Inside Pulse 12

Review: King of Fighters: NeoWave (Microsoft Xbox)

King of Fighters: NeoWave
Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Genre: 2D Fighter
Systems Released on: Microsoft Xbox, Arcade Coin-Op, Sammy Atomiswave
Release Date: 4/18/2006

In a day and age where a console lasts about 5 years (and things like the PSP or N-Gage last even less), it’s amazing to think that the Neo*Geo had games coming out for it for a little over 14 years. Alas, the SNK finally buried the Neo*Geo and started making games for Sammy’s Atomiswave. Now considering I own about 50 games for the Neo*Geo, there is no chance is hell I’m going to invest in ANOTHER system that has less games than the Phillips CD-I and whose software costs more than a Gamecube. Nope, with the death of the Neo*Geo comes the final nail in the coffin of my spending large sums on money on games that have been essentially the same for years now.

Luckily, SNK is appealing to the insane KoF zealots like me by porting King of Fighters NeoWave to the Xbox. A great move, if I do say so myself, as NeoWave is essentially a remix of King of Fighters 2002. KoF 2002, for those of you woefully ignorant, is arguably one of the greatest fighters ever made. Anyone who doesn’t put it in their top ten fighters of all time should hang their heads in shame because it either means they haven’t played the game, or they’re one of those people who think the Soul Calibur games have any semblance of difficulty whatsoever. Yes, I’m a 2D snob. At least I admit it. You want a REAL fighter, you come to SNK. When you can perfect Geese or Rugal, then you are truly a master of the arcade stick my son.

So how does the latest game in the KoF line (as well as the first 2D KoF game to veer off from the yearly legacy) stack up in the grand scheme of things?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Ouch. Story? Usually, SNK’s KoF games have a very detailed back story that puts other fighting games to shame. The problem is, the story never actually appears in most of their games, and only the true fanatics of the KoF games know where to find them.

With NeoWave though, there’s not even an attempt to put a plot with the madcap fighting goodness this game contains. There’s occasionally some dialogue, but you couldn’t filled a typed page with the trivial amount this game contains. The only thing I can really tell you about the game is that like in most KoF games, you have twelve teams of three competing (with no strikers, thank god.) to prove their team is the strongest. Then the winners fight a strangely hippie-fied and younger version of Geese Howard that hasn’t been seen outside the realm of Art of Fighting 2in a handicapped match. Of course, Geese doesn’t need a team because he is the man, even if I absolutely hate that they went back to this pretty maligned look for him.

As much as I love the game, there is no story or plot rather that the plot description you can use for every KoF game: People beating the ever-lovin’ crap out of each other.

If you’re looking for plot, a Bazooka Joe comic has more plot that this game.

Story Rating: 1/10

2. Graphics

Ah, the Atomiswave. You would think with a new system, there would be new graphics as well. Right? RIGHT? RIGHT????

Heh. No.

Oddly enough, the games graphics have taken a step down from KoF 2k2 and/or 2K3. If anything, SNK is still using the same models they’ve had for over a decade now. It’s kind of disappointing, as we all know they’re capable of enhancing the graphics to something a little more up to date. I mean, KoF is one of my favorite franchises of all time, but even I get sick of the same exact graphics that I’ve been viewing since before I was old enough to vote.

The character face designs that you see in the openings and/or by your health bar are well done and are quite good for SNK standards. But they’re still well below what you would find on this generation of consoles. hell, the games could easily run on a Playstation or Saturn and the graphics would be exactly the same. Character models are jaggy, blurry, and simply going to turn off a lot of modern gamers because they’ve been brought up to think that graphics are the most important aspect of a game.

All this scorn being pushed aside, there is some obvious graphical improvement when you look at things like the background designs of each battlefield. They are generally highly detailed, lush with colour and easily outshine the character models. Sometimes it’s actually quite humourous to see the actual fighters on top of the level designs, because they clash at points. As nice as the backgrounds are, they only seem to enhance how dated the character models are after all this time.

There’s nothing ugly about NeoWave. It’s just a generation+ behind graphically from everything else out right now.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

Finally! I can start saying NICE things about this game.

Like with most SNK games, the music is catchy and enjoyable. The entire score fits the atmosphere of the game perfectly, where it’s a fast pace tune that mirrors the adrenaline and speed of the competitors, or the more somber music that you’ll find on a battlefield or two.

