Developer: Noise Factory
Release Date: June 7, 2005
SNK's popular 2D fighter series, King of Fighters, finally made the leap from quaint sprites to full polygonal glory in the form of King of Fighters: Maximum Impact for the PS2. Now, Xbox owners can see what they missed and enjoy a few new features, not the least of which is full Xbox Live support. Heck, SNK even added the word "Maniax" to the title, which makes the full name King of Fighters: Maximum Impact – Maniax. WorthPlaying spent some time with a preview build of KoF:MIM, and so far, it looks like it has something for both casual fighting fans and loyal KOF followers.
The series has a loyal fan(atic) base, some of whom may think the update is borderline sacrilegious, perhaps even representing a kind of "selling out" to the superficial draw of shiny new graphics. Although the move has been made to 3D, KOF:MIM retains the feel of a head-on 2D fighting game. The first things that stuck out about this build is that developer Noise Factory has translated the series' speed and sense of style to the 3D arena quite well. Fans will be glad to know that there is no dial-a-combo system at work here. Instead, the gameplay involves quick combos and powerful specials that generally feel like you're playing a 2D game. So, if you've been worried that this series will suffer a sluggish 3D iteration like that other 2D fighting franchise, it appears you can rest assured. If you're familiar with the series, you shouldn't have any problem picking up KOF:MIM.
The meters used in the game work fundamentally the same as previous installments. Attacking opponents builds up a meter, which can be increased up to three levels. Depending on how much power you've built up, you can perform flashy and powerful special attacks. There is also a guard meter below your life bar, which drains as you block attacks, and if it's used up, you'll be left more vulnerable. It's a nice inclusion to keep the game focused on offense, because blocking is for wimps, right?
Some new moves are also at your disposal. For one, you can implement the game's sidestepping feature to perform parry/attack maneuvers. SNK has also added four different kinds of jumps, and a new "Knock Back" feature that lets you hit your opponent into the air.
The KOF series is known for team play, and KOF:MIM's versus mode carries on this tradition. If you're not familiar with KOF‘s team play, it works like this: you choose three different fighters from the game's roster of 19, and you lose a match when all three of your fighters are defeated. Unfortunately for fans of KOF 2003 and other tag-team fighters, you cannot switch your fighters in and out at will. Nevertheless, the team play mode does hearken back to the majority of the previous KOFs.
The story mode is played out by just one fighter, so no team play or group storyline is available here. Once again, the streets of Southtown are in peril, as gangs battle for turf. A power vacuum has been created, as Duke, the leader of the gang "Mephistopheles," vies for control and complete influence over all gangs in the wake of the death of Fate, a man who was the leader of impoverished Southtowners.
As for visuals, the brilliant character design of previous 2D KOFs has made the leap nicely to the polygonal realm. Character's animations and stances are instantly recognizable, from K's hunched stroll to Terry's Burning Knuckle. KOF:MIM doesn't boast interactive environments, but many of the backgrounds are detailed enough to make you wish they were. Staying true to the basic tenets of 2D fighters, there are also no multi-tiered stages.
Some nice extra features have been added to prolong gamers' interest. The series has never really been known for an extensive amount of unlockables and other goodies that console owners are used to, because the games have previously been mostly arcade ports. This console-native KOF includes more extras than usual. Each character has multiple costumes, which range from cool to crazy, and you can also add accessories to your character. For example, once you beat the game with Iori, you can opt to strap a guitar case to his back. At this point, the add-ons don't seem as extensive as VF4 per se, but any customization is appreciated.
Although the PS2 received the first version of the 3D KOF, it was missing online play. We weren't able to take this preview version online, but SNK promises to bring head-to-head fighting and tournament options to the table. You will also be able to pause the game and access your friends list very easily.
Other notable features are a new picture mode that lets you pause the game and take pictures of your fighter from various angles. If moving video is more of your thing, you have the option to save a replay of a fight to your hard drive for future viewing. Another little extra feature is the profile menu, where you can bring up background information on the game's various characters.
The sound is much clearer this time around. You can easily identify characters' taunts and reactions during a fight, and you will also be able to switch between Japanese and English voice acting. While the sound is clearer, the impact of connected attacks is a bit flat. It just seems that with the "bigger" graphics of KOF:MIM, attacks should sound stronger than little slaps. Whether or not this will be improved for the final version is unknown. On the contrary, many of the special attacks and combos sound a bit more powerful.
Just how much of an improvement the Xbox version will be over the PS2 version will be proven when we can take a spin on Live. KOF:MIM is scheduled for an early June release.