Review: The King of Fighters 2006 (PS2)

The King of Fighters 2006
Genre: Fighting
Developer: SNK Playmore
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Release Date: 9/19/06


Look, let’s get this out of the way up-front: if I can be considered a fanboy of any video game/video game series on Earth, it’s King of Fighters. I’ve been playing the KOF games since 1995, and been addicted since 1997, when I found a KOF “Ëœ97 machine at my college (which may or may not contribute to why I’m still going). I own something like fifteen different versions of the damn franchise, “Ëœ97 was my first ever import game I owned, and I occasionally flirt with the idea of trying to find an MVS just for the purposes of buying the actual Neo-Geo carts of the games.

So, yeah. You might say I’m a fan.

Which is why I was, I admit, openly afraid of playing KOF 2006. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that KOF: Maximum Impact was… well, more than a little rough, and the two previous 3D fighters that came out of SNK (Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition, and a Samurai Showdown 3D game whose name I forget)… um… sucked hardcore. I mean, whoever was involved in their development probably committed seppuku after the games saw daylight, that’s how bad they were. Still, KOF 2006 debuted at $30, and contained a Japanese language track on release (as opposed to KOF:MI, which only saw said track on the Xbox version), and between those two variables and the fact that it’s been a slow year for fighting games, I decided to bite the bullet and check it out. So, how is it? Let’s take a look.


1. STORY/GAME MODES


One thing SNK doesn’t skimp on is story for their fighting games. The KOF franchise tends to be of strong story in most cases (usually because there are so many characters in it), and KOF 2K6 is no exception; every character has a full storyline to explain their involvement in the tournament and a full character bio that’s unlocked after you complete the game with them, and the overarching storyline is acceptable, if not great. The main thing that’s interesting with the various characters is how they’re not only well developed characters with actual motivations (well, relative to the product, anyway), but also accessible to new players (for the most part). I actually have to admit that I prefer the stories in KOF 2K6 to the stories in, say, 2K3, if only because the characters here actually have motivations to be in the tournament, as opposed to teams that are together simply because they had nothing better to do. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to the hidden characters (they have no story to speak of), which is a shame and hurts the story presentation a bit.

As far as gameplay modes go, there are a lot. Aside from the standard story and versus modes (the latter of which offers single and three-person battles, which is good for fans of the KOF franchise), there are also Easy and Hard challenges to complete, as well as a separate set of “Extra” challenges, including beating up a Metal Slug and destroying a car, which are amusing. A lack of an online mode hurts the game slightly (though no more than any other fighting game on the PS2, it seems), but beyond that, there’s a lot of variety for fighting fans to sink their teeth into, which is certainly good to see.

Story Rating: 3/5
Game Modes Rating: 4/5


2. GRAPHICS


KOF 2K6 looks good, but not quite great. Character models look accurate to their original 2D designs, and retain the similar style, while still looking appropriately 3D (with the exceptions of Kyo and Athena, but their new costumes look acceptable enough as compared to older incarnations). Their secondary costumes in many cases, however, look… um… different. When dealing with characters like Mingon Beart, it’s understandable, because hey, she exists for the MI series exclusively, so whatever, put her in a kitty cat suit if you feel like it. And some characters, like Chae Lim, have perfectly normal looking secondary costumes that work perfectly fine for them. On the other hand, Iori and K’, as examples, look goofy in their secondary costumes, and most of the other characters don’t fare much better (though the Lum color scheme for Mai is mildly amusing, for the wrong reasons). The characters all animate well enough, and there aren’t any noticeably stiff or broken animations, which is good. Clipping is pretty noticeable, though, which is not so good. The environments are largely pleasing, if not spectacular, and work well enough to be convincing. KOF 2K6 ends up being able to stand on its own feet visually, and it has a good sense of style, but it can’t compete with some of the better looking titles on the console, and even comparable games like Tekken 5 and Soul Calibur 3 look better than this. It’s not that the game looks bad so much as it is that there are better looking games on the system, but it looks fine enough overall.

Oh, and before I forget, what the hell is up with Ryo’s hair here? I mean, Jesus dude, lay off the Aqua Net.

