One of my favorite pastimes as a kid was to get together with a few of my buddies and pontificate on who would win in a fightand no, I don't mean 'my Dad or your Dad'. These muse sessions were a little more esoteric, often involving matches like Spider-Man vs. Batman, Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair, Ash from Evil Dead vs. Reggie from Phantasm, or Darth Vader vs. Boba Fett.

Once videogames became prevalent, our bouts began to adjust to match our newfound hobby. Instead of comic book characters or film villains, the matches became ones like Link vs. Strider, Sonic vs. Mario, or Ryu Hayabusa versus Joe from Shinobi. As much fun as debating who would win was, it was ultimately an exercise in futility. One could argue that Sonic's speed would make him all but impervious to even Mario's most punishing moves, but there wasn't any way to actually prove it.

All of which brings us to Capcom Versus SNK, a fighting game that will allow gamers to determine once and for all which company has the better fightersCapcom's Street Fighter series or SNK's King Of Fighters/Fatal Fury. This match-up is for nothing less than to be crowned the king of the 2D fighters–no small reward for two companies who have kept 2D fighting alive almost single-handedly.

Capcom Versus SNK looks stunning. If anyone out there thinks 2D gaming is dead, they'd be well advised to look at this title, which will almost assuredly make them re-evaluate their stance on the power of sprite-based graphics.

Boasting a huge amount of characters who've all been tweaked and redesigned, and lavishly animated backdrops that should be more than familiar to fans of both series, Capcom Versus SNK is just gorgeous to look at. However, things only get better when the game starts to move. The fighting is fast, furious, and fluid from start to finish with each character featuring a plethora of well-animated moves. The Dreamcast is up to the task of handling the enhanced graphics and effects, and slowdown is never a problem.

However, it takes more than graphics to make a good fighter, and that's where Capcom Versus SNK truly shines. As fans of each series know, both Street Fighter and the SNK fighting games have their own unique approaches to combat. Merging these distinctive styles into a playable format would seem to be the real challenge facing the developers. Luckily, the challenge has been met, thanks to the implementation of a groove system.

The groove system allows the player to choose which style he or she would like to utilize; the Capcom groove will be the groove of choice for Street Fighter fans, while the SNK groove will help those familiar with the Fatal Fury and King Of Fighters series. The primary effect of each groove is that it determines how the super moves are charged. This essentially levels the playing field for the gamerone could fight with a Capcom fighter, but set the groove so that the super move gauge charges in the same way as the SNK one.

Another interesting tweak is the inclusion of a rating system. Each fighter is assigned a number between one and four based on his or her skill. The player can choose a squad with a power rating that adds up to four. This allows for a fair amount of strategizing as the key to victory might involve taking one level four fighter or two level twos, or any other number of combinations.

The combat itself is a refreshing change of pace. While always challenging, the insane combos and juggles of many recent fighting games have been dropped in favor of a much more traditional approach. This is a pleasant surprise, primarily because the game rewards genuine skill and not cheap players who constantly button-mash. If a player wants to unlock everything, he'll have to reach a zen-like state of perfection. Nothing less will suffice.

Speaking of unlockables, there's no shortage of hidden bonuses in Capcom Versus SNK. Unfortunately, in order to unlock everything, the player will have to fight thousands of matches to take advantage of the unforgiving point system. Earning the points to unlock hidden bonuses in the game requires a very high level of dedication and a real understanding of the fighting engine. Sadly, most casual gamers will never unlock the vast majority of hidden goodies in this title.

My only real complaint with the game isn't so much directed toward the title, but more towards the Dreamcast controller. Controlling the fighters is occasionally a little harder than necessary thanks to the Dreamcast pad. To say this controller wasn't designed with 2D fighting games in mind would be an understatement of epic proportions. It's big, it's clunky, and the D-pad is often too stiff for its own good. Trying to pull off a string of special moves can quickly become an exercise in aggravation, as the controller just doesn't want to cooperate on most occasions. If you have access to an arcade stick, that's the best way to play Capcom Versus SNK

Still, even with the control issues, there's no denying that Capcom Versus SNK is one of the best fighting games to come along in recent memory. While it remains to be determined just who, exactly, is the king of the 2D fighters, it's gamers who are the real winners. Rating: 8.0 out of 10

Mike Bracken
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