SvC: Match of the Millennium 

Release: November 30, 1999 | Size: 32megs 

Author: M.E. Williams

SNK Vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium is the 1990's arcade scene rolled into one brilliant package. More than just a dream match fighting game between the two legendary 2D game developers, MOTM is a tour-de-force of arcade goodness that includes multiple mini-games and other extras that will surprise and delight long-time SNK and Capcom fans. It's not hyperbole to say that MOTM is one of the best fighting games SNK has ever produced, bar none.

The 1990's rivalry between Capcom and SNK is legendary. Sure, there were plenty of other developers and publishers who were vying for your quarters in that era, but the rivalry between these two juggernauts was at the forefront of every conversation in your local arcade. "Wouldn't it be awesome to see Terry Bogard kick the crap out of Ryu!?" "Dude, Street Fighter 2 is so much better than that knockoff Fatal Fury!" When SNK and Capcom announced in 1999 that they would be partnering to create a series of versus crossover games, the fandom lost its goddamn mind! If you were a fan of either company, or both in my case, you had a lot to be excited for. This deal didn't come without a few caveats, though. 

In the deal, each company was allowed to use the other's stable of characters and their likenesses without having to fuss with licensing fees. This meant that SNK could freely use Capcom characters in games produced for this series, and vice-versa. While this deal worked out very well for Capcom with their wildly popular Capcom Vs. SNK series in the arcade and on the Dreamcast, SNK got the short end of this stick here - and it was entirely their fault. Rather than compete in the arcade space with Capcom at the beginning of this cross-over period, they decided to use their development dollars to create a trio of games for their new Neo-Geo Pocket Color: the two SvC: Cardfighters Clash games (one game with two different starter card decks) and SvC: Match of the Millennium. 

Despite these games all being very well received by both fans and critics, the Neo Pocket's writing was already on the wall by the time they released. When the SvC games launched in the West in late 1999, the Neo Pocket had only seven months left on store shelves before being phased out of the market entirely by an SNK who was in the process of a messy bankruptcy and buyout. By mid-2000 the Neo Pocket was gone from all Western territories, and by the beginning of 2001 it was also pulled from all Asian markets. The SvC games saw about one total year in retail before they unfortunately disappeared from storefronts the world over. 

Thankfully, emulation has mostly kept these games alive over the last twenty or so years, but that all changed when modern SNK announced a line of Neo-Geo Pocket Color digital downloads for the Nintendo Switch console in 2020. Because the original licensing agreement had long since expired, fans wondered if any of the SvC games would finally get a re-release in the modern era. In late 2020 it was revealed that the masterpiece title Match of the Millennium would see a release on Nintendo's hybrid console, and good thing too. This game is far, far too good to not be experienced by a modern gaming audience who never had the chance to play it over the last 20 years. 

There is a lot to say about this game, so let's dig in. 

Variety is the name of the game here, and while Match of the Millennium (MOTM) is first and foremost a fighting game, there are several game modes to choose from. 

Throughout the 90's SNK and Capcom both released a litany of fighting games, and many of these games had unique mechanics that became popular staples for their brands. When you select Tourney mode you are presented with three options that change the parameters of the game to match the three most popular styles of play from the era:

The options don't stop there, though. After choosing how you want your fights set up, you then get to choose your Style. You can think of the Style option as the "groove" or "ism" options in prior Capcom and SNK games. Your opponent is allowed to select their own style of play because it doesn't change the parameters of the match - only the mechanics.

The amount of customizability in game options may be overwhelming for players new to fighting games and/or the classic Capcom and SNK games MOTM is inspired by. That said, I encourage new players to just have fun experimenting with the options to find the playstyle that works best for you. There is no best way to play the game, and none of the options imbalance the experience. MOTM is very approachable for newcomers, but has the depth to satisfy long-time fighting game fans.

Despite having so many options that allow you to customize the mechanics somewhat, what does not change is the general button layout. Due to having only two buttons, MOTM utilizes a pressure sensitive set up similar to other Neo Pocket fighting games. The A button controls your two levels of punches, and the B button does the same for kicks. If you tap the button you get a light attack and if you hold the button you get a strong attack. The level of attack also affects the properties of your special moves, like in other fighting games. 

