ARE YOU OKAY?!
While most people were introduced to fighters with Street Fighter, my first foray into the genre was King of Fighters at a local arcade. I had no prior training or guidance, I kind of just jumped in, picked Andy Bogard, and had a ball. Before I knew it I had graduated on to a long line of fantastic SNK fighters.
But one of the former “kings” of fighting lost some of its relevance in recent years, especially with the much-hyped but bare-bones King of Fighters XII. Thank the stars SNK regained a lot of goodwill with the much-improved XIII, and nearly five years later, in what has to be a miracle due to its constant corporate restructuring, we have XIV.
You just need to get past the art style and you’ll be okay.
The King of Fighters XIV (PS4)
Publisher: SNK (Japan), Deep Silver (Europe), Atlus (US)
Released: August 23, 2016
Where have all of those good, beautiful, emotive pixelated characters gone? They’re lost to what we call the ether of “the budget.” Now, it’s not like you can’t make 3D art look incredible, but SNK hasn’t quite done its due diligence here like Arc System Works. It’s a shame, because there are so many great new designs here and they don’t really get the justice they deserve due to bland coloring, especially when it comes to skin details. It does have a few bright spots. While I’m not going to rush out and buy the soundtrack, it’s jazzy, upbeat, and gets me in the mood well enough. The menus are ace too, exemplified by the fact that SNK fit all 50 fighter’s command lists on the same screen.
Most importantly, I’m happy to report that the style doesn’t impact the actual engine in the slightest, and it still feels like a King of Fighters game. Yep, it’s still fast, intuitive, and combo-heavy (great OTG and cancel in that by the way!). The four-button (Punch and Kick x2) setup holds up, as you can easily run any alteration of a light or heavy variant right on the face buttons, opening up all of the triggers for ancillary shortcuts or macros.
You can still vary their jumps between hops, leaps, and “large jumps,” and cue up emergency evasions (rolls) to easily dodge projectiles or blowbacks to push foes away while getting hammered in a corner. I’ve also always enjoyed the way three-on-three fights are handled as you can change the order secretly right before a battle, adding an extra meta-element to the proceedings. King of Fighters makes you work for it, but it does give you the tools to succeed.
Word of warning for newcomers: it doesn’t feature the most comprehensive tutorial (everyone should just copy Skullgirls), but it does give you a decent enough grasp on the fundamentals, even if you have to practice the Climax (super) cancel tutorial a ton of times before you clear it. I didn’t get a chance to play many matches online, so I’m unable to accurately assess the netcode. When it launches I’ll report back, and while SNK says it is making it better than XIII (which isn’t hard), there is no rollback. In the meantime, you can take a gander at what the lobbies look like.
Okay, so it passes the hardcore test, but how is it content-wise? Well, it’s better than say, Street Fighter V at launch, but not by much. There’s a mission menu with three variants (trials, time attack, and survival; all standard old-school stuff), the typical versus mode (with one-on-one or three-on-three variants), plus offline and online play, and a campaign. I know all of you are champing at the bit on that last one, but let me make it clear that you shouldn’t rush out and buy it just for the story, if you can call it that. Kicking off with a J-Rock music video that basically just showcases the cast, it moves into a few short cutscenes across 10 stages, and that’s it. The final boss (who has some crazy OTGs that do half-life damage) is fun to fight, but since I was able to beat him on my first try it’s a fleeting fancy. The story mode is nice to have, but it’s more of an arcade mode and plays it safe.
Again, if all you’re looking for is a solid fighter, this massive roster has your back. Pretty much all of your old favorites return, but there’s a ton of new blood as well, including Sylvie Paula Paula, Hein, Xanadu, King of Dinosaurs, Kukri, Mian, Mui Mui, Love Heart, Alice, Meitenkun, Gang-il, Luong, Nelson, Zarina, and Bandeiras Hattori. Kukri is probably my favorite, looking like he’s a mix of something straight out of Kingdom Hearts and Gaara from Naruto. I also adore Maxima’s design, sporting an enhanced suit lifted (tastefully) out of Platinum’s Vanquish.
Some of their backgrounds are hidden behind “mysteriously unknown entities” like King of Dinosaurs, and Kukri, but nearly every character has some form of meaningful connection with the lore. Take Hein, a cat I don’t really dig all that much — he was recruited by Billy Kane and Geese to fight on the Howard Connection. Alice, an amalgamation of a few main characters, came from a pachinko game (as do Mui Mui and Love Heart). Tung Fu Rue, who taught Geese and Terry and Andy’s adoptive father, gains a few disciples. And Kim’s (one of my personal classic characters) master makes an appearance. It’s all pretty well thought out.
Others have been shuffled around, like the Dhalsim-flavored Duo Lon, who has been replaced by the female Luong. In other words, it took me days on end to try out all of these newcomers, much less pick up all the new tech from the old ones, so if you’re someone who spends lots of time in the lab you have your work cut out for you. I also think we’re going to be seeing a few unknowns in tournaments and in future iterations in years to come. It’s a fresh, good feeling to have as a KOF fan!
King of Fighters XIV falls somewhere between XII and XIII. It’s not exactly bare-bones and the roster is mighty, but the gaudy presentation and by-the-book story is distracting, and takes away a lot of the uniqueness of the series.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]