Originally released in 1999 on the obscure and short-lived NeoGeo Pocket Colour, SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium was the first crossover title between the legendary companies, and it is wonderful to see that the game will be preserved and revived for the incomparably wider audience the Switch affords. The epic titling may contrast with its cutesy style, but the packed-to-the-brim crossover content and overall quality of the game do it justice!
SNK VS. CAPCOM: The Match of the Millennium
Developed by SNK
Published by SNK
Released: 17th February 2021
Review copy provided by SNK
In all honesty, at the beginning of my playthrough, I didn’t know much about SNK, Capcom, or the NeoGeo Pocket Colour! This piece was a little daunting to take on, but I welcomed the challenge because I have seen the fighters in Smash Ultimate and appreciate learning the history behind them, and I can imagine many of you are in the same boat. If you didn’t know Ryu or Ken, then you probably weren’t familiar with Terry Bogard, SNK, King of Fighters or the NeoGeo! The game looks to be a fun and efficient introduction to both the Capcom and SNK universes for those curious.
As with the original Pocket Colour release, this fighter controls with only two buttons. Depending on your perspective this either makes the game more accessible or obscures and complicates how to achieve certain actions- like knowing to quickly tap A/B for a light and quick punch/ kick, or press and hold them for strong and heavy variations. An issue I’ve always had with fighters is the complex directional inputs to pull off moves. I find that I can be clumsy with an analogue stick, accidentally adding UP commands rendering myself airward and vulnerable, or DIAGONAL commands which mess up my attacks. If you’re the same and wanted to use the Directional buttons, then you might find it fiddly to play in handheld mode with their awkward, hand-cramping positioning. I was surprised to discover that the Pocket Colour had an 8 way ‘clicky’ analogue stick which is praised amongst most SNK/ Pocket Colour fans, so it might be that the most authentic experience is the analogue stick, but I can imagine it doesn’t compare to the Pocket Colours which was specifically designed to work well with Fighters.
I think I understand why these classic fighting games get referred to as ‘button mashers’. I tried to learn the move-sets but pulling some of them off is something I simply cannot train my fingers to do! This is why It feels natural to slide the analogue stick vaguely in the 3 or so patterns you’ve learned, whilst wildly alternating A and B presses and throwing in the occasional jump. When on Normal difficulty or higher, I required reactions beyond my capabilities to successfully notice an attack forming and block accordingly. It’s also a little awkward that you have to push backwards to block and I would much prefer a button press so that I’m not accidentally putting distance between myself and a relentless Ryu who keeps Haduken-ing me! I am aware that this system has been in place in many Fighters but coming at this from a relatively fresh perspective- it was difficult to get used to. Hopefully this has highlighted the high hurdles of the genre for any new players out there.
The presentation here is excellent. Characters have a pixelated Chibi design which is adorable, and it’s comical to see such cool, larger than life fighters- with their weighty backstories and dramatic poses- in this oxymoronic style. There are some hilarious grammatical errors and odd choices of dialogue that I assume is down to translation issues, but I think that adds to the charm of its era. The game is also a musical treat, with songs from both sets of games, delivered with that classic bit-tuney sound which tickles my soul.
Pressing ‘minus’ at any time will bring up some basic game options and extras including controller inputs and a console reset. There are also a nice variety of display options, including multiple skins for the Pocket Colour border that appears on screen. Luckily, you can also scale up the action, zooming into the screen, which feels necessary in handheld. You can even filter the screen to look as dark and pixelated as on the original display or brighten it up and along with crisp pixels, which I’m sure will be appreciated for anyone that had to suffer through the Pocket Colour’s lack of backlight; I can only take on my experience with the Gameboy, trying to play Alleyway in the car at night with only streetlights to guide me.
Amongst these options you also have the original manual for the game which is fantastic, especially because you can zoom into these high-quality PNGs and really appreciate the artistry! This addition isn’t just for nostalgia’s sake as the fighting genre doesn’t have the most intuitive gameplay in the world, and you will need to peruse through it to learn some essentials. There is a useful move-set guide for every base character at the back of the manual that you will find yourself coming back to repeatedly. Combine this with the Sparring mode and you’ll get the hang of things eventually. It would have been nice though to have an off-the-cuff move-set list added in, as going through the manual can get tedious (hey, at least it’s authentic to the original experience).
