With these words the battle starts once again with The King of Fighters '99 Millennium Battle. Naturally the newer Neo cart games are big and this puppy clocking in at 673megs is no exception to the rule. Looking at the game's cover, I find it quite unique for this year seeing as how Kyo is normally on every KoF cover was replaced with a very cool picture of K' looking from the side with his right arm flaming. I cannot say that it's the best cover for a Neo game but, it shows that over the years SNK box art has gotten a LOT better from the cheesy bad comic book art that so plagued early Neo Geo packaging. Also, the overall character designs have taken a more modern anime look which helps the presentation overall. The manual is exactly the size of a standard CD manual with black and white pages throughout to illustrate how the game works and the cover is a copy of the package cover which is black and white expect for the KoF 99 logo.
Moving on, When cart is turned on, You are greeted by the ole Neo Geo Giga Power Logo on the screen. It had said a long time ago with older carts that the max meg count was 330 but, SNK by this time had broken that barrier. When you first turn on the game you are instantly given an opening that showcases the new characters along with a few old ones like Kyo and Iori going across the screen with K being the main focus overall.
Before jumping into the game I decided to check out what options this newest version of KoF had. As with any good fighting game you have Arcade mode or Team Play in this case. Team Vs. mode, Single Play or Single Vs. for those of you who want some one on on action. In Single play and Single Vs. mode, battles are divided into best two out of three rounds. You also have a training mode which allows you to practice with your character with which you can select a striker as well. You have your standard options menus where you can adjust from standard arcade setup to setting up infinite time or even giving yourself in edge in battle with infinite Supers, Strikers, and so on.
This year SNK had actually lowered the character count from 38 fighters in 98 (aka Dream Match 9) to 34. Thankfully with the addition of the new fighters, It makes the loss of star favorites somewhat acceptable. I miss Yamazaki and the New Face Team which were my personal favorites. I was totally happy when Li Xaing Fei who made her debut in Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 was added to the roster. There is also K' who has moves similar to Ryu Sakazaki, Juhn Hoon which is an enhanced version of Kim Kaph Whan, Maxima the first KoF character from Canada who is a lot like Heavy D and Goro Daimon combined; Bao's projectiles are kind of resemble those of Chizan and finally, Whip who even though her whip looks a little on the pixelated side, has some very fluid character animation.
You now have the option to choose four players instead of three but, the fourth character is set as your striker. This is as best can be described as exactly like helpers in Marvel vs. Capcom. By hitting B and C at the same time you can summon a striker during a match to come out and assist you. The best thing about having a striker is the ability to use them to setup combos or counter attack. You can normally off the bat call out a striker three times and like MvC; whoever you pick as your striker/helper will have different ways of assisting you in battle. The question thus can be asked: "When I choose my fourth character, does it always have to be a striker?" Nope. You can just like any KoF adjust who you want to start up and who you want to end with each match. In this case, whoever you pick last before each match will be designated as your striker.
As with any good fighter these days you can stock your supers up and unleash devastating attacks on your foe. The Special meter was changed from last year and you will not be able to select 'Extra Mode' like before. The Super meter charges everytime you attack or use specials and you can store up to three levels at one time with any character so there's no difference on who you choose with that. By using all three stored power gauges, you can use a temporary mode that largly increases a character's attack which turns him/her red during activation. When you have all 3 power gauges stocked, push A, B and C simultaneously. During counter mode you can use use super moves whenever you want, link with special attacks, special moves and supers AND Cancel special moves into supers for some high quality damage. Instead of pushing your power up you may want to be more of a turtle and use the Defense Mode instead. By using all three stored Power Gauges, you can use this mode to increase your character's defense which turns him/her Yellow. To activate it, You would now press B, C, and D instead. With Defense Mode active, You can now guard against Supers without losing any life, you will not take as much damage as you normally would and you will not reel from any hits. For you players of skill, There is a Battle Point system that awards your performence after each battle. Note:The amount of points you receive is ALSO based on the level of difficulty you set in the game* By getting high Battle Points you can get different endings or fight hidden characters in the game. Naturally as in any previous KoF to get a 'true' ending you have to finish it a legit team. You can of course do a Team edit but, you'll just get a generic ending instead of a full ending.
The music in the game is a LOT different this year than the previous KoF with tunes mostly ranging from techno to some classic dance beats. I was pleased with this change a lot personally seeing as I had gotten tired of the same ole tunes.There is a good amount of small effects here and there which are ok and there are more frames of animation to returning characters for their new moves. Graphically the backgrounds are not as impressive as I had hoped so if you have seen last years KoF then it's the same thing as before. Naturally there are stages which catches my eye like a park stage that actually changes with a real nice raining effects going on in the background or the airport where you can see the heat emmissions from a plane you fight in front of. Sadly the Neo*Geo being as old as it is cannot do transparenices like the Dreamcast did with Dreammatch 99 but, It's still impressive nonetheless with large colorful sprites that cover the screen making it a nice and easy viewing for the eyes. There also some cool lighting effects when you do supers with flashing and shadows that trail behind a character just like Street Fighter III or the Alpha series. Personally, It will never capture the flair of KoF96 which not only had killer backrounds but awesome stage intros that helped personalize each team. I wish I could say the same in 99 MB but, there is nothing that sticks out to make a stage look like that belongs to the team you are fighting.
The controls are very responsive and to say the least even manageable with a standard Neo JoyStick or pad. I personally got the best response from my Mass Stick which helps with that overall aracde feel. The motions for most of the move are fairly easy to pull off but, leaves little room for error when inputting the command for each move. The gameplay is not as intense as before seeing as how the damage ratio is set very high. Matches that start with players connecting with a few supers can end a round very quickly in a few seconds. The collision boxes and hit detection is pretty accurate overall and left me with no complaints.The sound effects are very clear and the hit animation even has that little spark effects when you connect with an enemy. I think Street Fighter III looks and sounds a bit better but, it works.
Even with a game packed as much as this one is, the hardware is starting to show its age. I would best describe KoF99:MB as a nice addition to any Neo Geo gamers collection but, there are better titles floating about that deserve more attention (i.e. Last Blade and Metal Slug). Overall, This version of KoF has gone through the biggest changes ever. I cannot say if they are all bad or good but, It's KOF and any fan of this series will be very pleased with the results. Without a doubt, KoF has put SNK on the fighting game map again. If you love KoF or killer fighting games, you owe it to yourself to own this on Neo Geo or Dreamcast. SNK, I love ya.