Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore/Terminal Reality
Release Date: December 2, 2008
King of Fighters: The Orochi Saga marks one of the few fighting games available on the Nintendo Wii at this point, and I believe the only fighting game compilation you can currently pick up on the system. At $30, it also provides a pretty solid amount of content for the price, and if you've ever enjoyed a King of Fighters title before, chances are that you'll find some enjoyment out of this throwback to traditional 2-D sprite-based fighters from the Neo Geo era.
For newcomers, The Orochi Saga is a collection of five different King of Fighters games, one from each successive year starting with the original in 1994. The King of Fighters series was a catch-all of various SNK franchises, like Samurai Showdown or Fatal Fury, pitting the various fighters from all of the series against each other, usually taking the big guns from each. Over time, King of Fighters seemed to evolve into a flagship title of its own, easily rivaling or even surpassing the popularity of the individual fighter series from which it drew.
When the series began in 1994, it wasn't too dissimilar from other popular 2-D fighters, including the Street Fighter series, and it wasn't until the later years that it really started to take on a form of its own. It was also one of the first fighters to use a tag system, which was popularized with titles like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, wherein you would pick a few fighters for each match and switch between them during combat, making use of their individual life bars and requiring your opponent to defeat all three players before the round would end. Nowadays, this isn't particularly inventive, but when it was introduced, it was definitely something to see.
Really, that's about all that's holding back The Orochi Saga from being better than it actually is. In this day and of age of titles like Soul Calibur, the recent Street Fighter IV, Tekken and Virtua Fighter, it's difficult for a compilation of older fighting games to stand out from the crowd, even on a system that's lacking any real fighting franchise other than Smash Bros., which is a completely different beast from King of Fighters. Sure, it's fun to go back to these games and see how fighting games have evolved from features that were introduced in these series, but they haven't all aged well, and the gameplay feels a little stale and uninspired. Bundle that with the fact that SNK fighters weren't exactly known for having many changes and improvements in each yearly installment, and you're left with a handful of titles that are all a little too similar to each other to stand on their own. The collection plays more like a history lesson than anything you'd like to check out today.
I'm not entirely down on the series, though, and although I provided a review of the PSP version a few months ago, I'll do my best to reiterate what I like about the series and how this entry stands out among the others.
First and foremost, with the Wii version of the game, you're obviously going to get a different control scheme out of the Wiimote and Nunchuk combo, but this isn't the most ideal way to play. Thankfully, the developers seemed to realize this, and you're given the option of using either a GameCube controller or even the Classic Controller instead of the default Wii setup. Personally, I found the Classic Controller to be the best way to go because it has a much larger d-pad for pulling off any of the quarter-circle charging special moves, and the button layout felt much more natural to my hands than the GameCube controller. I'd even hold off playing the game if you're just stuck with a Wiimote and Nunchuk combo because the controls with that setup don't always feel responsive or precise, which is something you'll definitely want to achieve with these different fighting titles.
With that said, I definitely prefer playing Orochi Saga on the Wii over the PSP, simply because the visual clarity is far better, and it's much easier to see the action on-screen when you're hooked up to a TV set instead of the small screen. There's no real benefit here to being equipped with an HDTV because an HD setup actually blurs the sprites and emphasizes the low-res art style. There's no widescreen support either, but that makes sense because you wouldn't want to stretch out the playing field or mess up the overall flow of the game by creating a larger gap between opponents.
The game supports local two-player matches only, and there isn't a Wi-Fi setup, unfortunately. It's one of the features I was hoping the Wii would implement, which would have made more sense here than on the PS2 considering the built-in online capabilities of the system and friend codes. Throwing down with your favorite fighters in a local game is still as fun as it ever was, and it's definitely the best way to really learn how to play the game. Each title contains a single-player mode, and as the series advances, the story modes start to become more and more fleshed out. As the name implies, three of the games contain a continuing story line with the Orochi Saga, and you'll notice that the character roster has expanded dramatically by the time you reach the final game. Everything is also more or less available from the start, so you can jump into whichever version of King of Fighters you'd like. Ideally, the best version is typically the one from 1998 or 1999, and in my opinion, you could even steer clear of the first game altogether unless you're feeling particularly nostalgic.
Given the lack of fighting games on the Wii console and the $30 price tag on King of Fighters: The Orochi Saga, you should definitely pick up the title. It's not the best compilation of fighters in existence, but it's worth checking out if you have any interest in the genre. This port of various SNK titles comes over intact to the Wii and plays fine, but you'll definitely want to pick up a Classic Controller or GameCube controller, since the Wiimote/Nunchuk setup is an absolute chore to use. I'd only suggest this title to fans of the series, though, because it's not particularly friendly to newcomers.