2D fighting games have been making a comeback over the past few years. Long-time gamers that have spent a lot of their time at the arcade will most likely remember SNK’s flagship fighting series: The King of Fighters. After a long stretch of near-perfection, the series hit a small bump with the last episode, King of Fighters XII. The game was still very good, but it failed to achieve the same kind of greatness fans of the series were used to. Does this new entry finally raise the bar again?
For those of you who don’t know about King of Fighters or SNK, the solution is simple: Find a time machine and go back to the 90’s! Seriously though, SNK was one of the big players in the video game industry, even entering the hardware market with the ahead-of-its-time, but prohibitively expensive NEO-GEO. Its flagship series, The King of Fighters, was a cross-over between other popular fighting franchises by the same developer. Those included Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, and a lot of the characters involved in those games. That idea seemed bold at the time since it basically meant they were merging all of their franchises into one, but it turned out to be a pretty good move since the newborn series has seen a tremendous amount of success. SNK’s flagship franchise has, since then, made the move to consoles, and hasn’t been in that good of a shape these past few years, especially after the commercial failure of King of Fighter XII, perhaps in part due to an underwhelming critical response. Many people might have been surprised to see the company announce that a 13th episode was on its way, but here it is now and the results might not be what you expect…
The key element to a good fighting game is undoubtedly the gameplay. It comes as no surprise that SNK has spent a lot of time refining the mechanics of the game while still maintaining the core essence of what makes this franchise good. Fans will be happy to see such a large amount of different combos tied to each individual character. For newcomers, getting used to the subtlety of the gameplay might take some time, but once you are used to it, it becomes incredibly rewarding. Every character has their own set of moves and every fight lets you pick three of them, giving the game some sort of strategy element as it also lets you pick the order in which you want them to appear. That way, you can find your favorite character to counter the attacks of your opponent’s choices.
With 33 characters (some old fan favorites make their comeback but I won’t spoil the fun by saying who they are), it’s safe to say that exploring every bit of gameplay this title has to offer will take a really long time. The various modes are pretty straightforward. The main three are Story mode, which offers a bit of context to the fights but nothing extraordinary, an Arcade mode which just cuts to the chase and lets you fight right away, and an Online mode which lets you fight against other players from around the world. Other modes include a Mission mode in which you have to complete certain small objectives. These alternative modes are just small variations of each other and the meat of the game still resides in the 3 main components. One thing people might be disappointed in is the lack of a proper tutorial. Sure, the tutorials are there, but they aren’t nearly as deep as the mechanics they are attempting to teach. This results in a learning curve that’s so steep that it might discourage newcomers after a few hours of playtime. For those that will persist, though, the payoff is greatly satisfying. There’s nothing quite like going from zero to hero, and finally be able to beat those elite players that wouldn’t even give you a chance to win a single match online.
"...but with tight gameplay mechanics, a ton of content to keep you busy for a long time and a working online mode, this game easily obtains its “must-play” status for all fans of fighting games in general."
Speaking of online play, many King of Fighters fans have been very disappointed by the broken online mode in King of Fighters XII, and have been wondering if this episode would fix the problem. Well, the issue can finally be put to rest since KoF XIII finally gives us an online experience that’s worthy of the franchise. There’s still a few lag issues in some matches, but most of the time the experience remains flawless and extremely enjoyable. The online mode is pretty limited (it basically only features an online-enabled version of Arcade mode), but players will be so happy to finally get to experience this game online that it most likely won’t matter. Be sure to build up some skills before you try it out though it does not feature any sort of skill-based matchmaking, leaving inexperienced players up against the incredibly skillful King of Fighters veterans. I also noted that, on the PS3 version of the game, the online mode wasn’t extremely populated as of my review sessions but this could change with time.
As for the visuals, to put it bluntly, it’s a feast for the eyes. Using old school technology (2D sprites), the game manages to look absolutely stunning with its native 1080p resolution and vibrant colors that seem to pop out of the screen. It also helps that the game’s art direction is masterful as each environment has its own visual identity. The backgrounds are so pretty that they can even become slightly distracting during a fast-paced fight the series is known for. I found myself just staring at the “You Win” (or lose, if I’m being honest) for a while after each fight just so I could admire the level of polish that was put into giving life to these stages. It’s also worth noting that the game runs at a rock solid framerate and that we didn’t encounter a single graphical bug during our playthrough. In terms of sound design, SNK also excels. The game once again features a great, memorable soundtrack that even features a few tracks that fans of the series will immediately recognize. The various sound effects found during gameplay are also great. It only adds to the satisfaction of beating down an enemy when you hear every powerful punch and kick that your character connects.
All in all, it’s safe to say that The King of Fighters XIII is a welcome entry in a franchise that a lot of people feared might disappear after lackluster sales and a disappointing title. Fans will be happy to see the amount of fan service and overall polish that has been put into this title and newcomers now have the perfect opportunity to jump on board, and try out this classic series. Story mode might not bring much to the table, and the lack of proper tutorials might make this game a little bit intimidating to some but with tight gameplay mechanics, a ton of content to keep you busy for a long time and a working online mode, this game easily obtains its “must-play” status for all fans of fighting games in general. Good job, SNK! The King is officially back.
Release date : 2011-11-22
Publisher : SNK Playmore
Developer : SNK Playmore
Gameplay : Fighting & Wrestling
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