The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match review
SNK has released a fairly steady supply of their classic arcade catalog over Xbox Live Arcade in the past few years, and The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match easily stands out as the best yet from their fighting catalog.
An enhanced remake of the original KOF 2002, Unlimited Match -- previously only seen in Japan on the PlayStation 2 -- is particularly notable for its massive roster, sporting an exhaustive 66 characters total. Of the selectable fighters, 44 (including newcomer Nameless) are from KOF 2002, while 16 (including King) are from the NESTS story arc, and six are hidden, including two versions of Geese Howard.
Unlimited Match discards the 4-on-4 match system from previous iterations in favor of 3-on-3 team battle (or single battle, if your threshold for awesome is lower than normal humans). The 3-on-3 allows the teams to be tighter, and you'll find tons of special touches based on your match-ups including unique victory and intro poses, or exclusive game over screens. I know that "tagging" is not a signature of the KOF series, but it'd be nice if KOF 2003's Multi-Shift feature was implemented here. Worse yet, the quasi-tag "Striker" system from 2001 has been completely removed, which is unfortunate considering the all-encompassing nature of this game.
There is no story in Unlimited Match, though you'll still be treated to various sub-boss and boss cutscenes. There's not any real importance to them, but they and the presentation as a whole are adequately executed. As always, how you play the game will affect which bosses you encounter and unlock. On top of the team and single match arcade modes, a fairly thorough practice mode awaits, as well as a new challenge mode. There are 30 normal challenges, ranging from performing five consecutive throw cancels to far more impressive feats, and then a set of expert challenges that only the most skilled veterans should attempt. Don't worry though, losing expert challenges 300 times will unlock all the special characters so that you don't have to survive "endless", which is the final mode. Endless Mode pits you up against the game's entire lineup with a single health bar, though getting knocked out will end your run on the spot. Do you have what it takes? I sure as hell didn't...
Most characters seem to have found a solid balance of special moves over the years (though Nameless, for example, only has three). The match-up possibilities are virtually endless, and the "Dream Team" moniker finally applies here. I am partial to the trio of Athena, King, and Mai, but many of the other combatants offer interesting fighting styles which keep things plenty interesting when I need a little variety. Newcomers to the series will find it plays similar to Street Fighter, with plenty of QCFs, projectiles, super moves, and throws, but KOF is notorious for being slightly more complicated. Not as bad as Samurai Shodown, per se, but there are some tricky MAX-level supers in this game (two of which even have achievements for successfully pulling them off). When you're ready to stop mashing on the AI and take your game online, you'll find the generic XBLA multiplayer options, but what really diminishes the value of the package is the lag. The game is noticeably slower in multiplayer matches, and at times plays out like a slideshow. Another aspect that makes Unlimited Match limited is the fact that literally only one dude was ever around to compete against.
In terms of sheer amount of characters and stages, The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match offers up the most comprehensive KOF title to date for an affordable price. Sadly, SNK's perpetually poor network code hinders online play and it lacks the Striker and Multi-Shift gameplay that would have made it a truly complete experience. I also would have appreciated a gallery mode or slightly more interesting achievements, but dollar for dollar, this is the one that longtime fans and KOF virgins have been waiting for.