It seems fairly clear by now that SNK and Hamster are going to re-issue new Arcade Archives versions of all of its decade-old Dotemu-developed NEOGEO mobile ports, and now it’s time for The King of Fighters ’97 to take its turn. KOF ’97 ACA NEOGEO ($3.99) is a ticket to a fully updated and option-rich take on one of the most popular games in SNK’s popular The King of Fighters series, and it will only cost you sixteen quarters to take the ride. I’m not even going to pose the question of whether or not this is better than the old app. We’ve done that dance enough times now. Let’s just roll on in to the review, shall we?
To get the usual talk out of the way, let’s address the old app. It’s still on the App Store and still technically works, after all. Heck, it was just updated a year ago to be compatible with iOS 14. That doesn’t mean it’s a great experience on modern devices, though. Dotemu’s The King of Fighters ’97 ($2.99) came out more than ten years ago, and for its time and place it was a great port of the game. It played as well as it could, the emulation was sound, it had support for the kinds of external controllers we had at the time, and offered local wireless multiplayer support. It wasn’t exactly rolling in options, but it was more than good enough. Time has taken its toll, however. The biggest issue these days is that the virtual buttons didn’t grow along with the displays of devices, and it’s even tougher than usual to play on tiny buttons. I can’t recommend the Dotemu version anymore, I don’t think SNK should be selling two versions at the same time, and I expect the publisher to deprecate it sooner or later. Get the new one.
Anyway, The King of Fighters ’97. It came out in 1997 on the NEOGEO, so the title of this app certainly checks out. It was the fourth game in the series that had by this point become SNK’s most reliable franchise, and brought the Orochi Saga story arc to its close. In terms of gameplay, it introduced a system where you could choose between two playing styles before picking your team. The Advanced Mode followed in the footsteps of The King of Fighters ’96, albeit with some tweaks, while the Extra Mode takes after The King of Fighters ’94 and ’95. This addition not only did a great job of tying all of the previous games together, but also gave players greater customization and variety in how they played the game.
In terms of character selection, six characters from the previous game were dropped. Kasumi Todoh, Mature, Vice, Geese Howard, Wolfgang Krauser, and Mr. Big all hit the benches for story reasons. Chizuru Kagura moves from the sub-boss position into the regular playable roster, while fan favorites Blue Mary and Ryuji Yamazaki from the Fatal Fury series join Billy Kane to form a new team. Yashiro Nanakase, Chris, and Shermie are fully new faces and end up serving an important story role. Otherwise, the roster carries over. Popular characters like Terry Bogard, Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami, Mai Shiranui, and Athena Asamiya are all here along with many others. Plenty of great characters to learn to use, like any game in this series.
The usual ACA NEOGEO gripes with fighting games in particular apply here. First, it can be really cumbersome trying to make some of the commands work with the virtual controls. There are no assists here, unlike the Dotemu version, so if you don’t have an external controller of some kind you’re just going to have to make the best of it. It’s also very difficult to get multiplayer going, as you’ll need a couple of external controllers and a display you’re comfortable rubbing elbows around. In other words, you’re probably going to be spending most of your time playing alone. The story here is certainly worth going through though, and you have plenty of options to tweak to give yourself as much of an edge against the rude CPU as possible.
If you don’t mind the multiplayer being hard to get at and have an external controller, this is a great experience. Just like playing the Arcade Archives release on any other device, but with a few bucks more in your pocket. You get the usual extra modes here, and they’re alright to mess around with. You can also choose between the Japanese and Overseas versions of the game, which is good if you enjoy blood and bounce, as the kids say. In terms of options, you can adjust the difficulty, remap buttons, tweak video and sound settings, and customize the virtual pad to your liking. Online leaderboards are also here, as usual. I don’t typically think of fighters as games to compete on leaderboards with, but if you get into that kind of thing, it’s here.
The King of Fighters ’97 is a terrific fighting game and another of the many feathers in SNK’s hat in this genre. If you have an external controller and plan to play solo, it’s easily worth picking up. Those stuck with touch controls will want to carefully consider what they are really looking for out of this kind of thing, but I’m just repeating myself here from prior reviews. Hamster has done a really good job with this release, also as usual, and I think it’s only a better set of multiplayer options away from being the best possible mobile port it could be.