In the world of 2-D fighting games, there are two superpowers, both with fanatical groups of followers. These powerhouses are Capcom's Street Fighter series and SNK's King of Fighters. True, Street Fighter has usually (OK, always) been the more popular of the two, especially on consoles, but that doesn't necessarily make it better. Yet, instead of starting another Capcom vs SNK debate (no pun intended), I'll just tell you about the game. If a half-dozen years ago I told you that one day, Capcom and SNK would work together on a game, I'd be dismissed as a lunatic. Well, here it is people, one of the most anticipated 2-D fighters on the Dreamcast.
Still, how does it stack up? After all, merging these two fundamentally opposed franchises is what most would call an impossible task. Many people thought Capcom would botch it, creating it a jumbled cross breed and lose the good points of both games. Well, shut up all you pessimists, because Capcom have kept up to its usual standards of excellence and created what is quite possibly the best 2-D fighter ever.
Since gameplay is without a doubt the most important part of any game, it'll be the starting point for this review. Capcom vs SNK (CvS) is without a doubt one of the best 2-D fighting games in the world. The game is a return to the old school of fighting games: no 100-hit air combos, air blocking, or massive special moves, just some fast and furious gameplay. When starting up a fight, the first thing that pops up is the "Groove Select" screen where you choose between the Capcom and SNK "grooves". The Capcom groove uses the three-layered power bar as in Street Fighter Alpha 3, which charges up the more you hit your opponent. Great for die-hard Capcom fans, but most people will probably go with the SNK groove. In SNK groove, holding down the "Hard Kick" and "Hard Punch" buttons at the same time charges up the power bar, and there are a few gameplay tweaks. Control is great, especially for an arcade port, and the scheme is simplified to four buttons for the standard controller user.
CvS allows you to select multiple fighters, but unlike in some games like Marvel vs Capcom 2, you can't tag your opponent in the middle of a fight. Each fighter keeps on going until he gets knocked out, and fighters regain a bit of health after every successful bout. Also when selecting fighters, you use a ratio system. Every fighter is assigned a ratio number, from one to four depending on his or her strength. When choosing your roster you get four ratio slots, so you can decide how to fill them. Mixing and matching makes for some very interesting decisions: should you take four ratio one fighters, two ratio twos, a three and a one, a two and two ones, and so on and so forth. There are 33 characters in all, 28 standard and five unlockable, and while that may seem a bit scarce compared to some games, in this case it's more quality then quantity. You'll recognize all your favorites from Street Fighter and King of Fighters, and no two fighters are alike.
The characters look slightly weird, but still great just the same. It's just a new style of artwork than you've come to expect.
Now the graphics, oh the graphics. The arenas in CvS are breathtaking, beautifully drawn 2-D backgrounds with plenty of animation inside them, from the standard onlooking crowds to sexy waitresses walking by (well, as sexy as a 2-D backdrop can be). Also, each stage has a small "intro," like a car chase after which you fight at the scene of the wreck or some other basic premise. The characters are spectacular, with plenty of high-quality animation. Apart from the standard attacks and specials, there are some moves with spectacular lighting effects, hilarious taunts, and intricate idle stances that don't make the character seem frozen in time. The animation is fluid and lifelike, without any sign of chopiness during or between moves. Sure the characters are still fairly low-res, but most every 2-D fighter nowadays is guilty of that and it doesn't really detract from the game. The artwork is pretty good, especially considered how Capcom drew the SNK cast and vice versa. While they all look a bit different from previous incarnations, the cast still retains enough of their appeal to make the switch almost seamless. Again, Capcom has been very careful not to upset any fans who would go into seizures if they found the color of Terry's hat to be a bit off.
The sound in CvS is great. The musical score is exceptional, and no 2-D game has impressed me with music like this since Streets of Rage 2 on the Genesis. The sound effects are standard, a bit lame at times, but the character voices tend to cover this up. The music is to die for though, even the stuff in the character selection screens is great. The intro has some great sound too, though it is a bit shy when it comes to graphics.
Now, the fact is we live in the 21st century, and for some odd reason we can't visit each other as often (I thought technology would give us MORE time, but go figure). Due to this supposedly "anti-social" trend, this means that unless you have a hardcore fighting fan spouse, sibling, or next door neighbour, you're looking for some single-player replay value in a game. There has to be something new to unlock to keep most people's attention, and here CvS really shines. By playing through the various modes you collect "points," which you can use to unlock any of the 77 secrets. These vary from new characters and costumes, to the option to change the stats and ratios for the fighters. There is also a "Color Edit" mode, which allows you to change the colors of the sprites themselves. CvS is packed with secrets and unlocking them is great fun, though sometimes frustrating.