King of Fighters R1 is a scaled down and tweaked version of KoF 97 for the Neo Geo Pocket. It was made before the NGP Color so it is solely in black and white, featuring chibi interpretations of the characters they are based off. In total, it has a surprisingly large roster of 14 people to play as with all of them controlling very differently from one another. You can choose to either fight alone in Single Play or with two other allies in Team Battle upon starting the game. Taking a quick glance at the options menu will allow you to change the difficulty and the amount of time to finish a match.
For those not familiar with the NGP handheld, there are only two buttons on the thing which forces this series that is known for its complexity to be made significantly simpler. The A button is to punch while B is used to kick but it somehow manages to maintain the original feel of the characters with simple button mashing usually resulting in your doom. Low attacks, supers, special moves, air attacks and all the things that separate a Fighting game from a Beat em Up are here and accounted for. It is amazing how well they transition the series onto a handheld system with only two buttons and while easier to pick up, it is just as hard to master as it ever was.
The fighters are all detailed and instantly recognizable in their new chibi forms though the stages themselves do not fare as well. It has black bars on both the top and the bottom to make the important things such as the health bars and energy meters easier to see from the simple two color scheme present here. I have never experienced a frame rate issue, it always ran silky smooth while also having tight, responsive controls that helps keep the gameplay addicting. Playing this game, it is easy to forget you are playing on a black and white screen or that it is a scaled down version of KoF 97. As soon as a fight starts, all of that doesn’t make a lick of difference as you are all too focused on the great gameplay.
In single play mode it is just you against another enemy with the one that wins two rounds being the victor, for a more traditional fighting game experience. King of Fighters has always been known for its three on three battles and it makes a return via the team battle mode. The main difference in here is that the other characters currently not in the fight are not waiting in the background like they would in KoF97 due to being on less powerful hardware. Your teammates will show up only when your current character bites the dust and to be his/her replacement. There is no swapping out between characters like the Marvel vs Capcom series, in here you will go as far as you can with your first fighter. Defeating your opponent does regain some health so it is more possible than it sounds.
It does feature a story and is nothing memorable though it is sufficient for a Fighting game. I was unable to test out the multiplayer features but if you have a link cable you can go up against a friend. The sound effects are decent as is the music. All things considered, SNK did an outstanding job bringing the game over despite all the limitations. Once you pick it up it is quite the challenge to put it back down as it is just so much fun to play. There is a sequel called King of Fighters R2 that has colors and is based off KoF 98 but R1 is still a title well worth owning.