Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: April 18, 2006
I hate to admit this, but it's true: I am an alcoholic.
I mean, a 2D fighting game apologist.
It's true. I'm one of those people who tries to come up with reasons why it's perfectly fine that every developer besides Arc System Works has refused to create a new sprite in the past eight years. I think the King of Fighters series is enjoyable, despite the prevalence of unintuitive, space-reliant special attacks and, in some cases, 12-year-old sprites (12!!!).
Let me tell you why: It's all about gameplay, fanbase, and a cracked sense of loyalty. The mechanics, in the best series (i.e., the only franchises still in production) are constantly refined, with the hopes of improvements, with each incrementally improved release. These tweaks are often impenetrably refined for the newcomer, who understandably scoffs at such improvements, but the fans, we eat this stuff up (and, inexplicably, we ourselves scoff at Dynasty Warriors and Madden players). The storylines are moved along in the same obscure manner, not clouding up the main point of these games – think chess, simplified, and played at lighting-fast speeds – while creating surreal, comic book-like continuity.
The developers themselves are often populated with old Japanese fans who are living the dream; how can you get more loyal than that? Of course, that compounds the problem of attracting new players, because the guys on the inside are often too loyal, and they don't want to move their games into unfamiliar territory. Think about how the fans reacted to the Street Fighter concepts transported into King of Fighters 2003. Better yet, remember how you felt when your favorite characters were stripped and replaced in Street Fighter III (think back further, before you realized it was the most refined 2D fighter ever made).
Out of the "big three," Arc System Works, Capcom, and SNK, Arc takes the most risks; Capcom creates the most refined games, and SNK; despite sprawling continuity and some of the strangest basic gameplay concepts, has barely budged artistically in almost 15 years. Neowave is the first King of Fighters game on hardware other than the 14 year-old Neo-Geo MVS board. This should be a major landmark, along the lines of Street Fighter III: New Generation, but it comes off more like Capcom vs. SNK 2 did: ugly.
If fresh gameplay were involved, as a title like Neowave suggests, perhaps the rehashed 1994-1997 sprites wouldn't be so hard to take. Instead, we have King of Fighters 2002 – the last great King of Fighters, according to most fans – rehashed for the latter half of the decade. Literally, this is King of Fighters 2002 with slower gameplay (not good in this case, as 2002 was slow enough as it was) and atrocious 3D backgrounds that recall the worst nightmares you've had about Capcom vs. SNK 2, except everybody looks as out of place as Morrigan did.
I enjoy King of Fighters games. I don't mind their slow progression; they work on a different level than most retail games, and in a way I appreciate that. They ignore almost every progression in gaming, isolated from everything but other 2D games. King of Fighters 2003 was even reminiscent of Street Fighter III in some ways; so why can't SNK allow themselves to move further in that direction? I can understand ignoring Soul Calibur, even Virtua Fighter, but Street Fighter has always been the benchmark that SNK should be trying to catch up to. The best they've done is nearly match 3rd Strike on a technical level with Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. Neowave ignores Street Fighter III as well as anything Arc System Works has done, well, ever, even though it shares the same hardware as the beautiful Guilty Gear games do.
The only real reason to play this game is because you can't play 2002 on Xbox Live, while Neowave is readily compatible. With the 3rd Strike community still dedicating a great deal of time to Live matches, why would you want to jump from that game to a lesser one? This isn't just a matter of animation; the gameplay is years ahead of Neowave, despite being seven years younger. Seven years! Perhaps 2D fighters, where SNK is concerned, really are a decade behind everything else.
Sadder yet is the fact that this may be the final 2D King of Fighters game to come to the U.S.; "King of Fighters 2006" is, in the U.S. and perhaps Europe, actually what is being conceived in Japan as King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2. Considering how that franchise has been received so far, it may be their one and only attempt to canonize the Maximum Impact universe. After all, the small, hardcore King of Fighters fanbase aren't the type of people who pick up these games without an incredible amount of background knowledge. If anything, this move will throw a few hundred thousand dollars toward online import retailers that they wouldn't see otherwise.
It was kind of SNK/Playmore to bring this game to U.S. shores, so I'm not going to cut them down personally. They are trying to satisfy who that would rather not miss out on games – at least one more time before the ultimate insult of re-branding a reviled series as a revered one with the flick of a wrist, as they have planned. If you do buy this, buy it for Xbox Live compatibility. I can't recommend it over King of Fighters 2002/2003, which you could find on clearance for much less than Neowave.
More articles about The King of Fighters Neowave