Much like every other band that has prefixed its name with 'The' in recent memory should be politely informed that it isn't the seventies anymore, somebody really needs to tell SNK what year it is. For the last few we've been seeing Playmore milk the back catalogue seemingly at random, throwing out titles whose names make their ages perfectly clear to prospective purchasers. So almost exactly three years on from its Neo Geo release, does SNK's attempt to compete with the likes of Capcom Vs SNK 2 still cut it?
But then this was never the strongest game in the series to begin with. With so much variety in beat-'em-ups at the turn of the millennium, SNK had no choice but to pull out all the stops to try and compete. Picking your three party members as usual is warmingly familiar but once you get into battle, things start to go wrong. While it does offer the opportunity to switch characters, 2003's tag system simply doesn't know what it's trying to do. Team leaders do more damage and have exclusive access to the top end desperation moves, immediately losing you two often invaluable supers compared to previous KOF games; tagging out is slow and offers no health recovery, making it more or less redundant as a tactical tool. The whole thing just falls into a nondescript middle ground, surrounded by the thrills of Marvel Vs Capcom's flashy switches, SNK's own tactical striker system and the general solidity of Capcom Vs SNK 2's ratio-based teams. But if anything could save face for a King Of Fighters game, it was always going to be the character roster.
Same Old Brand New You
It's a known fact that SNK has toyed with move sets and character appearances between each King Of Fighters title with seemingly minimal method to its madness and 2003 is no exception. Whoever your character, expect at least a few minor changes but with an updated roster that includes several characters from the vastly superior Garou: Mark Of The Wolves, a change of scenery might not necessarily be a bad thing anyway. Grappler Tizoc, mix-up king Gato and MOTW Terry feel strangely unwieldy without Garou's supremely empowering Just Defence system but even so, it's tough not to love the variety in the cast. Catering for all styles of player - from the Shoto scrub to the 'partitioning' master who can throw out Sonic Booms like they're going out of fashion and more besides - and with a respectable number of characters overall, one on one fights can still excite to a certain extent.
With the significantly stronger King Of Fighters 2002 already occupying shelf and bargain bin space across the world and established favourites like Capcom Vs SNK 2 and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike to be found rather cheaply as well, there's little on which to recommend KOF2003 over its competitors. SNK completists will no doubt lap it up but there are quite simply much better fighting games out there.