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.
If the story mode does anything right, it’s that it shows you exactly what you can expect from Maximum Impact. The journey (albeit short) allows you to gauge the other fighters and see a lot of the backgrounds. It allows you to admire how much time SNK spent on making the characters look good in 3D. But as good as the character models are they can’t make up for the uninspired backgrounds, which are a far cry from what 2D fans are used to. There is very little animation to be found in the background, and almost all of them are locations we have been to many, many times before in far better 3D brawlers – parking garages, alleyways, rooftops, clubs, airports, etc.
Once you get tired of the story mode you can move over to a number of other modes featured in the game’s main menu. There is the challenge mode, which has you trying to complete various missions in order to earn bonus items (which will eventually unlock new levels to fight in). There is also a Time Attack Mode which has you racing against the clock; this mode is pretty much the same as you remember it from just about every other fighting game before Maximum Impact. You can also practice it out before you make the full game investment, but most will use the Story Mode for practice.
The game’s best asset comes in the way of Xbox Live support. It doesn’t have the flash or flare that Dead or Alive Ultimate had, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an online SNK game. You can go one on one against just about anybody that is online, or can set up tournaments for people to compete in. Some of these online features are pretty cool, it’s just a shame they aren’t for a better game. Ultimately the online mode is the most compelling reason to keep coming back to Maximum Impact.
The game manages to be a pretty convincing polygonal port of a 2D classic, complete with a lot of familiar characters and their signature moves. But it’s obvious to tell that SNK had to make a few changes in order to offer a worthwhile 3D experience. For one thing, the game doesn’t feature any tag-team action, a staple of the King of Fighters game play. This feature (and several other less important ones) makes this game feel a lot more like a generic 3D fighter and less like the long-running King of Fighters game it’s supposed to be.
Maximum Impact is definitely a step in the right direction and shows that after a couple more tries we might actually see SNK competing with the big boys in the 3D arena. But as of now this King of Fighters game just can’t compete against the likes of Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive, and Mortal Kombat. It’s not a bad 3D fighting game, just one without any bells and whistles.
SNK isnâ€™t known for their 3D fighters, but Maximum Impact manages to stand out as one of their better efforts. Itâ€™s a fast-paced brawler that will remind you of the greatness of King of Fighters while offering a brand new challenge. Itâ€™s not the best fighting game on the market, but will certainly quench the thirst for those who are waiting for a better fighter!