King of Fighters IX
Score: 9.0 / 10
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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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