Last year one of the best fighting games ever made, and one of the best in its own series, was rereleased on Steam. That game was The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match, and for the first time in the series’ history it featured rollback netcode. Now this rollback version of UM has been released on PS4 as well. In this The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match review, for the PS4 version, we will break down how well it holds up in the transition to home consoles.
The King of Fighters has been around for just as long as the genre’s other most venerated series. Right alongside the likes of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters has always been there. Despite more often than not playing second fiddle to Capcom’s flagship fighting franchise, SNK has developed a smaller but nonetheless devoted fanbase for the series. In its long history, while tastes obviously vary, there are three entries that stand above the rest and are the most discussed for being crowned the best in the series. Those entries would be King of Fighters ’98, King of Fighters 13, and King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match.
One of the biggest hurdles for the genre, made even more prevalent during the pandemic, was the lack of rollback netcode in big titles. Some western titles like Mortal Kombat had caught on by their tenth entry, but Japanese developers remained stubborn in sticking with the far inferior delay based netcode system. That all started to change last year. First with the rerelease of Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R with rollback netcode on Steam, followed by Unlimited Match.
The age of Rollback is upon us
These rereleases received high praise from fans for finally making these games consistently playable online. Not to mention rekindling interest in these older titles. Now even new releases, most recently Guilty Gear Strive, are implementing rollback netcode. It seems that the era of rollback is finally here for fighting games. So, this begs the question if the rollback holds up in the PS4 release of Unlimited Match. The good news is that it absolutely does.
Just like Strive and Accent Core before it, rollback makes almost every match feel like your opponent is standing next to you at the arcade cabinet. Except in extreme circumstances, like an opponent having a potato connection on the other side of the planet, almost all matches feel buttery smooth. The only drawback is the lack of crossplay between the PC and PS4 versions of the game. As this is an older title, the amount of players playing is quite small, and splitting them amongst two different versions doesn’t help matters. It took me a few hours of trying to get an actual match going with somebody. When I did connect though, the match was amazing.
Thankfully the online mode features an easy to use private match system where you can invite your friends to come run sets with you. So the online is great, but where does that leave the single player content? UM features only a small amount of single player options to keep players busy. You can play 1v1 matches and 3v3 matches against the CPU, run through arcade mode, and play in an endless battle mode. The training mode is also fairly robust and gives you all the options you need like playback and other modern fighting game training room accommodations.
Not everything should stay in 2002
Unfortunately the game does not feature a real tutorial of any kind. Buried in the help and options menu are two screens that only teach you the most bare bones basics. A new tutorial mode would have gone a long way to get newer players more accustomed to such an older title. While UM is one of the most beloved KoF titles, it is also one of the most dense. With multiple options for jumping, rolling, guard cancelling, different super modes, etc. it can be very overwhelming for a new player.
Also, there are no character trail modes in the game. Just a generic challenge mode that runs you through the various modes and mechanics in the game. Plus some unique and wacky challenges like beating the arcade mode final boss with the controls inverted. While the former is helpful considering how many mechanics the game has, players will have to rely on outside sources to discover combos for their favorite characters. Thankfully though, considering how old the game is, that information is readily available. But it would still be helpful to provide at least some of it to players in the game itself.
Despite all this, at a mere $14.99 on the PlayStation Store, it is really hard to complain about a lack of single player content. The PS4 rerelease of The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match provides one of the best fighting games ever made for modern consoles with amazing rollback netcode. Plus there’s the roster jam packed with practically every KoF character in the series, multiple secret characters, and an absolute banger of a soundtrack.
Hope for the future
For fans of SNK, the KoF series, and especially this game in particular, there is no reason to not pick this up and relive this classic entry in the King of Fighters. A physical version is also set to release in Spring of this year courtesy of Limited Run Games. There is a standard, non limited box version available, as well as a special Collector’s Edition. Hopefully the upcoming King of Fighters XV also features the same level of quality rollback netcode.