Code Mystics has brought several of SNK’s first-party games for the Neo Geo Pocket Color to the Switch over the last few months, in a series of solid, inexpensive emulation-powered ports. This is the one I was waiting for, and it didn’t disappoint. 1999’s SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium is arguably the best game of the lot, and was one of the best games on the NGPC.
It is bogged down by some unfortunate time sinks, though, including a character unlock system that’s the next best thing to useless now. If you’re looking for an old-school fighting game for cheap, this is arguably the best of SNK’s recent NGPC ports and might be the best portable fighting game ever made, but it’s also a useful example of how an emulation-based port can end up being a mixed bag.
Back When Crossovers Meant Something
Match of the Millennium (MOTM for short) is the first game to come out of the Capcom/SNK collaboration in the late ’90s, which would produce a series of SNK developed titles, as well as the two Capcom vs. SNK games and SNK vs. Capcom Chaos.
It’s hard to communicate just how bizarre these were, back in the day. Now in 2021, most of the fighting games worth talking about have at least one crossover character on the roster, but in 1999 that kind of thing just never happened. It was the nerd equivalent of two rock supergroups suddenly teaming up for a world tour.
Alternatively, if you were most Americans in 1999, it was a collaboration that would feature the Street Fighter II cast inexplicably fighting a bunch of randos. SNK never really caught on in North America to the extent Capcom did for a variety of reasons, which is probably also why so many people got so furious over Terry’s recent appearance in Smash.
There’s a lot about MotM now that does feel like it’s practice for what would come out later. It’s a 16-bit, two-button fighting game, with simple and expressive pixel-art characters, all of whom have most of their trademark moves from their original games. SNK brought a bunch of the King of Fighters crew, as well as Haohmaru and Nakoruru from Samurai Shodown; Capcom has most of the more popular members of the Street Fighter Alpha cast, plus Morrigan and Felicia from DarkStalkers.
The storyline’s bare-bones, but at least it’s present, and comes complete with one of SNK’s famously botched English translations. There’s a tournament, everyone’s come to compete in it, and naturally, the “winner” gets to fight Geese Howard and M. Bison in an exploding mad-science lair. It’s perfunctory, but there’s some charm to it; I’m particularly fond of how each character has a rival from the other company, like Terry vs. Ken.
Despite there only being two available buttons, I was surprised by how naturally MotM plays. You can tap a face button for a light punch or kick, or hold it briefly for a heavy attack, which gives you access to a lot of the characters’ trademark moves. It takes a little getting used to, but eventually it becomes second nature, and the combat has a nice flow to it.
MotM also has a few features that really should’ve made it into the later Capcom vs. SNK games, like being able to pick what kind of match you want to play. You can opt for traditional one-on-one rounds, a tag match, or a KOF-style single-elimination round with teams of three, without the pick-and-choose ratio system of either CVS. It also offers a precursor to CVS‘s groove system, with the ability to choose between Street Fighter Alpha, King of Fighters, or Samurai Shodown-style super meters.
The Limits of Emulation
Code Mystics has presented Match of the Millennium, like its previous NGPC ports, as a ROM running in a custom emulator. You can hit the minus button to call up a menu, which contains a high-definition scan of the game’s original manual, a custom pixellation filter, the ability to change or turn off the NGPC-styled frames, and a screen zoom feature mapped to the right thumbstick, in order to make the game playable at all in portable mode. It’s also got a rewind feature built in, in case you want to save-state past some of the dumber fights in the arcade mode.
(MotM does have “SNK Boss Syndrome,” but it’s a milder case than most. Bison in the arcade mode has his enormous screen-filling Psycho Crusher from around Street Fighter Alpha 3, which has next to no startup and inflicts a hearty 60% damage or so on hit. Other than that, it’s probably the least frustrated I’ve ever been with the final boss of an SNK game.)
This means that MotM is presented just as it originally was on the NGPC, complete with a setup menu at launch for the virtual NGPC hardware. This is fun to mess around with for nostalgia’s sake, but does come with a few limitations. There are menus and modes you can’t back out of, for example, and have to leave by resetting the ROM. MotM on Switch also handles multiplayer by setting up a second virtual NGPC for you to link with, and has no online functionality at time of writing.
Most crucially, it’s a Japanese fighting game on a home system from 1999, and that means it’s got a lot of hidden content you’re supposed to grind to unlock. That means spending a lot of time in Olympic Mode, playing survival or time attack matches against the computer, or going through some poorly-considered minigames.
Worse, a big chunk of the roster is hidden behind a random unlock mechanic, where you need to repeatedly clear single-player mode on increasingly higher difficulties to get a chance for one of them to appear. The general idea back then was to lengthen your playtime and give you more to do besides endless versus matches, and it’s a respectable idea on the face of it, but it’s definitely a style of game design that deserved to stay in the early 2000s.
Eight Bucks Well Spent
SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium is a piece of fighting-game history, attractively priced on the Switch, with a lot of features available from the start that do a lot to change up and expand its base gameplay. It’s a great, easily accessible game to have around for fighting-game fans, especially once the pandemic’s over and you can run sets locally again.
That said, I’d pay maybe twice what SNK and Code Mystics are asking for this if it meant I could skip past all of the unlocks and minigames. I did my time with this kind of thing—raise your hand if you have a complete Dreamcast MVC2 save—and it’s not something I’m keen to repeat. I can respect the historical value of reproducing a game exactly as it was originally presented, but it turns out I don’t have the patience for this kind of thing anymore. The game itself is great, but I’m not going to keep playing tourney mode for the chance I might unlock Yuri.