Despite the small size of the sprites, the game plays just as well as you'd expect a high-quality fighting game from SNK to play  - tight and responsive movements with great player feedback and hit-boxes that make sense. The great game-feel of MOTM is best felt by playing with a real Neo-Geo Pocket Color's amazing "clicky stick", which is an experience in its own right. You can read more about the amazing hardware design of the Neo Pocket in my system review.

When I said variety is the name of the game, I wasn't talking just about the mechanics. This tiny little game has a whopping 26 characters! Each stable of characters has 13 to choose from, with eight of those characters needing to be unlocked through gameplay. Characters include the most popular choices from their respective companies like Ryu, Ken, and Morrigan from Capcom and Terry, Kyo, and Mai from SNK. There are a few personal favorites missing, but in a game like this you rarely will see the underdog characters that I tend to gravitate toward; like Amano from Last Blade or Vega from Street Fighter (well, Vega IS in the game, but in cameo form only).

Extra characters are unlocked by playing through Tourney mode, but it does take a while. Each time you beat the game you presented with a puzzle board. With each playthrough more pieces of the puzzle are removed that slowly reveal a silhouette of a bonus character. You have to beat the game three or four times to uncover just one secret character. What character you unlock is dictated by whether you beat the game with an SNK or Capcom character.

Pro-Tip: Put the game in easy mode to open up the extra characters. The game does not penalize your rewards because you lowered the difficulty. 

Overall, this is one solid, highly playable, and fully featured fighting game. Even if you don't get into the rest of the content on the game (and you should), you will have hours and hours worth of enjoyment if you even remotely like fighting games. But what about the other modes?

Olympic mode is where you will find a host of additional game modes and mini-games that star non-fighting members of the SNK and Capcom casts. When you select Olympic mode from the menu you then have to choose if you want to take the Capcom or SNK set of challenges. When you select your path, you are then introduced to Karin from Street Fighter Alpha 3 as the Capcom team manager or Rimururu from Samurai Shodown 3/4 as the SNK team manager. From here choose Entry to select your mini-game. While the SNK and Capcom path each share three mini-games, each team has two that are unique.

Sparing mode is your typical fighting game training mode. While it's quite bare bones by today's standards, it gets the job done. That said, you'll be thankful it's there as MOTM is quite deep. With all of the Style options, you will have plenty of unique combos and moves to practice. It's surprising that a portable fighting game has a training mode at all, so count your blessings here.  

Graphically, MOTM is quite similar to the KOF R series on the Neo Pocket. All the sprites are created in that style, and cast members from the KOF series have their sprites directly pulled from that series. The Capcom characters look amazing in this chibi style, and everyone moves with fluid animation and plenty of personality. Outside of a few backgrounds, the ones on rotation are some of the most recognizable from Capcom's and SNK's most popular fighting games from the prior decade. They really look great on the Neo Pocket's tiny screen. Character portraits are also high-color (for the system), and all look great in their chibi style. It's not a stretch to say that this is the best looking game on the Neo-Pocket.

The sound design in MOTM is also top-notch. Music tracks, outside of a few, are all taken from prior SNK and Capcom games and remixed to great effect on the capable but simple sound processor. Sound effects are taken directly from the KOF R series, as well as the "voices" - represented by little chirps.

SvC: Match of the Millennium is a charming game, and a damned good fighting game. It feels great to play, has tons of depth and characters to choose from, is approachable even for new fighting game fans, and is a nostalgia bomb for those of us that grew up playing all the games that influenced this amazing little title. Every fighting game fan should pick this up on Switch (at the very least), even if you don't have much nostalgia for the 90's era arcade scene. There is a lot of fun to be had here, and with the Olympic mini-games and other modes, you certainly won't get bored. 

If you're a purist and you want this game on the Neo-Pocket, you'll be paying quite a bit out of your pocket. While you can pick up a loose Japanese cart for as little as $50, a full clamshell case version will cost above $150 in most cases, and a complete European version higher than that. A complete US version in the cardboard case will cost a little over $100. Is it worth all that? I say so only if you're into playing on real hardware - and there is something to be said for playing all Neo Pocket fighting games on hardware because of the clicky stick. At the end of the day, though, paying a few bucks for the game on Switch is a no-brainer, even for the most casual fans of the genre.