Import Review: Hail to the king... of FIGHTERS. Baby.
The King of Fighters is the flagship fighting game series of SNK. Since 1994, they've given the gamer populace a KOF (and sometimes more) every year for an entire decade, until 2004. Starting after The King of Fighters 2003, they're now titled numerically and no longer annually released. This was done in order to ease off pressure from the schedule and hopefully prevent previous games from falling prey to the ?outdated' perception. Ah, KOF. One of the last bastions of 2D gaming and practically a poster boy for the old school.
Naturally, the jump to the third dimension was inevitable. In 2004 The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact was released, to celebrate their tenth anniversary. A spin-off from the main series, it was actually a 2D fighter masquerading as 3D. Visually it was 3D, while playing it would tell a different story. A solid and fast-paced game, it was easy to get into and good primer for those uninitiated into KOF or those who dislike 2D games. It also seemed to get lost in the shuffle, making this sequel a surprise. That's right: The King of Fighters 2006 is The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2.
Like all KOF games, there's a story but like all KOF games again, figuring it out probably requires searching for translated guides. It's better than most, since there are cutscenes in-game that try to tell a tale. All the standard modes are here, although in Versus, the 3-on-3 has no tag system, making KOF 2006 more like the older games in that respect. The Challenge mode has Time Attack, a survival mode, and a large amount of goal-based missions. Difficulty ranges from simply breaking a throw to beating Nightmare Geese who has an infinite power gauge and can only be damaged with more than two hits. Beating these Challenges nets you costumes, stages, and the self-satisfaction of triumphing over the impossible.
Not that the fighting system is complicated. It's extremely easy for anyone to pick up and play, since pulling off moves is a breeze. What makes the Maximum Impact games accessible to both veterans and new players is the inclusion of the combo-based techniques for every character. It speeds up the game greatly, as I might perform Kula's Diamond Breath and then follow up a series of punches and kicks. It's fun but also cheap, since juggling becomes commonplace and the power gauge fills quickly, allowing Desperation Moves to be used at reckless abandon. But since everyone can do it, I suppose that balances it out.
Remember how I mentioned Maximum Impact plays exactly like a 2D fighter? It's true. If you ignore the fact that you can sidestep, all the action's entirely on a linear plane. Feel like only using the tried-and-true moves from the 2D KOF's? Do it. Or are button-combos more to your preference? The ?Stylish Moves' are for you then. Or just mix it all up. Overall, there hasn't been much change from the first game, although there's the addition of a few things like parrying. If anything, KOF 2006 seems even faster and more balanced on terms of damage. The big boss for this one won't prove to be much challenge for experienced gamers but even newcomers will eventually figure out a way to beat him without much hassle. In a way, it's kind of disappointing. After all, it's called SNK Boss Syndrome for a reason.
KOF 2006 doesn't look all too different either, but like the combat system, the visuals have been refined. Character models look sharper and the CGI intro and ending are a blast to see. However, there is some notable slowdown while performing certain moves and every time before a match starts (or even when there's a new fighter in Versus) there's a loading screen. Good thing the loading screen has a great portrait of a random character since you're going to see it a lot. You'll be duking it out to the rocking tracks by Toshikazu Tanaka, who did the music for the first Maximum Impact, as well as the Metal Slug series.
The small roster of the previous installment (for a KOF game) has been expanded with up to 38 characters in total: twenty-four in the regular roster and fourteen as unlockables, although it should be noted that four of them are alternate versions of characters. Brought in from SNK's character vault, you'll be able to play as British badass Billy Kane, Metal Slug's Fio, Samurai Shodown's Hattori Hanzo, and more. Like before, the completely new additions have been designed by artist Falcoon, who is also the producer for the Maximum Impact series. Luise Meyrink gracefully floats around like a butterfly while unleashing death, Nagase is based off Falcoon himself, and Ninon Beart is Mignon's younger sister who happens to be a witch as well. Crazy isn't it? Then again, KOF never really was too grounded in reality. With the presence of Kula Diamond however, I do wonder why the entire K' team is in this. Nothing against Kula, this just means there are two full teams in the roster, the other being the Ikari team comprised of Leona, Ralf, and Clark.
The cast has enough variety for anyone to be able to find their characters of choice. Compared to the classic characters, the new ones still feel slightly odd to play (this includes people like the Meira brothers or Lien). Their designs also seem rather gaudy and?flamboyant? It's not too distracting though, as by now we've gotten used to Benimaru and Ash Crimson. Some of us, anyways.
If you don't like how they look, you could always take the time to unlock more costumes. And there are a lot of costumes with a lot of fan-service. Turn Mai into Samurai Shodown's Cham Cham! Want more stages? Unlock those too by grinding through Quest Survival and Missions. Yes, you're going to have to work in order to get everything and yes, it will be hard. Good things come in time, right?