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Each game in the set has a few unique features, but for the most part the biggest differences between the two games are the slight variations in the gameplay. 2000 gives you 35 characters, 3 on 3 team-based combat with strikers, and unlockable movie demos from previous KoF games. 2001 features 40 characters and lets you build teams of 1-4 people with multiple strikers. Each game has team, single, versus, and practice modes along with a new mode called party mode where you face an endless stream of opponents.
The combat in King of Fighters 2000 / 2001 is deceptively complex. When you pick up the controller and shoot off a fireball with a quarter-circle on the d-pad and a punch button, the game definitely feels familiar. For the most part, KoF plays just like a Street Fighter game but with an even bigger emphasis on special moves. Of course, there are also other moves like armor and counter moves as well as cancels for pretty much everything and also massive super moves and combos that you can launch with somewhat complex button inputs.
What sets it apart is the team based fights and the addition of strikers. In 2000, you choose three members to fight on your team and as one is defeated the next one will jump in to fight. You also get to choose a striker who will jump in at the press of a button and smack your opponent around a bit. In 2001 you choose a team of four characters but you can have different numbers of strikers and fighters in any combination from 1-4. You could have one powerful character fight and the other three be strikers or you could have three weaker characters fight and have one powerful striker, for example. In both games, being able to choose your team and strikers allow you a ton of variation so that every fight is going to play out very differently from the last. The strikers also allow you to build massive combos because you can start a combo with your character, call in a striker for a few extra hits, and then continue the combo with your character in a pattern that could potentially go on forever if you have the skills. King of Fighters purists have pooh-poohed the concept of strikers ever since they appeared in KoF '99, but I like them, and I think it adds a lot of strategy and depth to the game.
The gameplay is definitely fun, but it is also insanely difficult. You can select a difficulty level between 1 and 8 and if you are just starting out I highly recommend switching it to 1 or 2 for a while because the AI is going to kick your butt on anything higher for quite a while. You absolutely cannot button mash in KoF and expect to be successful, unlike a lot of other 2D games. Unless you have a FAQ handy or slave away in the practice mode for a while, the AI is going to be pulling of moves that you didn't even think possible for the first couple of weeks of playing. There is a lot to learn, but it is a fun process because every new move you find will open up new combo opportunities, and it is a thrill to just play this game and learn. Of course, that is the case with every great fighter, but it just never seems to get old for me.
Controlling the game is an issue with the Dual Shock because the game is a little stiff and unforgiving. You have to be absolutely precise with your motions on the d-pad, and it takes a while to get used to this. You will get used to it, but it is unacceptable that controlling this game is so tricky when other 2D games on PS2 are smooth as butter with the Dual Shock. At any rate, if you are serious about putting in the time to learn the ins and outs of KoF I recommend that you get an arcade stick.
The graphics in both games leave a lot to be desired. These are older games in a series that has never been too graphically impressive, but the lack of detail on the characters and the blurry looking backgrounds are just plain ugly. The animation is none too smooth either, and it only makes these games look even worse. It also has to be noted that the menus for both games are absolutely atrocious. 2000 uses a bland (but very arcade? looking) listing of modes and nothing more. 2001 features a more traditional menu screen and it looks like you are flipping through cards when you make different selections, but it is very blurry and actually pretty hard to see what you are doing. Of course, the gameplay is what is most important in a 2D fighter, and both KoF 2000 and 2001 provide an excellent experience. Just don't expect them to look like Guilty Gear X2.
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