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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Fighting

 

Publisher

SNK Playmore

 

Developer

SNK Playmore

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2007

 

 

- One of the best installments in one of the best 2D fighting series

- Fast paced three-on-three tag gameplay, with a fantastic and expansive character roster

- Lots of endings to unlock

 

 

- Dated visuals

- Some characters still missing

- Unlocking bonus characters is a pain

- Progressive scan mode was removed from the US version

- Last boss is a huge pain

 

 

Review: NeoGeo Battle Coliseum (PS2)

Review: Godzilla Unleashed (PS2)

Review: The Warriors (PS2)

 

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King of Fighters IX

Score: 9.0 / 10

 

Since the release of the Playstation 3, SCEA has seemingly loosened its requirement on what games they're allowing to be localized, so SNK has been slowly releasing a lot of its older titles. Most of these have been anthologies (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, the upcoming World Heroes), but finally they've started releasing some of their newer games. After two years, The King of Fighters XI has finally it to America for the Playstation 2. It took long enough - the game's been in the arcades for awhile, but the Japanese release came out in the summer of 2006. It's certainy been awhile, but it's most definitely been worth the weight, because The King of Fighters XI is quite possibly one of the best entries seen yet.

 

king of fighters ix          king of fighters ix

 

The King of Fighters series has been around since 1994, with yearly installments up until just recently. At first glance, it may not seem like SNK had made much progress in the last fifteen years, but there is some improvement. In the arcades, The King of Fighters XI ran on the Atomiswave board, which is a huge big step up

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from the dated Neo Geo hardware of the previous SNK games. However, while the backgrounds are all high resolution (and very pretty), but the character sprites and animations are the same as they ever were, just upscaled and filtered. Thatís not to say the gameís ugly, because SNK is practically the master of 2D art design. The character artwork is 

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some of the best the series has seen, and the presentation is the cleanest itís been since KoF 99. The only major problem is that they removed the progressive scan mode from the Japanese version, so if you're playing on an HDTV, there are some weird interlacing issues that crop up.

 

>From a gameplay standpoint, again, it seems like the same deal - pick three characters out of a roster of forty-something players, many from other SNK games - but it's evolved drastically from older games. The King of Fighters XI uses the same tag-system featured in the last installment, KoF 2003 (which made it here Stateside for the Xbox and PS2 a few years back, bundled together with KoF 2002), so its fast paced action feels closer to Marvel vs. Capcom than any of the earlier installments. New to this installment is the skill meter, which determines how often you can use cancel attacks and builds separately from the normal power gauge. Out of your three selected characters, you can designate one as a "Leader", whose granted a special super move (called "desperation movies" in KoF lingo.) Thereís also a new type of cancel called a "Dream Cancel", which lets the leader character cancel a regular super attack into one of these leader desperation moves. If all of that went over your head, donít rry - theyíre all minor system changes that add to the depth of the game. Like the best of fighting games, The King of Fighters is as deep as you want it to be.

 

There are plenty of healthy new additions to the character roster - B. Jenet, the pirate lass from Garou: Mark of the Wolves has been added, as well as long-forgotten breakdancer Duck King. New faces include Oswald, a professional looking older man in a suit who uses cards as bladed weapons; Elisabeth, a Frenchwoman with an attitude; and Momoko, a little girl who looks like she stepped out of an 80s exercise tape, and fights with Capoiera dance moves. Also making an appearance is Eiji Kisaragi, the ninja who came from Art of Fighting 2 and had initially only appeared in King of Fighters 95. A couple of characters that were missing from 2003, like Kula and Kensou, have also been readded. One of the most original new fighters is Shion, a gender ambiguous kung fu fighter who can summon a spear out of mid-air and attacks with rope dart. While he/she poses a decent challenge when fought in singe player mode, the final boss - a white haired bishounen beast named Magaki - oozes of the uber cheap boss syndrome thatas infected SNK games since the beginning.

 

king of fighters ix          king of fighters ix

 

This is already a fairly good cast, but SNK has dug even farther into their collection of games and pulled out four more characters - Gai Tendo, the wrestler from the long forgotten Hyper Neo Geo 64 game Buriki-One; Silber, a monstrous grappler from the same game; Hayate, the boomerang-wielding fighter, and Jazu, the claw-wielding, mask wearing beast, both from Kizuna Encounter. All of these appear as hidden mid-bosses, who show up on the fourth stage depending how many super moves youíve finished off opponents with, and are playable after being defeated.

 

The only issue with the character selection is that many stalwart faces have gone missing. Andy Bogard is still gone. Joe Higashi has been ditched. Leona is nowhere to be found. Chang has finally been given the pink slip. Even Mai Shiranui is missing. To make up for this, SNK added several characters to the Playstation 2 version, including Robert Garcia, Geese Howard, Mr. Big (from Art of Fighting 2), Tung Fu Rue (from Fatal Fury), Hotaru Futaba (from Mark of the Wolves), and, thankfully, Mai. All of their sprites and move lists have been directly imported from Neo Geo Battle Coliseum - these new additions bring the total cast to over forty five characters.

 

Unfortunately, unlocking all of these extras is a bit of a pain. Youíll need to battle through the Mission Mode, where you need to win matches under a variety of conditions. In order to unlock Mai, for example, you need to fight a survival match between all of the other female combatants in the game, with your health restoration based on the number of super combo finishes youíve landed. Considering you canít change the difficulty level, many of these challenges prove to be unnecessarily difficult, and the whole ordeal just feels like a roadblock towards fully enjoying the game. Granted, the game takes pity on you if you try enough, and will eventually just unlock characters if you persevere, but it's still irritating. Itís not like there isnít a lot to unlock in the single player mode. Like all of the previous games, each team has their own unique ending, along with a ton of bonus artwork for finishing with different teams. Some of the stupider text issues found in the Eurean version have been corrected here too.

 

Though it may look dated, especially compared to Guilty Gear X, The King of Fighters XI is one of the best entries in the series - itís different enough from the older games to distinguish itself, has a full character roster, and is one of the most balanced entries to date (and you can adjust it to an Arrange mode if you find certain character too overpowering the Arcade mode.) Combined with an excellent soundtrack and the same stylish look that SNK is know for, this somehow manages to beat even Neo Geo Battle Coliseum as one of the best 2D fighters theyíve put out in a long, long time. And at a budget price - you should be able to find it for $15-$20 US, it's one of the best values out for the Playstation 2.

 

- Kurt Kalata

(February 26, 2008)

 

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