AKA: King of Fighters: Heat of Battle || 熱闘ザ・キング・オブ・ファイターズ’96 || Takara 1997
Original Post Date: September 21, 2019
The second and final King of Fighters installment to be given the Nettou treatment improves over its predecessor in nearly every conceivable way, while offering a number of engine tweaks that equate to an impressively technical fighter, even in handheld 8-bit form.
Like its arcade counterpart, the immediately noticeable change is that the side-step/evade feature has been done away with, in favor of a roll system which become commonplace for the series. By pressing both A and B together in combination with a direction, you’ll roll either backward or forward, granting you invulnerability to bypass projectiles and get in on (or away from) an opponent.
Your standard back and forward dashes make their return, and while they lack the invincibility frames of the roll techniques, they are generally a quicker form of movement. An alternate usage of the roll is to “soften” knockdowns, and it’s also possible to roll straight out of a block for an easy reversal, though doing so requires a full MAX meter.
The character roster is similar in size to that of Nettou KOF ’95, meaning it, too, has been scaled down a bit compared to its arcade counterpart. There are 15 standard characters, as well as 5 secret characters, three of whom play like variants of respective main fighters.
Many fan favorite characters were thankfully restored, including Goro Daimon, Geese Howard, and Andy Bogard. As a secret final boss on the hard difficulty, a player may encounter Mr. Karate of Art of Fighting fame. While a cool encounter, it’s admittedly a bit of a downgrade from the Nakoruru fight in the previous game.
Overall, Nettou KOF ’96 is an impressively quick-paced, in-depth, and graphically beautiful handheld fighter. The controls are more responsive than those in the previous two Nettou games, and while the bizarre post-jump-in knockback from KOF ’95 is still present to some degree, it has thankfully been mitigated, resulting in a proper and immensely playable Game Boy King of Fighters experience. Top-notch.