The voice acting, what little there is, is excellent in a cheesy “That’s our SNK! Ho ho ho.” sort of way. It’s cheesy, especially compared a lot of other games from this generation, but for a fighting game, it’s quite enjoyable and never fails to put a smile to my face. I s till feel the best voice acting in any KoF style game is in the Capcom vs. SNK games. Terry Bogard’s “Come on, Come on!” just gets stuck in my head.

I’ve noticed that the NeoWave score is available for purchase. Although I don’t necessarily think it’s something you should shill out fifteen bucks for, the music is still quite good, and helps to make up for the outdated graphics and complete absence of plot.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control & Gameplay

There’re a few changes from Kof2k2, besides a slightly different character roster. Here’s a quick rundown:

1. Guard Meter gauges are now in the game.
2. You have three modes to choose from for play: Super Cancel Mode, Guard Break Mode, and Max 2 mode. I strongly suggest Guard Break as it not only brings back the very cool “Defend” aspect from Mark of the Wolves, but newcomers will NEED the guard break special if they want to take out the last boss. Experiences KoF’ers will probably go for M2 mode depending on what characters they are playing as, or Guard Cancel so that they can switch up their specials.
3. Heat Mode. This allows you to do more damage, at the cost of your own life. Although a great thing to try out on fellow players, it’s not advised against the computer.
4. Some major AI changes. The computer will play characters differently depending on what mode of play they are in.
5. The biggest change of all is the most subtle. A lot of moves and specials have been tweaked. This will throw off even the most experienced SNK fan if they haven’t played NeoWave yet.

The game plays perfectly on a home console. Whether you are using the typical Xbox pad, the Sega Saturn Street Fighter pads, or a big honking arcade stick (which was my preference), the controls are very tight. The only problem I ever had during the entire time I played through the game was in the fact that the system would have your character jump straight up instead of forward due to a misread every now and then. This only occurred in M2 mode for me, but as you can imagine, an error like that can mean the difference between life or death. That’s pretty impressive when you consider the fact Capcom has YET to release an arcade quality port of any of the SF2 games.

NeoWave continues to impress upon gamers what’s become known as the SNK stereotype: excellent gameplay, but subpar graphics. For me, I’d prefer a game to play well rather than look well. Besides, there’s a higher percentage of quality on the 16 bit systems than on the current ones.

Control & Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

With 43 playable characters, and hundreds of 3 on 3 battles to fight, NeoWave has enough just in the main game mode to last you for quite some time. Factor in that you can also have a one on one battle mode, and “endless” challenge, you’ve got even more time to sink into this game.

Then there’s also 3 different modes you can use characters under: Super Cancel Mode, Guard Break Mode, and Max2 Mode. Each of these affects how your characters fight and what they can or can not do. I prefer Guard Break personally as it gives you the evasion tactics of Super Cancel Mode, while allowing me to eventually break the blocking of the more cowardly characters and gamers out there.

We also can’t forget that NeoWave features Xbox Live access. Online mode lacks a lot of lag that we generally see in fighting games on Xbox Live. It’s not without a few flaws, but for the large majority of playing via a broadband connection, you’ll find NeoWave to be quite enjoyable and drama/stress free.

In all, the newest addition to the KoF franchise on the Xbox gives you a lot of options, and you’ll be spending a lot of time honing your perfect team to take online.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

The AI of NeoWave is one of the bigger changes to the game. If you’re expecting the computer to play like it did in 2k2, you’ll be in for a shock. I actually got my ass handed to me the first two rounds against Geese. My Terry/Shingo/Yuri Team fell pretty quickly until it was Yuri’s turn. Yuri’s always been the character I dominate with, and she’s even better than normal in NeoWave thanks to the move tweaks. I love my wacky little Yuri, and I KNOW it infuriates the Geese frame rate monkeys to watch their usual perfect strategy go out the window against Yuri when she’s played right. Still I was pretty open mouthed when Terry and Shingo when done.

This proves a rule a lot of people have learned much to their chagrin: SNK bosses are hard, cheap, and generally pretty darn broken. That’s half the fun though. You’re overcoming psychotically powerful characters so that when you finally do win, you have a real sense of accomplishment or triumph.

Characters are unbalanced, and certain ones in the hands of anally retentive KoF fanatics can be nigh unstoppable. I wasn’t joking earlier in this section when I mention “frame rate monkeys.” These are not games for the average gamer or someone new to 2D fighting. They are meant to be hard, and require a lot of skill with an arcade stick. Still, the more you play, the better you get, and eventually you’ll have your own rhythm and specific team with which you’ll dominate. For a while anyway.

