With the resurrection of SNK as SNK Playmore, the entire series was reinvented anew. Inspired by the Capcom Versus series, The King of Fighters 2003 finally features proper tag battles, allowing to switch back and forth between any of the three characters during battle. The action has been sped up quite a bit too, making for a faster game overall. One character in each team of three is is designated as the “Leader”, which grants an extra special attack, the Leader Desperation Move. You can also perform combos between characters, calling one out immediately into the fray, which costs a power stock.
The new hero of the series is the girly-haired Ash Crimson, who can wield the power of green flames. He’s joined by newcomers Shen Woo and Duo Lon, who star as the heroes of the new “Sacred Treasures” saga. SNK also began melding King of Fighters together with Garou: Mark of the Wolves – Terry appears in his leather jacket uniform, and Gato and Tizoc appear in a KoF game for the first time. Chizuru also returns, alongside her identical twin sister Maki. The new main boss first appears to be Adelheid Bernstein, the son of Rugal, although the true boss is a demon named Mukai.
The music is much better than the previous two entries, and while it lacks the variety of the older games, it’s still damn good. The official artwork is all done by Falcoon, and is some of the best looking designs the series has seen. Mai jiggling is once again gone in the American arcade release, but implemented in the home ports.
The King of Fighters 2003 was ported to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Both feature arranged music and plenty of new 3D backgrounds, although the Xbox version also has online play. While many more serious fans prefer ’98 and 2002, KoF 2003 is probably the most newbie-friendly entry in the series, and is still incredibly fun. However, the follow-up, The King of Fighters XI, takes everything about this and refines it substantially.