Graphics Rating: 6/10


3. SOUND

The game music is about what I’ve come to expect from more recent KOF endeavors: it’s decent enough to beat the hell out of someone to, but not as good as earlier endeavors. It bears noting that, for some odd reason, a bunch of classic tunes are available to be unlocked in the Sound Test, but I can find no way to listen to them while playing. This, for reasons I don’t even think I should have to explain, is simultaneously cool and monumentally stupid. It’s nice that they’re there, but come on.

The English voice acting is just as bad as in the first game, and several of the English voices are actively painful, but thankfully the Japanese voice track was included for this release. This is especially cool because most (if not all) of the old-school KOF voice actors reprise their roles in KOF 2K6, which is cool for fans of the series. Even if you’re not a fan, the voices still sound pretty good, all in all. And, to round it all out, the sound effects sound as you’d expect; punching someone in the face sounds spot on, and the various special effect sounds (IE flame sounds and such) sound solid, if nothing else. Overall, KOF 2K6 is a game that sounds pretty good, if not great, and with the exception of the pitiful American voice acting, it’s a good aural experience all-around.

Sound Rating: 6/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


On the surface, KOF 2K6 feels like a normal KOF title, but there are some notable (and not necessarily welcome) changes to the formula that make things a bit different. Your characters have two punches and kicks to use (one weak, one strong), and by using these in tandem with various directional combinations, you produce special attacks. For 2D veterans, this is old hat, of course, but this is a staple of the KOF franchise, so there it is. You can also do various combo attacks (called “Stylish Moves” here) by pressing various different buttons in order, similar to the various combos of games like Dead or Alive or Tekken. This was in KOF: Maximum Impact, and makes a return here, for better or worse. You can also roll backwards or forwards to escape attacks (an old KOF trick) and sidestep up or down to avoid attacks or change position in battle.

There are a couple new tricks that 2K6 brings to the table, though. Aside from the afore-mentioned sidesteps, you’re also offered Super Cancels and Sabakis. Super Cancels should be a familiar concept to players of Street Fighter EX, Street Fighter 3, or other KOF titles: basically, you do a special move, then do a super move while the special move is going off, which not only guarantees the hit (more or less), but also allows more hits than simply doing the super move. Sabaki, however, is a concept that requires some playing of other 3D fighters, IE Soul Calibur, to understand: do one when an attack is about to land, and you counter it and throw the opponent off-balance, where you can follow up with an attack. Your opponent can counter your attack with a Sabaki as well, however, which can lead to Sabaki battles, much like in the afore-mentioned Soul Calibur. This adds some much-needed depth to 2K6 that was lacking in MI, and makes 2K6 a better 3D title while still helping to maintain the 2D roots KOF has.


This doesn’t mean 2K6 isn’t without its problems, though. Move timing is different from older KOF titles, so fans of KOF games might find some adjusting is in order. It’s not BAD, per say, just different. Sabaki’s also have a notably small window of opportunity (smaller, it seems, than even SC3’s deflects or DOA4’s counters), which isn’t a huge problem in and of itself, but when combined with the massive multi-hit combos, seems poorly planned. Oh, I didn’t mention the combos? All of the characters have multi-hit combos of variable effectiveness, but some, like Mai for example, can unleash exceedingly large combos from one kick button, which seems a touch excessive. All of this is pretty minor, though: while it’s not as technical as a Virtua Fighter or as flexible as a Tekken, it’s leagues better than both MI and the EX series, and easily one of the best 2D to 3D transitions to date. If you’re a fan of the old-school, or a fan of newer 3D fighters, you’ll find a solid play experience in KOF 2K6.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 7/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

This is one area where KOF 2K6 excels. Fourteen hidden characters and over a hundred extra colors can be unlocked by taking on the various challenges or simply by beating the game a ton of times, and there are several extra stages that can be unlocked by completing the various challenges as well. Completing the challenges themselves is also a pretty solid reason to come back on its own, as they’re pretty tough as you get further along and should provide a good challenge for players (though the hardest ones will only be completed by the most skilled players, as they’re pretty belligerent). The versus modes are also pretty well varied and should keep players coming back for more. In fact, the only thing I can really say against the replay value here is the lack of an online mode, but considering that I can’t recall very many PS2 fighters that DO have online play, that’s not too surprising.