Not the most balanced game on the planet, but then, KoF games are never meant to be.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

The KoF series has been around since 1994. That’s twelve years of bishonen looking men and big boobed women beating each other up. Of course, they also come from other games like Samurai Shodown, Fatal Fury, and Art of Fighting, so there’s very VERY little originality left in the game. Sure, there’s some new twists to the gameplay and it’s finally a 2D KoF game not made for the Neo*Geo, but that’s it. The game’s basically a remix of KoF 2k2 after all, which makes it a rehash of a rehash of a rehash of a…you get the picture.

The game is served well by the core fighting engine being enhanced and retuned every year, but it’s at a cost to any semblance of originality.

Originality Rating: 1/10

8. Addictiveness

I love KoF games. Sure this review may be giving it a low score in several places, but I have to be honest; even with games I love. In this section, I can let my inner fan boy out though.

Whenever a new KoF game comes out, I’m giddy. New moves and combos and special attacks to learn. I get to see what changes they have made to old favorites. I smile when I see personal favorites like Shingo return to the game, and frown when I see changes made to characters like Geese. Geese should not have long hair and look like he is in his twenties! Especially with any game that has his son as a playable character too.

I can spend hours playing the game. trying to beat my personal best in Endless, or attempting to get better with characters I generally suck with. Attempting to find new unblockable combos or invincibility bits? That too. I am a sucker for SNK fighters, and NeoWave was a highly enjoyable experience for me, in a day and age when I find myself highly disappointed with about two-thirds of the games I play.
it certainly has some severe faults for the more commonplace gamer, but for long time gamers like myself who but substance over style, NeoWave is an amazing bargain for its twenty dollar price tag.

Addictiveness: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

Every time a new SNK game comes out, it generally has a decent size following on Xbox live. At least for 4-5 months before dissipating. The same seems to be holding true for NeoWave. it’s nice to see a dedicated fan base to the series, especially in this age where of graphics-whoring.

It’s hard to find a budget title with the pedigree of excellence that NeoWave is emblazoned with. KoF = quality gameplay. It’s hard to dispute this except for a rare exception or two. Since the game also offers a very solid Xbox live experience for under twenty dollars, I hope that the level of people who have been buying this game for the past month doesn’t flatline any time soon. it’s fun, addictive, and requires some actual skills, unlike a lot of other games. Sadly, for every one person who finds enjoyment in this game, another two or three will be turned off by the outdated graphics and the very steep level of difficulty. Too bad for them.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

It’s been a good year for quality 2D fighting from SNK. Back in December, we got Samurai Shodown V (Playable Poppy!), and a few months before that we were graced with KoF 2002/2003. Now we’ve got NeoWave, which granted is a step down, but still a good game in its own right. It’s kind of disappointing we didn’t get KoF 94 Re-Bout Stateside, but from what I’ve heard from friends who have imported it, maybe it’s for the best.

I really enjoyed NeoWave. It fact I enjoyed it more than a few games this year that have gotten a higher overall score from me. This is largely because NeoWave is lacking any plot or originality, and other games scored much higher on a technical level. It’s too bad. This is one of those times where the overall score belies the true quality of the game, and I hope that you’ve actually taken the time to read this review, rather than look at a single number and let that be the sole determining factor of a game’s worth. NeoWave, despite it’s flaws is an amazing title for its cost and a great deal of fun. It’s definitely staying on my “Do Not Sell!” list, along with the 2k2/2k3 double pack, and SSV. It may not be the prettiest game, but it has a solid engine that’s provided me with many hours of fun. For me, that’s what matters most, and I strongly encourage you to whip out a twenty dollar bill and pick up this game. You won’t regret it.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

The Scores
Story: 1
Graphics: 5
Sound: 6
Control/Gameplay: 8
Replayability: 7
Balance: 6
Originality: 1
Addictiveness: 7
Appeal Factor: 5
Miscellaneous: 8
Total Score: 54
Overall Score:5.5
(Slightly Above Average)

Short Attention Span Summary
For every great thing about King of Fighters: NeoWave, there is something that drags its overall score down. Again, don’t be fooled by the number. The game is strongest where is counts, and that’s gameplay. Sure it’s ugly compared to more modern games, but this is SNK. We’ve come to expect that retrographic feel, and those of us who are ardent supporters of the series, well…we like it that way. For a Hamilton, you’ve got a pretty good purchase that you can take online and watch you ass get smoked by gamers with some of the best stick action on the planet. It’s not for the inexperienced, so try before you buy.