The King of Fighters 2002: Challenge to Ultimate Battle is a 2D tag-team fighting game developed by Eolith and released by Playmore for arcades (running Neo Geo MVS hardware) on October 10, 2002. It was subsequently released for the Neo Geo AES on December 18, 2002.
The ninth installment of the King of Fighters series (and the sequel to The King of Fighters 2001), King of Fighters 2002 eschews the "Tactical Order System" of previous games (as well as the entire "Striker" system) and brings fighters from both the "Orochi Saga" and "NESTS Saga" arcs together for the series' second non-canonical "Dream Match".
The game was ported to the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, a well as later remade under the name The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match.
The King of Fighters 2000 plays like a traditional 2D fighting game using four buttons: Light Punch (A), Light Kick (B), Strong Punch (C), and Strong Kick (D). Most of the gameplay remains the same as its predecessor, with some new additions and changes (including updated movelists for all characters).
The game includes two team-based modes (which can be switched by the arcade operator or in the home version):
- Team Mode - Players choose three fighters for their team. Prior to each match, each player chooses the order each fighter will fight in. Fights are played in single-elimination rounds, with the winner of each round receiving some of their vitality back. The match ends when all fighters of one team are eliminated.
- Single Mode - Players choose only one fighter and fights are played in traditional rounds (one-round, best-of-three, and best-of-five).
Main Changes from King of Fighters 2001
- "Tactical Order System" and "Striker" systems removed entirely. Power Gauges changed to reflect this.
- MAX Mode returns, allowing access to numerous attack cancels and special MAX Super Special Moves and new MAX2 Super Special Moves.
Each player has their own Power Gauge, displayed at the bottom of the screen. The gauge is charged mainly by performing special moves, but is also charged at a slower pace by both giving and receiving damage.
When a player fills the gauge up, it is stored and, if the player has less than their maximum number of gauges stored, a new gauge replaces it. Both players can store up to three gauges from the start, with an additional gauge for each fighter defeated (or round lost). Unlike previous games, all gauge progress is kept when a player loses the round.
Each stored gauge can be used to activate one of four things: a Super Special Move, a Guard Cancel Dodge, an Attack Cancel Dodge, a Guard Cancel Attack, or "MAX" Mode. An additional gauge is used for cancelling attacks into "MAX" Mode activations and for cancelling attacks into Super Special Moves (or MAX Super Special Moves if in MAX Mode).
The MAX Mode (as indicated by the fighter flashing bright) is a temporary (15-second) state where players have access to unique attack cancels (such as the ability to cancel normal attacks into certain special moves). During this state, they have less attack power (which is negated by their newfound combo techniques). They can also activate MAX Mode during ground-based attacks (costing an additional gauge).
Players in MAX Mode can cancel it into either a normal Super Special Move for no additional cost, or a more powerful MAX Super Special Move for one additional gauge. When the player has low vitality, they can also cancel it into an even more powerful MAX2 Super Special Move for one additional gauge.
- Holding forwards on the joystick wile pressing a Strong button at a close distance can make the fighter perform an unblockable throw. Strong Punch performs a forwards throw, while Strong Kick performs a backwards throw.
- Double-tapping the joystick backwards can make the fighter perform a hopping backwards dash, allowing players to widen the gap between both fighters. Double-tapping (and then holding) the joystick forwards can make the fighter perform a forwards run, allowing players to close the gap between both fighters at a more controllable pace.
- Pressing Down on the joystick quickly before jumping (or jumping during a forwards run) performs a more effective jump (as shown with the fighter leaving an "afterimage" trail). Tapping Up on the joystick (rather than holding Up) performs a shorter hop for quicker recovery.
- Pressing both Light buttons simultaneously (A+B) can make a forwards dodge used for avoiding attacks (including projectiles). Players can dodge to the other side of the enemy (for cross-up opportunities). Doing the same maneuver while holding backwards on the joystick performs a backwards dodge for quick attack evasion. It can also be performed at the right time while being knocked down for an instant recovery.
- Pressing both Strong buttons simultaneously (C+D) can make the fighter perform a knockdown attack that pushes away opponents (knocking them down in the process). While stronger than normal Strong attacks, it has a lengthy animation that leaves the fighter vulnerable to attacks.
With the removal of the Striker system, the game's roster is changed drastically from The King of Fighters 2001, bringing the total to 39 playable fighters, split into 13 teams.
Numerous characters were removed from the previous game, including Lin, Shingo Yabuki, Heidern, Bao, King, Hinako Shijo, Li Xiangfei, and Foxy. Returning are characters and teams from the "Orochi Saga" arc of the series, including Mature & Vice of the '96 Iori Team, Ryuji Yamazaki & Billy Kane of the '97 Special Team, and Yashiro Nanakase, Shermie, and Chris of the '97 New Faces Team. Rugal Bernstein also returns as the game's final boss.
NESTS Saga Hero Team
Orochi Saga Hero Team
- Kyo Kusanagi (also with an EX version, known as the evil clone Kusanagi, which is based on Kyo's movelist from The King of Fighters '95)
- Benimaru Nikaido
- Goro Daimon