King of Fighters XIV Review
King of Fighters has been around for a long time, and while it hasn't ever really reached the societal popularity that Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat has, it still has quite the pedigree and a throng of dedicated fans. The series spawned from a combination of characters from Fatal Fury and the Art of Fighting serieses, and has always had a strong rivalry with Street Fighter. While Street Fighter dropped the hand-drawn style a while ago, King of Fighters continued to push the envelope with high-definition hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds up until now. They had put out a couple of 3D fighters a few years ago as a side project, but none of the numbered titles had ever been full 3D models. King of Fighters XIV jumps on the bandwagon this year, trading the hand-drawn styles in for a more modern look. Will fans of the classic series be able to handle the transition? Can King of Fighters translate it's unique style to three dimensions?
King of Fighters bucks a lot of trends of modern gaming. Despite the three dimensional design, the game plays like a traditional 2D fighter. Even the backgrounds animate like the old hand-drawn styles. Background characters have repetitive animations that harken back to the series history. Fights are three-on-three with each character getting one life bar, regardless of how many rounds they've gone through. The game boots up with 48 characters from the get-go, not hiding them behind DLC or the like. One run through the story mode unlocks the two bosses, and every battle you play nets you a random unlock in the gallery. With the world full of microtransactions, it's good to see a game that feels complete from the get-go. I remember playing Mortal Kombat X and seeing characters I didn't own on the select screen, screaming GO TO THE PLAYSTATION STORE NOW! King of Fighters has a diverse cast with completely different approaches to victory for each one, ready to go from first bootup. There appears to be some DLC on the way, costumes and potentially some extra characters, but 50 characters off the bat is rather impressive. On a side note, I've read some articles stating the developers have pointed out they are not censoring anything for the international release. Not that I need it, but with all the worry that has come from edits, like the infamous Mika butt-slap or the balancing of breast jiggle in other games, it's good to see a game comfortable in it's own skin and the artistic design of it's developers.
The game has all the traditional modes, such as story, versus, training, online, et cetera. The story mode is just as pointlessly vague as many fighters these days. At first run, it's hard to know why we should even care about the tournament story, or why the surprise boss even exists as a plot point. I personally didn't get to do any online matches, but local multiplayer allows for the traditional smack talk fun. I have always liked this series and how it gives you three characters to fight through, rather than round-by-round, resulting in some amazing comeback stories.
King of Fighters XIV plays like a solid 2D fighter. Animations can be a little stiff, but honestly that helps, because the quick-paced nature of a sprite-based fighter tends to get lost in translation to 3D, as the characters slow down and ruin the timing of the whole game. KOFXIV is fast and furious, allowing smooth 2D style game play with the new 3D models. As one of the last mainstream fighters to go polygonal, I know I'll miss the sprite based beauty, but I feel that the 3D allows some more dynamic action, such as zooming in on big attacks for dramatic effect. I also like that the zooms don't happen every time. That can result in a long-winded fight as you wait for the animations to complete. Battle starts and victory poses are clean and neat, allowing you to get back into the action quickly. Button mashers can have fun with the new rush mode (allowing combos by repeatedly mashing the light punch button), while fighter enthusaists will be able to show off their skills. There's a well-crafted in-battle pause menu with easy to understand combo trees for those who wish to transition up to a next level of fighting skill.
Overall, King of Fighters XIV is, of course, a fighting game, and with all the refinements in the genre, there's not a whole lot of tweaking one can do without losing the essence of what the series is about. I feel KoFXIV does a great job of straddling that line, offering a crisp new veneer over an old familiar classic. Regular followers of the series may be disappointed to see it fall into line with the graphics of all the other fighters, as the last game's crisp sprite animation has been replaced, but the new graphics are clean, pretty, and well done. So long as a good community forms online, King of Fighters 14 will provide plenty of awesome fighting competitions, but the base game has plenty of content to keep you busy if your idea of multiplayer only extends as far as your couch.
Thanks to the developers for providing a digital code for review.