After nearly a decade of releasing King of Fighters rehashes you would think SNK would be ready to try something new. Well, don't expect anything new from this 2002 edition, a game that does an excellent job of adding to the formula ... but has a whole lot of trouble etching out its own place in the world. It's not a bad game; it's just the same game as what we've seen for almost ten years.
If you have somehow ignored the King of Fighters series, it's a long-running franchise that takes the character from other SNK titles (mostly Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting) and has them fight it out in three on three battles. Don't worry; you won't have to think about all of your characters at once, you only get to use one fighter at a time. This leads to some pretty lengthy battles, as well as a few odd character match-ups.
It's not that the formula is broken, it's just that SNK has so far done very little to differentiate between 2002, 2001, and even 2000. Heck, if it weren't for the amazing backgrounds, most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between ANY of the King of Fighters series. SNK has managed to refine the series to the point of near perfection, but sadly balanced characters aren't enough to keep die-hard fighting fans satisfied.
What the King of Fighters 2002 does right is assemble a large cast of characters, including a few that haven't been heard from in years. The game has nearly fifty characters, all of whom feature a lot of cool special moves and their own cocky sayings. You choose your three favorite fighters - including fan favorites like Ryo, Joe Higashi, Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, Athena, and of course Blue Mary - and then take them out, one-by-one, to do battle with whatever the computer throws your way. It's still fun, but I still get the feeling like I've been here and done this many times before.
SNK has always been good as creating captivating backgrounds, and the King of Fighters 2002 does not disappoint. Not only are the different locales interesting to look at, but they change between rounds, which is a nice tough you don't get in a lot of recent fighting games. There are a number of these levels, and when you've grown tired of using the same move to defeat your foes chances are you'll find yourself ready to do it all over again just to see where you're fighting next.
The King of Fighters hasn't changed in all these years, but it still manages to be a high quality fighting game worthy of your time. If you own other editions of this series then you probably don't need to buy this one, but if you're new to the series this is a great place to start. It has a great sense of style, a roster full of amazing (and likeable) characters, and much more. Not the best Kind of Fighters title you can buy, but it certainly makes the short list.