The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match, like The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match that came before it, is a celebration of one of the best fighting games ever released. Developer SNK revisited the game in 2009 and added gallery and color edit modes, as well as new menu artwork, polygonal stages, music, characters, and gameplay tweaks for a PlayStation 2 release. This Steam version is a slightly downgraded take on the PS2 game, but it features beautiful 2D stages and online play. Though this version lacks some of the PS2 title’s features, KOF 2002 UM reigns as one of the best PC fighting games.
Another Dream Match
Like The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match Final Edition, KOF 2002 UM is a dream match that eschews a storyline so that SNK could include as many characters as possible—even some that are canonically dead, like crime boss Geese Howard. As a result, Unlimited Match boasts one of the largest fighting game rosters of all time, with a 66-character strong lineup. For comparison’s sake, KOF ’98 UMFE’s roster has 64 combatants and the upcoming Street Fighter V: Champion Edition will boast 40 fighters. There are many characters and playstyles to suit all types of fighting game fans.
The King of Fighters series features 3-on-3, non-tag fighting, so Unlimited Match runs deep with themed teams. They include Japan Team, Fatal Fury Team, Art of Fighting Team, Ikari Team, Psycho Soldier Team, Women Fighters Team, Korea Team, Orochi Team, Yagami Team (from KOF ’96), Outlaw Team (from KOF ’97), New Faces Team (from KOF ’98), K’ Team (from KOF ’99), Agent Team (from KOF 2000), and NESTS Team (from KOF 2001). In addition, there are numerous characters exclusive to Unlimited Match that weren’t in the vanilla The King of Fighters 2002 title, such as King, Shingo, Geese Howard, Goenitz, and Orochi Iori.
The game looks like a dream, too. With this PC release, SNK removed the 3D backgrounds featured in the PS2’s Unlimited Match and replaced them with 2D backgrounds. The result is a more visually consistent game. The detailed backgrounds are alive with cheering characters from across the SNK universe who watch the fights from the sidelines and give the happenings an air of importance.
The Beautiful Fight
KOF 2002 UM continues the series tradition of excellent combat. Although it lacks KOF ’98 UMFE’s three radically different fight mechanics (Advanced, Extra, and Ultimate), Unlimited Match has a lone system that resembles Advanced Mode. This fighting style gives you plenty of offensive (Dash, Run, Hops, Super Jumps) and defensive (Guard Cancel Strike, Guard Cancel Roll Throw) options for setting up or evading traps. If you’re coming to KOF 2002 UM from contemporary games like Mortal Kombat 11 or Street Fighter V, you may be surprised at the number of combat options packed into this old title.
Besides the expected punches, kicks, specials, and supers, KOF 2002 UM hangs its hat on Max Mode. Activated by pressing Light Kick and Strong Punch when you have a power stock available, Max Mode lets you cancel normal attack into other attacks that you typically cannot link. Likewise, Max mode lets you cancel specials into other specials. These Max Mode attacks are only available during the time when the Max Meter drains after activation, but they let you combo in ways you cannot when your character isn’t in Max Mode. In addition, Max Mode opens the door to new desperation moves (supers that only become available when your health meter is nearly depleted), further expanding your strategic options.
Ignoring the mechanical technicalities, KOF 2002 UM simply feels good, whether you’re playing with a gamepad or fight stick. When Gogo Daimon grabs you with a judo throw, you can feel the impact as he slams your character into the ground multiple times. Likewise, when Takuma Sakazaki lands his Ryuko Ranbu super move, his lightning-fast flurry of fist and feet feels like the ultimate punishment.
Besides the standard game mode, KOF 2002 UM includes a Practice Mode for training purposes, as well as Endless Mode. The latter mode is a gauntlet run versus the CPU that lets you play for as long as your skills allow. There’s also a Challenge Mode that tests your execution skills. You’ll need to excel at execution to do well, as The King of Fighters is a notoriously technical 2D fighting series.
A Few Omissions
Unfortunately, this version of Unlimited Match lacks elements featured in the game’s PlayStation 2 version. There’s no character color edit mode, art gallery, or original Neo Geo version. It’s understandable that SNK removed the original Neo Geo game, as it featured K9999, a character that was removed due to its similarities to Akira‘s Tetsuo. The losses aren’t significant, but they’re worth noting, especially if you are a fan of the PS2 KOF 2002 UM.
Spec-tacular Steam Action
KOF 2002 UM sports sprite-based, 2D graphics, so it doesn’t require a high-end gaming desktop or gaming laptop. According to the game’s Steam page, your PC needs at least a dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 CPU, integrated graphics with at least 256MB of video RAM, 1GB of system RAM, 1GB of storage, and the Windows XP operating system. In other words, you can run the game on a machine that’s not gaming focused, like a business laptop.
My gaming desktop, a machine that boasts a 3.2-GHz Intel Core i5-4460 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080Ti graphics card, ran Unlimited Match at 60 frames per second (at 1080p resultion) without hiccups. The game gives you a handful of graphics options, including applying a sprite filter to soften the pixels’ razor sharp edges, utilizing border art, and playing in either the full screen or windowed modes. Unlimited Match supports Steam Trading Cards, Steam Leaderboards, a dozen Steam Achievements, and Remote Play Together.
Online play is available, too, but the scene is mostly dead. On top of that, the delay-based netcode isn’t the best. Matches can run incredibly smooth or badly stutter based on your opponent’s connection. A rollback netcode solution like GGPO would’ve been a far better online play solution.
One of the Best
Despite dodgy netcode and missing modes that featured in its PlayStation 2 counterpart, The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match is an excellent PC game that showcases SNK’s chops during its creative height. It looks good and sounds good, but more importantly, it plays incredibly well. If you’re looking for a deep, strategy-filled fighting game in the King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match Final Edition mold, KOF 2002 UM is one you should not miss.
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