There are few companies more consistent than SNK; no matter what the game is, you always know what you’re getting yourself into. For years SNK was known for their popular 2D fighting games, generally offering beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds and well-animated characters. But while their 2D games have won them a loyal fan base, just about everybody can agree that the transition to 3D has been anything but memorable.
If they are going to compete in the current video game world, SNK knows they will need to master the art of 3D fighting games. So far this skill has not come naturally, which makes one a tad leery about each attempt. But with King of Fighters: Maximum Impact – Maniax in hand, I hoped that my beloved SNK would not yet again let me down. And while this is not the best fighting game on the market, it certainly shows a step in the right direction.
Right from the start Maximum Impact gives you control of 19 unique characters (with an extra boss character you can earn). For most of the characters this is not their first King of Fighters outing; we get all kinds of familiar faces, including Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, Kyo, Ryo, and Rock Howard. The characters themselves look good; they are given a good amount of detail and passable animation. Even with a few missing favorites (no Joe Higashi?) Maximum Impact manages to do a good job recreating popular 2D fighters.
Although the game is presented in 3D it never really feels too different from its 2D roots. Most of the moves are left intact and the 3D aspect doesn’t seem to play much of a role in the game at all. In a lot of ways Maximum Impact reminded me of first generation 3D fighters (like the original Virtua Fighter and Battle Arena Toshinden), many of whom failed to use the 3D as anything more than a visual style. That’s not to say that you can’t sidestep in 3D, but it’s rarely utilized (and a little awkward to pull off).
For the most part the controls handle well; the moves are easy to pull off and the punches and kicks feel as responsive as they did in their 2D world. Even the super moves (which are performed after you’ve racked up enough power) are fairly simple to perform, making the game especially easy to get into. There is a nice combo system here, and you can finally hit people when they are down – something new to the 3D King of Fighters. Although there are some interesting choices for button configuration on the Xbox control, Maximum Impact has solid enough control that will feel right at home to any King of Fighters fan.
Where the game loses some ground is when you actually get into the story mode. Although each character has a story (complete with intermissions), they are at best pretty stupid and at worst mundane and boring. No matter who you choose you are basically doing the same thing, which involves beating the crap out of a half dozen regular fighters and then go up against one of the least impressive bosses I have ever seen. It’s a recipe that fighting fans are used to; one I suspect many are pretty tired of.
At just about every difficulty level the regular fighters are pretty easy, generally putting up next to no challenge at all. As soon as you get to Duke (one of the lamest bosses of any fighting game I have ever seen) the difficultly sky rockets to astronomical heights, making him one of the most frustrating parts of this game. This is the type of character that can KO your butt in two direct hits, the type of boss that is almost impossible to hit and blocks almost everything. Unfortunately for Duke the ending he’s protecting is often not worth the trouble (and time) spent dealing with his cheap tactics.
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