will make up your team of three. It’ll take you a bit of time to figure out which characters you enjoy however as you’ll have to test them out by playing the typical arcade mode, but once you find a character you click with it’ll all be worth it. I felt that, at least once I figured out who I enjoyed playing, the game itself rather enjoyable to play and wasn’t too tough to not be enjoyable. I know I struggled earlier on with the later stages of the arcade mode but it never felt like it was just because I was facing off against vastly stronger characters or anything like that. There is an incredible depth to The King of Fighters ’98 that one has to just discover to appreciate and while it may be frustrating when coming back from later titles, it does feel good to master some of the more archaic systems of the game.
Lovely looking fists
The one thing I will give the game, however, is that it’s definitely well presented. SNK was heralded for is their beautiful sprite work and even if it has been a couple of years I will admit that ’98 still looks decent. Even though it was all about the 3D graphics at that time, SNK still managed to provide players with a visually enjoyable 2D fighter that is a sight to behold. I think a lot of us are suckers for good 2D sprites and while SNK certainly did get better with age, I still feel like they did an excellent job with their characters in 1998 and were thankfully able to provide some amazing looking characters even all those years ago.
Switchin’ things up
While I have touched base with The King of Fighters ’98 on different platforms I did, however, play it on the Switch for the purpose of this Blast from the Past and it’s definitely a unique experience on Nintendo’s new console. Something needs to be said for the device being a perfect on-the-go arcade machine and I feel like The King of Fighters ’98 made for the perfect scenario to see why this is the case. When I started the game I was playing through the arcade, getting used to the characters but a while later a friend came over and something that I never thought would happen occurred. I took apart my controller and played a few versus matches with said friend. It was, of course, a little weird at first with the Joy-Cons being the way that they are, but being able to take the Switch along and instantly share an enjoyable arcade experience with someone is a lot of unexpected fun. It’s not just this quirky situation that makes the game enjoyable on the Switch but also the “Caravan Mode” that gives you five minutes to play through as much of the game as you can. While it might seem a little silly to limit yourself, I really like the fact that I can take a literal five-minute break to focus on something else.
All in all, while later entries in the series are a bit more enjoyable, The King of Fighters ’98 is still quite an enjoyable game and is definitely a good place to learn a little fighting games history. We’ve come a long way and revisiting the game is a testament to that and experiencing it all on the Switch has its own unique fun to be had. If you’re looking for an enjoyable old-school fighting game to revisit or some arcade fun on your Switch, you definitely can’t go wrong with The King of Fighters ’98, even if you should probably move on to later entries in the series to get the full experience.