I’m not sure when the Game Boy Advanced stopped automatically impressing me with its graphical wizardry and started getting my skeptical sideways glance. The little thing is such a wonder, the backlit version even more so, that it can be difficult to see past the fact that, “Yeah this game kinda sucks, but look how great it looks, Mr. Stranger on the Bus Sitting Next to Me!” King of Fighters is in my sights. Yeah, it’s pretty but is it fun?
The first thing I noticed was the 2D graphics. While a number of GBA fighters feel the need to go 3D (i.e. Mortal Kombat) Marvelous Entertainment’s KOF embraces its 2D roots and shows us that eye candy comes in every dimension. Colors are vibrant and characters are clear as they bounce around your tiny screen. The stable of fighters is HUGE and their arsenal of moves fills me with shock and awe. It’s too bad I don’t have much of a reason to use those moves but we’ll get to that in a second. The game does a great job capturing the slo-mo/still shot look and complex moves from the arcade classic and even preserves a lot of the humor that the series is known for (though I’ve never really found it too funny myself). The garish colors and 80s hairdos go a long way toward keying you into the fact that you’re in for a romp when you plug the little cart in. Cool moves like Sakazaki’s Tiger Flame Punch is a classic that devastates your opponent with a wall of flame. Then there’s the equally cool Conquest Puncher, a Super Special Move that’s a lot of fun to execute. All you have to do is push the direction pad right, left, left/down, down, right/down, right and press the punch button. Well, it is a Super Special Move, after all. Each character has their standard move, a Special Move, a Super Special Move, Striker Mode (a tag-team system), Counter Mode (unlimited use of Super Special Moves) and Armor Mode (which makes you essentially unmovable). That’s a rich set of moves in the end – especially for a handheld.
However, the single player aspects of the game are plentiful, filled with promise but ultimately unfulfilling. There are six single player modes including Team Battles, Single Battles and the usually fun Survival. So with 18 characters, dozens of moves, good graphics and lots of modes of play, how can it go wrong? With all of this promise the single player aspect of KOF is two dimensional. In a bad way this time. I like a good challenge from the get-go in my fighter games. That way I can develop a good sense of which characters I like and which ones will be my eternal arch-nemeses who will forever be relegated to the hottest corner of hell upon every defeat by my hands. From the beginning I found myself getting through far too many levels of survival – always a sign that the developers either screwed up and didn’t make the game hard enough, OR they knew exactly what they were doing and wanted me to sit there and play their game into the 57th level to find a challenge -- which I don’t have time for. Indeed, ALL of the single player modes are just too much on the easy side.
I didn’t get a chance to play the multiplayer version, but I’m sure it’s a hell of a lot more fun. Having a human with all those moves at his disposal would no doubt make for more interesting fights. It’s just too bad the good controls, nice graphics and deep arsenal of moves couldn’t be utilized well in the single player version.
Overall, the port is a good effort, but it could have been a classic. Marvelous should go back to the drawing board and make a sequel that’s more of a challenge to fighter fans.
Great graphics with tons of moves and characters. And far too easy. It would have been nice if the game required you to learn all the sweet moves to win, but all you really need is a punch and a kick to beat the computer.
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