King of Fighters XI Review (PS2)

Since 1994 SNK have been churning out their main fighter brand, King of Fighters. Its original characters, drawn from other SNK favorites of the day such as Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Psycho Soldier and the legendary Ikari Warriors, made it an instance success. This led to the release of a version of the game every year from 1994 to 2003 whereupon it continued to be released although with something of a more sensible schedule not tied to the calendar year.

Those come hither looks are to die for
Brains often triumphs over brawn

So it is with some relish that fans of the series will be looking to two releases from the King of Fighters stable this year, King of Fighters XI and King of Fighters Maximum Impact 2. Today we turn our attention to the former of these two releases. King of Fighters XI continues the story from the previous game where Mukai had stolen the Orochi seal and Ash had stolen the Yata Mirror (it will make sense to some readers I assure you). Although the dust had long settled from the high drama of these two events, there is once more a King of Fighters tournament arranged which brings the old favorites out of the woodwork once more, plus some new protagonists onto the scene.

To the uninitiated, fighting games can appear to be two players mashing their buttons and thrashing the joystick furiously in the hope of getting lucky and winning a bout. The truth of the matter is that whilst a proportion of players may well stick to mashing and thrashing, the majority go on to discover how developed and nuanced fighter game play has become.

King of Fighters offers the sort of nuanced play we have come to expect from our fighting games. Over the years the series has grown to great levels of complexity and ingenuity as it offered the player an increasingly wide choice of attacks to pursue. This is not just about learning and executing combo moves, to be really good at these games requires great timing to chain moves together as well as ingenuity to combine the right winning combinations and patience to bide your time while blocking and countering the other player’s attacks. To that end King of Fighters lets you run, roll, short jump, guard cancel, empty cancel and finally quick emergency roll. These will obviously not make a lot of sense before delving deep into the game but do provide an idea of the sort of variety that is on offer here. King of Fighters XI then adds the quick shift, saving shift, skill bar and dream cancels. Quite a list we’re sure you’ll agree.

On top this you need to consider the cost of using a particular move. There are two currencies in King of Fighters XI: power stock and skill stock. Power stocks have always been there and are used up with offensive moves such as guard cancels and tag attacks; skill stocks are new and are used for defensive moves such as guard evasion or saving shift. It’s not rocket science but it does mean that it helps players who want to think a bit more in their fights as economic use of these moves will reap dividends.

The game offers a few modes: story, arcade, challenge, endless or tag modes. The modes themselves are pretty self explanatory and offer a good variety of gameplay. The challenge mode bears mentioning as it pits you in unusual, or as the name suggests challenging, situations from which you have to recover and win. All these modes employ the King of Fighters team rather than solo events, where you select three combatants at the start of the game and can switch between them mid-match.

Graphically, King of Fighters does pretty well for itself on the PS2. That said, as the action only takes place in two-dimensions there is a limit to how impressive the animations and effects can be. Time has certainly been taken to ensure a clean and clear interface that extends not just to the menus and options screens but into the game proper. The fighters each have their own icon and the various power bars and meters are clear and easy to read. There are still the remains of what you would have to call a Street Fighter aesthetic, but that is not bad thing although this does get a little garish at times.

Sound wise, things are also quite satisfactory. The background music fits the gameplay well, adding some more energy to the onscreen action and moving things along nicely. The sound effects during the fights are probably the highlight; these not only add a physical feel to the different moves but add a lot of character to each of the fighters which each have their own sounds bits and taunts.

Well laid out screens and clear visuals
Nothing like a bit of pre-fight dress up!

Overall, this game has a lot to live up to with its older siblings in the arcades. The PS2’s D-pad or analogue sticks are always going to struggle in comparison to a proper arcade joystick controller. The Dual Shock’s buttons too are a poor reflection of the large micro-switched arcade artifacts that respond so well and provide a greater amount of travel for each press. That said, it does a damn good job of fighting its corner. Pretty much everything that could be done has been to make this a viable next iteration for the series. If you have played other King of Fighters games and are curious to see how the series has developed this is a great game for you. If you are new to fighters, you will have to be willing to invest a significant amount of time to get the best out of this game. For those that do have the time and patience though this, like other fighting games, delivers an experience that opens out and out as you discover layer upon layer of fighting ingenuity that will keep you coming back for more.

Top Game Moment:
Settling on my favorite character with a friend in multiplayer and discovering we were closely matched. Challenge upon challenge later we discovered not only had we pretty much missed a whole night’s sleep, but that there was still very little to separate us.

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