King Of Fighters is a proud and dedicated flagship title of legendary Japanese company SNK. SNK holds a special place in many gamers hearts. The pioneering developer of both software and hardware proud to keep arcade perfect gameplay and graphics with its NEO-GEO consoles and handheld counterpart the Pocket Colour during the post 16-32-64bit era. SNK went through the financial challenges of the early 2000s, the end of an era thought looming. The Playmore Corporation was founded. Acquiring all of the SNK licenses and franchises. Moving towards more fruit and slot machine markets until last year. The direction of Playmore steering the ship back towards software on the main consumer platforms. Driving success with smartphone titles such as the awesome Metal Slug Defense, garnering more than 2.5million downloads. In April of this year, gamers rejoiced as SNK Playmore came full circle branding itself as SNK ‘T
he Future Is Now’ its former slogan.
The first major release since returning its roots under the new banner is King Of Fighters XIV, the first new title for more than 5 years. KOF 13 was released in 2010 to the arcades with consoles releases in 2011. In this day of social streaming, triple A releases, broken on launch games, Does King Of Fighters 14 have the balls to wade back into the fighting arena and regain its equal dominance slice of the audience? A place dominated at the moment by rival/friend Capcom and their highly successful Street Fighter 4 and Street Fighter 5, the revival of Killer Instinct and with Tekken 7 looming. KOF 14 is packing heat with a huge selection of characters! 48 initially available. Many newcomers to the fray for the familiar players to get under the hood of, and the KoF illumine fan favourites in full force. Bosses in the form of the KOF tournament sponsor Antonov and a God of Fighting/Orge Tekken-like final boss called just Verse. Verse, tower of beasty character with a flaming bowl open his head and psychically controlled fists that fly about him, pounding you mercilessly into ground.
Gameplay modes include rather than the traditional arcade mode is Story mode, which counter to belief King Of Fighters has always had a story mode and arcs over subsequent games. Also a story than unfolds through the battles you have. KOF XIV was unveiled to begin a new story arc. We have new boss Antonov sponsoring the tournament, in what looks like a football stadium. Announcing a KoF tournament wrestling style belt and he its first champion. Japan-sentricity in full flow as the following cut scenes go about breaking the fourth wall, declaring the numerous spin offs have lead to a lowering of the quality of the main tournament. Antonovs assistant he refers to as one of the games directors, complaining that it has been too long since the last game. Before casually demoting him. I’m sure there is in-jokes to this and more. Antonov is enthusiastic with a big kinda goofy heart, hes a firm boss to brawl against.
Throughout the history of KOF, characters who have a history or connection, will have some banter and interaction before a bout. Where each year also the character would age and evolve, adopting new attire. Whilst their familiar costume was always selectable. KOF XIV does grant each character multiple colours albeit for the main recognizable outfit. Story mode allows you choose the KOF Team of your choice of the available roster. Groups and teams arranged together, for easy selection or go with a mix. Versus is either Team Battle or one on one. Training and Mission modes are a very welcome inclusion for those getting to grips with moves, specials and pro combos. Mission includes 3 further sub-modes, including the self explanatory survival, time attack and trials.
Online though no competitive play was available during the review period until release. The gameplay modes of Ranked Match, Free Match allowing up to 12 players in a round robin style lobby, Leaderboards, Online replays and a hugely welcome addition is Online Training, where players can work together developing strategies and skills. Including also Live spectating on current matches. A function criticized for lacking in KOF 13.
Mechanics wise, KOF which throughout its history has not been afraid to try something new with its power bar and Max systems. Yasuyuki Oda spoke in an interview with 4Gamer his goals are to series easier to play, for newcomers and catering to fans of the popular KOF’98, ’02 and KOF 13. Once your level gauge is one to 1, you can tap your R1 to activate Max Mode, ability to unleash EX Specials, charged up versions of your special attacks. Build up 3 bars to do Climax Supers. In addition is Rush combos repeatedly tapping LP whips out a fast multi hit combo, if you have a charged bar it will slap a special attack at the end, the damage of this is lower than a normal combo. This is a fast easy to pick up system, with many hidden depths.
Presentation across the menus is clean and clear, not cluttered. Modes are colourful and instant to play. A brand new game engine rendering the KoF fighters into 3D on a 2D field, akin to Street Fighters most recent outings. Suffice to say King Of Fighters stepped into the third dimension whilst retaining its 2D gameplay much earlier with the 2004 release of KoF Maximum Impact 1 and 2, both titles in the MI spin off did make it to western shelves with release on PS2 and the original xbox. KoF 14 brings them to life with crisp smooth animation at a high frame rate, with the 2D timings of techniques as they were. The backgrounds are a little plain and contain only subtle animations, in balance if they were any more overt they would distract the player from focusing on the battle.
One major facepalm of awkwardness is the announcing, you have a distinctly firm male voice announce ‘Player select’. The ‘Round One Go’ is by another who is male only he has a very effeminate voice accent, where on the ‘Go’ there is the addition of a female shouting ‘Go’. When the match is over and the last strike connected. A further voice commenter congratulates you or speaks as if its one of the characters or talking to one of the fallen, ‘Oh you knew you where going to lose’, ‘You were a great opponent, lets fight again’ a last bit of smacktalk you may think, frequently it is the wrong situation and sex speaking. At the end of round you receive a verbal pat on the back by the effeminate announcer saying ‘Well done, you win’ or ‘You did it, you win!’ where the guy shouting like he is an open space, throwing his voice to the microphone. Followed lastly by the declaration of ‘Winner’ at the end of the rounds with all opponents of the team defeated as if the guy is then in an echo chamber and getting shook around. Its all very strange, almost off putting as its so completely disjointed.
The art style has an interesting tale to tell, KoF has always had a realism factor even back in ’94 sprites were smooth and sort to mirror a realistic look through its art direction. Oda spoke of this is, in the preliminary reveals of KOF XIV. Deciding to move the art direction on release to more anime-like. More slight cel shaded and coloured. The player select screen has the character models are seen to the side of the screen, all having a very clean anime look. Running at a slick 60fps frame rates, with tight hit boxes as with a 2D fighter. KOF XIV plays like something special, daring to find out what else is under the surface.
The detraction is in your hands! D-pad is clearly more accurate for pulling off combos and directions, but those grooves are a thumb bleeder. Quarter circle back moving half circle forward to pull off a climax special will soon have you clutching to the analogue stick in soreness. Time therefore to check out the arcade sticks available and circular d-pad options of some third party controllers.
Fighting titles have come back bold and beautiful. The intimacy of one on one is a great allure, passing the pad like those classic days and even virtually too in the Free Battle mode are a welcome return. KOF XIV striving for a return to greatness. Welcoming the community to gather around. Add DefineKristian to your PS4 friends list and lets have a few rounds!
King Of Fighters XIV is published by Deep Silver Games in Europe available on 26th August 2016 exclusively on Playstation 4.