The real-life competition between Capcom and SNK ended permanently some weeks ago, when SNK officially closed its doors. One of the grandfathers of fighting games has passed away, but it's great that SNK's progeny--dozens of memorable fighting-game characters--live on, along with about as many from Capcom's camp, in the new Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium. The PlayStation 2 version of this 2D fighting game is essentially identical to the Dreamcast version that was recently released in Japan. As such, this review is mostly the same as that of the Dreamcast import, only it mentions a few points of interest regarding the PlayStation 2 version in particular.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 is an arcade port of the sequel to last year's fighting game that brought together many of the most popular characters from both Capcom's and SNK's fighting games. For fans of one company's games or the other's, this was unthinkable: the bitterest of rivals--not the characters, but the companies--had joined forces. About a year after the release of Capcom vs. SNK (available only in arcades and for the Dreamcast), the sense of shock may be gone, but it's still a solid 2D fighting game. The sequel is similar. Like most of Capcom's fighting games, it's an incremental enhancement to its predecessor and introduces some welcome new features but just barely enough of them. Capcom vs. SNK 2 still provides plenty of lasting value, especially for those who haven't played the first game, and its appearance on the PlayStation 2 promises to give it a lot more exposure than the first game ever had. Besides, unlike the Dreamcast, the PlayStation 2 doesn't have a lot of good 2D fighting games available for it yet, so Capcom vs. SNK 2 can be easily recommended by default.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 adds some new characters, some new moves, some new game mechanics, some new backgrounds, and some new music. There's a lot of the same graphics, same sounds, and same gameplay. The changes in the game will have a more significant impact depending on how serious you are about your 2D fighters. The new additions make the game technically superior to the first, but not necessarily better enough to merit purchase if you've already got the first one--let alone the half-baked Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 Pro, an intermediary rerelease of the first game with a couple of throwaway characters added and all the hidden characters already unlocked.
Depending on how you count, Capcom vs. SNK 2 adds about a half a dozen new characters over the original. There are about 40 different characters available in the game, though of course not all of these are completely unique. Some of the most exciting new additions to the roster include Eagle, the British stick fighter who dates all the way back to the original Street Fighter game, and Haohmaru, the cocky sword-wielding samurai from SNK's Samurai Shodown series, whose katana would presumably give him an unfair advantage. Fortunately, other characters have no problem deflecting Haohmaru's long, slow slashes with their forearms. Other notable additions include the kung fu fighter Yun, from Street Fighter III, and Rock Howard, the bastard son of Geese Howard who first appeared in SNK's Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. Some of the other new characters, such as the over-the-hill martial artist Ryuhaku Todo, from SNK's Art of Fighting, and Maki, a rip-off of SNK's Mai Shiranui who appeared in the sequel to Final Fight, are surprising additions to the lineup, but not necessarily good ones. Capcom and SNK fans alike will probably find that they can think of a few equally rare characters that they would have rather seen in the game.
The original Capcom vs. SNK let you unlock an additional version of each character, sporting a different arsenal of special moves. Capcom vs. SNK 2 basically merges these "EX" characters with their standard counterparts, making for characters that for the most part have more moves and more options and are therefore generally more interesting to play. Capcom vs. SNK 2 also shows that its designers are being rather wishy-washy in deciding just how many attack buttons you can use. The Street Fighter series famously used the six-button layout of three punches and three kicks; on the other hand, NeoGeo games have always used just four buttons, and the original Capcom vs. SNK took this streamlined approach. But now, the sequel throws in with Capcom's old style and all of a sudden forces you to use more buttons on your controller. This will be a welcome change if you prefer the six-button style of the Street Fighter series, especially since the PlayStation 2's standard control pad fares a lot better with the extra buttons than the bulky Dreamcast controller does. There's no option to use the previous game's four-button layout, so in any event, those experienced with the first game will just have to get used to using six buttons again.
Aside from all the characters, perhaps the most interesting gameplay feature in Capcom vs. SNK 2 is the availability of six different fighting styles to choose from, compared with two in the original. The game calls these "grooves," and they're designed to mimic the gameplay styles of previous Capcom and SNK fighting games. Whether your character can do a quick forward hop or a full run, whether or not he or she can block in midair, can quickly recover from a knockdown, can counter from the blocking position, and much more is governed by which groove you select. As in the original Capcom vs. SNK, you choose a team of fighters, and the groove you select applies to all of them.
The newly added grooves are interesting. The Street Fighter III-style "P" groove lets you parry attacks as in that game--you can tap forward as you're about to get hit, and you'll absorb the blow and have a moment to counter. The Samurai Shodown-style "K" groove displays a gauge that increases as your character takes damage. When it's full, your character is in an enraged state (his or her skin turns all red), and you can dish out much more pain. This groove also gets the "just defended" system from Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves, which works just like parrying, only you tap backward instead of forward as you're attacked. If nothing else, the P and K grooves are fun additions to the game, though they're not as versatile as the more-conventional styles you may be accustomed to from games like Street Fighter Alpha II or King of Fighters '97. The other grooves remain basically unchanged from the previous game.