Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: March 21, 2006
If you follow fighting games, you already know that SNK's been some busy little bees as of late. In an ironic twist, they've been busy porting just about all of their more popular Neo-Geo games to the Microsoft Xbox as of late, including the Metal Slug series, SvC: Chaos, and King of Fighters. The latest KOF game to hit the big black box will be King of Fighters Neowave, which is actually the first post-Neo-Geo 2D fighter that the company has produced. This was pretty much a test run for Sammy's economical Atomiswave arcade hardware, and as such, shows the baby steps that the company took with the new machine — especially with regards to the ultra-recycled sprites.
Neowave's roster boasts roughly the same cast as King of Fighters 2002 — a dream match spanning KOF's significant storyline sagas and character additions through the years, with accordingly-themed teams. (May Lee, however, is not included, and will be forever missed.) The game goes back to the standard three-on-three format, with the losing team being whoever runs out of characters first.
While Neowave takes most KOF mechanics back to basics, it also spices things up with new ways to play. The game has three fighting systems, smiliar to the "grooves" in Capcom vs. SNK 2. They're taken from older SNK fighters so that people can feel right at home playing Neowave no matter what other SNK fighters they're used to playing otherwise.
First up is Super Cancel Mode, which is similar to King of Fighters 98's Advanced Mode. Three super meters can be filled and stocked, allowing an arsenal of Super Techniques to be used at your leisure. You also have the ability to "cancel" specific specials and Super moves into other Supers and techniques in the middle of their execution, hence the name of the mode itself.
Max 2 Mode is similar to Street Fighter Alpha 3's X-Ism, or Samurai Shodown's Rage Gauge. In this mode, you only have one super stock, and the ability to unleash a single devastating attack when the meter is full. You also have the option to counter attacks even while blocking, with almost zero risk outside of a small cost of meter.
Finally, Guard Break Mode will probably be the mode most hardcore fighters will use, because it's modeled after one of SNK's more beloved fighting games, Garou: Mark of the Wolves. The ability to use Just Defense (which is, essentially, a better-executed version of Street Fighter 3's Parry maneuver, allowing attacks to be rendered useless with a single well-timed flick of the joystick) with mainstream KOF characters is more than worth the price of admission.
Available in every mode is a special "Heat Button" that can be used to activate "Heat Mode." In Heat Mode, characters deal more damage, but life decreases gradually — it's kind of like putting your fighter on overdrive. It's up to you if you want to use this mode; while it can definitely turn the tide of a match, it can also hasten your downfall if you don't use it wisely, or if you don't have the skills to back up your newfound power.
Unlike some other SNK Xbox offerings, Neowave has minimal load times, and also comes with a modicum of frills to keep you busy. Unlockable character art is here, but it's only the tip of the iceberg — you've also got a full character color edit tool a la CvS2, and the ability to set the graphic level the way you want, from the screen size to the filtering on the sprites so that they won't look quite so much that they've come from a decades — old 16-bit videogame machine. Of course, if you're using a high-definition monitor, they'll look as such no matter what, but it's the thought that counts, and people without high-def will still benefit.
Finally, what SNK fighter these days would be complete without Xbox Live support? SNK is dedicated to recreating the competition that made their games so popular in the first place, even in a brave new gaming industry where arcades are almost extinct outside of Japan. As usual, you'll be able to challenge friends and unknowns over a broadband connection.
With other games like KOF '94: Rebout and KOF Maximum Impact 2 on the way, the SNK online fighter juggernaut is rolling along with no signs of stopping. If you enjoy quality fighters without the fat, or are just looking to complete your fighting collection, then be sure to check out this title, which drops a month from the time you read this article.
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