The King of Fighters XIV: review

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Once upon a time, when the internet was still new and computers had modems that screamed kryyIIIIIEEEUUHBZZZHGFFYGD in electronic pain, SNK hovered around the periphery of the games industry like a gold-plated fly. Or something. They developed several well-received beat ’em ups for arcade, with home versions available exclusively for their bank-account-wateringly-expensive Neo Geo console. They may have ended up doing a Sega by going software-only, but their decades of experience has led to this; one of the best beat ’em ups ever. There, we said it.

In keeping with King of Fighters tradition, characters from several different SNK franchises are here. So for example, you have the ponytailtastic Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury, Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown, Ryo Sakazaki from Art of Fighting, and even characters from non-beat ’em up games; characters including Ralf Jones from Ikari Warriors, and even characters from pachinko games. There’s a bunch of fighters new to this entry scattered into the mix too and, overall, the number of playable characters stands at an extremely generous 50 (including two bosses).

The immediate concern with such a large number of available characters is that they’ve all been cloned from just a handful of templates. We’re happy to report that’s not the case. Not only do they all look different, they all act and feel different, too. Yes, you get characters with immediately identifiable similarities, but it’s never a case of the same character in different pants. This is in no small part due to the fact that a large chunk of the roster has been taken from independently developed games released over the last twenty years or so. There is, as you’d expect, a fair variety in character styles too. Big and chunky ones, smaller ones faster than most, ones that rely on long-distance attacks, ones that are most effective at close quarters… there’s something for everybody and, while there are a few characters we quickly decided we don’t like, there are certainly other people out there with different playing styles who will love those that we hate.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I punch your face!”. One for the Regular Show fans, there.

Balancing 50 characters must have been a task less appealing than shaking hands with Donald Trump in public, but SNK seem to have pulled it off. The dodge button evaporates any potential remaining imbalances in a similar way to the one in Nitroplus Blasterz. Absolutely any attack can be evaded with correct timing and no, spamming it isn’t an option. Time an evade wrong, and you leave yourself open to brutal punishment from a skilled opponent.

You can go for a traditional 1-on-1 fight if you like, but a standard KoF match is 3-on-3. Each player gets three characters, the order of which is chosen before the fight begins. When a character gets knocked out the next round begins, with the winning fighter regaining a little health. The now-obligatory gauge which powers super moves carries over between characters. Last man/woman/dinosaur-man-thing standing wins. In this way, even deciding the order of your fighters could be that final nudge toward victory or defeat.

In terms of modes, KoF XIV still fails to disappoint. There’s a ten-match story mode, and the pre-release secrecy surrounding it becomes quite frankly hilarious once you’re faced with the total lack of substance to the storytelling (not that you’ll care). The daunting task of becoming familiar with all the characters is made a little less daunting by the training and mission modes which, between them, give you plenty of scope to learn moves, combos, and the small but important quirks of each fighter. There’s also a Survival mode and a timed mission mode, with your best scores uploaded to the online leaderboards so you can see how many thousands of people did better than you.

“I love this balloon, it’s awesome! Did you KNOW they made balloons this big? I didn’t know they made balloons this big.”

Online has been done well. You can simply practice with a friend if you like, a very neat touch. Unranked ‘Free Match’ offers 3-on-3, 1-on-1, and even Party Mode which is 3-on-3 but with each character controlled by a different player. The fighter lobbies are aesthetically basic, but allow a room full of people to do things such as spectate matches in progress and organise winner-stays-on affairs. We do have to say that a small number of matches we played suffered from severe lag, but you can see a room’s connection quality before you enter. You can even filter out low connections in your room search, which we strongly recommend you do. Yes of course there are ranked matches. Apply your filters and once a match has been found, you’re thrown straight in – no option to chicken out. So make sure you sharpen your skills before trying it!

Outside of play, online you can manage your profile, check your replays, watch other people’s replays, or even click through to watch people streaming their game. Part of your profile, incidentally, is your registered team. You can have up to three registered teams, which can be easily selected pre-fight in a free match (you can still choose any other combination of characters if you prefer). It can be a strain on the thumbs going through a grid of 50 faces, after all. Be aware, though, that your active team will be the one you automatically enter a ranked match with.

If you enjoy beat ’em ups, you need The King Of Fighters XIV. It really is that simple. It never even feels as though CPU opponents are cheating! Besides, why on earth would you not buy a game with characters called Terry and Ralf?

critical score 9Critical Hit

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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