Replayability Rating: 8/10


6. BALANCE


Against the computer, you’re given multiple different difficulty levels to choose from, and in the challenge mode, the difficulty ramps up progressively, which all lends to a well-balanced game experience. This is good. On the other hand, against other human players, you find out pretty quickly that some characters are astronomically cheap. This is not so good. Characters like Athena (really, who needs TWO different fireballs?) and Mai (seven-hit combos by spamming Strong Kick) are infuriatingly cheap if used effectively (or if the other player uses what I outlined above). This is, unsurprisingly, kind of beat, especially if you (like I do) happen to like these characters from prior KOF titles; no one’s going to want to play against them. Still, most of the characters are fairly evenly balanced enough that players should be able to have fun matches, but that there are broken characters in the game is kind of depressing, even so. Otherwise, KOF 2K6 is pretty solidly balanced overall, and shouldn’t give you any trouble, whether you’re a novice or a master.

Balance Rating: 7/10


7. ORIGINALITY

Well, it’s basically the same game as KOF:MI, with some new characters. Being able to beat up a Metal Slug is neat, and there are a lot of neat things in the game, but it’s still basically the same game as its predecessor. Add in the fact that it’s also based on a now twelve year old franchise, and… yeah. It’s still good and fun and such, but it’s not reinventing the wheel so much as it’s slapping some rubber patch on the outside.

Originality Rating: 2/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

KOF 2K6 is mildly addictive as a single player experience; you’ll want to keep playing until you unlock everything you can (or until the game pisses you off too much, whichever comes first), but once you hit that point, there’s not much point to coming back. As a multi-player game, though, it fares a bit better, and when playing against friends it becomes a lot more fun (assuming they know what they’re doing). It’s not as addictive or in-depth as some other 3D fighters out there, but it’ll keep you interested for a while, and it’s a solid, entertaining pick-up and play experience.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

If you’re a KOF fan, 2K6 offers you a solid game experience that, while it ISN’T KOF, feels close enough that you’ll be able to slip into it like an old shoe and have fun. If you’re a fan of 3D fighters in general, you’ll find a solid, if unspectacular, fighter here that might occupy your time until Tekken 6 or Virtua Fighter 5 eventually see release. If you’re looking for the next Virtua Fighter, though, this probably isn’t your bag; 2K6 is a 2D fighter with some mild 3D controls, and is more likely to appeal to those who were let down by Street Fighter EX 3 than those looking for DOA or Tekken.

Appeal Rating: 6/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

A couple of minor things here. First off, I appreciated the rendered intro and ending sequences, but I’d have appreciated rendered endings for each of the individual characters even more. Second, a lot of the kindness I’m exhibiting towards the title comes from its $30 price point; had it come out as a fully $50 game, it most likely wouldn’t have been as interesting of an experience, honestly. It’s by no means a bad title, don’t get me wrong, but it’s neither a 3D fighter, nor is it KOF; it’s an amalgam of the two concepts that mostly works, but not to the extent that it’s the GREATEST GAME EVAR or anything like that. It’s a fun, likeable, amusing title that’s worth the asking price, and honestly, that’s all it needs to be. It won’t replace your favorite fighting game in rotation, but it’s good enough that it’ll be something you won’t be sorry you bought.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores:
Story: 3/5
Game Modes: 4/5
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 6/10
Control/Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10

Overall Score: 6.0/10
Final Score: 6.0 (FAIR).

Short Attention Span Summary
KOF 2K6 is by no means the greatest fighting game ever, but it manages to meld 2D gameplay into a 3D game admirably. Fans of KOF, or 2D fighters in general, will find a lot to love here, and fans of 3D fighters will find some amusement within. But those who hated the original KOF:MI might still be put off by 2K6, and there are other, better 3D fighters out there. Still, 2K6 is a solid addition to your fighting game library, and for $30, it’s certainly worth a look. And hey, if you’re an SNK fan, there are enough oddball extras in the game to amuse you outside of the KOF franchise branding.