The original The King of Fighters '97, which was released in the arcades and on home consoles of the time, is an immense piece of work.
Since developer SNK was releasing a new version of its crossover 2D fighting game every year - while continuing to develop for hardware it knew intimately well - the improvements year on year were often staggering.
The King of Fighters '97 is my favourite canonical entry in the Orochi Saga. This iOS outing is a technically accomplished port of that great game, though it's so close as to occasionally be detrimental to the overall package.
If you're a casual gamer and want a history lesson in fighting games, then this is a decent way of getting a good impression of what this early release had to offer audiences at the time. However, it makes no concessions for newbies, and fighting purists will baulk at the imprecision of the touchscreen controls.C'mon c'mon!
I'll address the fighting hardcore first.
My brothers and sisters: you and I know that these games aren't the same without a fight stick or at least a decent pad. The iOS version doesn't come with controller support of any kind, and though you can resize the buttons on-screen, it's not responsive enough to let you pull out moves as fast as you're used to.
It's a frustrating experience when you're sat on a train, trying to perform something simple like Terry's Burn Knuckle, and you can't because there's no physical feedback as to whether you're completing the quarter turn required.
All of the "mature" content from the Japanese version of the arcade game seems to be included, if that kind of thing is important to you, and you can fiddle with scan lines and aspect ratios and whatnot to your heart's content.
But the fact remains that playing a fighter using touchscreen inputs is a very different experience from using physical controls.
For new players, or gamers who aren't too fussed about stringing together elaborate combos and don't care what a cross-up is, this won't matter too much.
King of Fighters '97 is the third sequel in the series, and as such it's difficult to penetrate its gameplay unless you're well-versed with SNK fighters or have played an entry in the series before.
Even basic elements, like how characters move about the screen, and how to deal with only four buttons, make this fundamentally unfamiliar to players whose brawling experience doesn't extend far beyond Street Fighter II.
Since this is a straight port, there isn't a training mode of any description to familiarise yourself with the peculiar features of the game, or learn the special moves of any of the characters.F-Rugal with the extras
The difficulty can be modified, but there isn't a level of challenge that you'll find easy enough to practice on. Thankfully, you can button bash your way through the game for the most part, occasionally bringing out a move or two through a combination of repetition and luck.
The three-on-three team battles bring an additional tactical flavour to the fights, as you can either choose a team of characters who work well together, or you can simply assemble the team of scrappers you like best. Before combat you're also given the option of Extra and Advance fighting modes, each with changes that only mid- to high-tier players will fully appreciate.
The King of Fighters '97 a gorgeous-looking game. 97's KOF tournament is centred around the themes of public exposure, wealth, and excess. Chanting crowds, international audiences, camera crews: they're all watching the tournament unfold, excitedly spectating as the colourful array of characters pull off complex-looking moves.
It would have been nice to share this excitement with others, but the multiplayer is restricted to Bluetooth only - there's no online to speak of.
This port of The King of Fighters '97 from the arcade to the touchscreen is exceptionally true to its arcade counterpart (for better or worse) in every area except one: its controls. Without support for physical inputs, its appeal diminishes, and DotEmu has done little to welcome new audiences in.
However, it's assuredly still a great game underneath, and one game historians, and the mobile fighting hardcore, should check out.