In the game you’ll discover stages from both of the companies games, and ditto for the vast selection of characters, with 26 in total. Eight of these are secret characters but the unlock system is a little crude; you need to complete the Tournament Mode multiple times. Once you do, you’re at the mercy of RNG. Sometimes you will ‘clear’ a previously unlocked square- which renders your completion pointless (think the Street Pass picture pieces from the 3DS). This is especially frustrating because of how brutal it is, at least for me, to complete. The final boss had me worrying I would not be able to finish my review for lack of research! The opponent is massively overpowered, with attacks that do at least twice the damage of my attacks, and they will sometimes decide to annihilate you in one move if they fancy it! I will say at least that it is nice to have a challenge, however cheap it may seem to someone with a bruised ego…
I eventually realised there are a choice of difficulties ranging from Novice to Gamer. Unfortunately however, it still felt like a massive skill gap down from Normal to Easy, with the game becoming annoyingly simple as I ploughed through the final boss taking only one hit. This is where the multiple gameplay options became useful: for me it was best to play Tag to give myself a second life in the more arduous endgame, without lowering the overall difficulty. Tag is a fun addition that varies your fighting styles and really compliments the crossover theme. There’s also a Team option where you can change out with two other characters. When I explored further, I realised there are three fighting styles to choose from: ‘Average’, where each attack increases the Power Gauge, with an ultimate one-blow attack at maximum level which guarantees a win; ‘Counter’, where you can charge up your Power Gauge by holding Down, A and B; and ‘Rush’, where the Power Gauge is charged through Chain Combos. I was eventually able to beat the true boss on Normal by pick-n-mixing these options to my best fit. This level of customisation was much appreciated, and I imagine even more so for Fighter fans that are more accustomed to a particular style.
The story alters slightly depending on whether you choose a Capcom character or an SNK one, but nothing substantial. Even so, it must have been nice for fans to see their favourite characters go up against SNK and Capcom’s respective ‘Big Bads’, Geese and M. Bison. Every character has their own interaction with enemies, and their own rival who you will meet and fight at the midpoint, which adds a little flavour and fan service. You must defeat them first-try to unlock the true final boss, which makes for a tense fight.
Of course, there’s also the option to duke it out with another human in VS. Rather than needing another Pocket Colour/Switch the screen simply splits and, if you play in handheld mode, the console essentially becomes a miniature arcade table which is a fanciful novelty. I naturally had the most fun in this mode, as nothing can beat the competitive energy when battling a well-matched friend. It’s probably the core experience to take away from a Fighter; just make sure you’re playing against someone as clueless as yourself.
If the challenge of the Tournament mode isn’t floating your boat or you’ve got no one to play with then there’s always time to kill in the Olympics mode, where you can compete in various events for Team SNK or Team Capcom. Both have their own unique Game and Watch style mini games which pay homage to the respective company’s history: Metal Slug, Ghosts ‘N Goblins and Samurai Showdown are all referenced, as well as a primitive Dance Dance Revolution game starring Felicia, the disturbing cat lady, from the Darkstalkers fighting game. There’s also Survival, Time Attack, and First Blast events which are common to both teams. By getting high scores you will unlock medals and rack up ‘vs. points’ which unlock secret inputs for your characters’ move sets. I had a great time here and it was a refreshing change of pace between tournament runs.
Ultimately, this game was the culmination of the rivalry between SNK and Capcom, marrying the two beautifully. Combine this with the fact that the Pocket Colour was on the market for less than a year, with only 82 games to its name, and this comes out as a rare and sentimental piece of history. It is lovely to see SNK ported it over to Switch where it can reach a wider audience! A word of warning before I leave however, as curiously enough SNK have just announced a compilation including SvC:MotM which will be coming to the Switch soon; it feels like they’re cutting into their own sales by telling us this as it’s probably worth the wait!