The King of Fighters franchise has been going since 1994, and has remained faithful to it's roots since with 2D sequels plentiful. However, obviously keen on updating the franchise, SNK has developed the first 3D King of Fighters spin-off title, and while it may look a little different, it's still very recognisable. Some huge 3D fighters have been released in the past year, so is the 3D update of King of Fighters title worth it? Or should you stick to Tekken 5?
The main drawcard of King of Fighters Maximum Impact - Maniax is obviously seeing your favourite characters in 3D. But whilst the characters are 3D, the title still basically plays like a 2D fighter, although there are some slight modifications to the system to made some moves 3Dish. The storyline is rather formulaic. Rival gangs are at war, all vying for the chance to rule the underworld of Southtown. A small group destined to take the city back has established a meeting with the maniacal leader of the most powerful gang, 'Mephistopheles' - striking fear into everyone who tries to pronounce their name. There is one condition: to be in this meeting, one must prove themselves by defeating the greatest fighters in the world. It's nothing we haven't heard before, but most people don't play fighting games for a storyline. And those that do are awfully strange.
Another major change is that the game is a one on one fighter akin to a traditional Street Fighter or Fatal Fury game, not a team battle game like the yearly installments of the real KoF series. There are nineteen characters in Maximum Impact with some new ones added to the mix. SNK's included plenty of modes to delve into; the Story mode, VS battle, Survival, Practice, Training & a Mission mode. Aside from their original costumes, each character also has a bonus costume. These costumes look great and it's a funny feeling to see all the characters in costumes that are different to what they are normally in.
The Mission mode is divided up into four levels and sets of missions. Each mission gradually gets harder, and once a mission is completed the player is rewarded. However most of the rewards are just costumes - we would have appreciated more unlockables such as new modes or an unlockable mode, to play the title in 2D. Some of the challenges in the later missions are excessively hard, and take a long time to complete. The first few missions are simple, such as requiring 2 rounds in a row to be won, or a certain combo to be completed.
The biggest addition to the Xbox version is online play, otherwise it's basically the same game that was released on the PS2 six months ago. We tested the online play and it was smooth with zero hiccups. The gameplay is also really fun in online play and this is a feature that should be retained for future King of Fighters titles. It should be noted that there weren't many players online, although we're hopeful this improves once the game is released in PAL regions. Everyone we came across was insanely skilled as well, so we'll be pleased when casual gamers go online.
The graphics in the game are genuinely decent. Only when there is a lot happening on the game does the action falter. Full 60HZ support has also been included, so PAL gamers haven't been left in the dark. Some of the best parts of previous KoF titles have been the backdrops. Whilst they look good, they just aren't as good as previous titles in the series. The character models look great, a lot of detail has been put into making them look like true KoF fighters.
The sound in the game could have been a lot better. For the Xbox version SNK have included the original Japanese voices of the characters, which is definitely a welcome inclusion. Whilst the English voices are acceptable, they're simply not as good as the Japanese voice overs. The banter of characters also becomes repetitive way too quickly, and the amount of phrases is far too limited - it becomes irritating hearing the same line for the millionth time, surprisingly. The musical tracks are a bit hit-and-miss as well, and we feel that they definitely could have been a little better.
Whilst the game has made the jump to 3D it has retained the appeal that the previous 2D fighters had. In terms of moves there's a new knock back attack and players can now move sideways. There are also four different jump moves. A criticism of previous KoF titles has been that once the player is being attacked in a combo it can be a little difficult to get out of the combo. Unfortunately this is the same in this title.
SNK has included five difficulty levels so novice players and experts with the series can get the same amount of enjoyment out of the game. Once it gets up into some of the higher difficult levels it's insanely hard though, so this fighting game is definitely not a pushover. In the unwritten tradition of KOF titles, the boss fight at the end is also one hell of a battle.
KOF will take novice players, as well as experienced players, a decent amount of time to complete fully. There's 40 missions, unlockable costumes and many game modes. Those who are devoted to collecting everything will want to play through all 19 character's story modes and then play it all online. Huge fans of the series may get hours out of just playing online. There is definitely no shortage of things to do in the game.
King of Fighters Maximum Impact - Maniax isn't necessarily a bad fighting game, it's just that it has gradually been eclipsed by franchises such as Tekken, Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive. Fans of the franchise may find it brings back memories, but may also be hugely disappointed by the 3D transition. Now the game just feels like a formulaic 3D fighter, with few unique features to offer.