You could say 2D Fighters are the bread and butter of my gaming. They are my favourite genre of video games simply because they are fun to play, don’t require much time to get into, have beautiful artwork and keep you coming back without requiring you to sacrifice all of your free time.It’s probably just because it was the type of game that was most prominent when I was a child but I’ll take 2D over 3D any day. Side stepping, button bashing gameplay does not appeal to me in the same way as refined, animated 2D fighters do. Luckily, the Dreamcast definitely has its fill of classic 2D fighters and this week I found myself playing one of the most renowned of all, King of Fighters ‘99.

This re-release of the DC 'Evolution' was SNK's very last release for the Dreamcast before they folded.

Sequel to the highly acclaimed King of Fighters '98 (which was released as KOF '99 Dream Match on the Dreamcast) King of Fighters '99 was subtitled with the moniker, Evolution to signify some small additions like 3D backgrounds and hidden strikers in the Dreamcast release. It features the origin of the NESTS storyline, a plot which revolves around an evil organization who is seeking out the world's most powerful warriors and attempting to retrieve their DNA to create the ultimate fighter (sound familiar?). Actually, the story is fairly interesting and like all KOF titles, is a large part of the attraction. Anyway, loading it up, the first thing that struck me is however very visually appealing the game is, with much cleaner artwork than the previous game and also less garish than the sequel.

The usual suspects, Kyo, Iori, Andy, Mai, Benimaru etc. etc. are all present and correct but overall, the roster is relatively small compared to KOF ’99 Dream Match. Yet, seeing as how that was just a jamboree of all the previous game's characters with no real story or new additions, then this one can be forgiven for its weaker lineup. With the new NESTS storyline comes some new characters, the first is K’ (or K Dash), a white-haired, tan-skinned, leather-clad bloke whose play style bears more than a passing resemblance to Kyo, and we also have a handful of newcomers; Maxima, Whip, Bao, and Xiangfei.

For my first playthrough I went with a team mixed of a bit of the old and new, K’ , Mai, Kim and Shingo. Yup, in King of Fighters ’99 you’re allowed to pick out four characters; however, only three can be used in battle. The fourth, like in Capcom’s Versus series, is designated as a “Striker”, and can jump into battle for an assist attack to help extend combos or pressure the opponent. My favorite striker is Shingo who runs out, and holds onto your opponents ankles so you can get in a cheap blow. It’s a feature that is also used in later games and while it is a fairly fun addition, I could take it or leave it to be honest.

The weather effects in the game are awesome!

There are also two special attacks that can be activated when your power bar is at max with three bars, a Counter Mode, which strengthens your attack, allowing you to execute super moves infinitely during this short period of time, and Armor Mode, which enhances your defense but disables any super special moves. In KOF ’99 you also receive a numbered score after every fight and are assigned "Battle Points" with the only way to fight the true last bosses are by consistently keeping your rank high. The final boss is a bit of a disappointment though, looking extremely similar to K’ he lacks any originality, and well looks a bit camp when compared to previous bosses like Yamazaki and Geese.

The game's end boss, Krizalid. Jus' wait till he starts to take his clothes off!

The visuals themselves, while not reaching the excellence of Garou, SFIII 3rd Strike or Guilty Gear X, look a lot better than previous games. Characters are very detailed, move fluidly and have a unique, dark style. SNK also added in actual 3D to the backgrounds akin to those in Capcom Vs. SNK in this Dreamcast release, and when you move around the stage, the scenery realistically changes with your viewpoint. It sounds like a bad idea but really works and there are some really nice weather effects as well; like the falling rain on the UK(?) park stage. I really enjoyed the backgrounds and thought they were some of the best I have seen in a 2D fighter.

This darker feel of this game also shows through in the soundtrack, Kyo’s music is particularly dark and grungy and worth checking out. It isn't the quite the best soundtrack you'll ever hear but it's very decent in my opinion and it doesn't pause in between rounds like it did in KOF 99 Dream Match. As in all Dreamcast 2D fighters, load times in King of Fighters 99’ are pretty much nonexistent, and there is also an option to link up to the Neo Geo Pocket title, The King of Fighters: Battle de Paradise Battle, to obtain some of the hidden strikers such Fio from Metal Slug. SNK released two editions of this game for the Dreamcast, the one I have is the budget re-release, which featured a different, slightly better artwork than the first edition and is the final ever game to be published by the old SNK.

The VMU displays the character which you are using

Overall, while KOF '99's new gameplay mechanics add some fun to the slightly aged KOF series,  still feels like classic KOF as its core. Gameplay is fast and furious and I do like the fact that King of Fighters doesn't place all its emphasis on flash finishers like some 2D fighters. Graphically, the game is a big improvement over previous games and the 3D backgrounds in the Dreamcast edition are a welcome addition. King of Fighters ’99 Evolution was the last title to actually be made by SNK before they went belly-up and reformed as SNK-Playmore, so if you're a fan of the KOF style of fighter or even 2D fighters in general, you really cannot go wrong with adding this to your collection.