Review: King of Fighters: Maximum Impact (PS2)

I know, I know. A 3D King of Fighters! What is going on here? Never in my wildest dreams did I think that such a thing would ever occur. Mortal Kombat moving to 3D makes sense. That series was always about style over substance. Street Fighter tried a 3D series in EX and well, we all know that rather bombed. Street Fighter fans wanted 2D goodness ONLY, because hey, that’s how fighting games are supposed to be! 3D fighting games have always tended to be amazingly simplistic and easy to beat. Soul Calibur 2? Man, by far the easiest fighters I had ever played. Especially when playing as Link. One of the least balanced and most broken games I have ever played. Only the Virtua Fighter series has held up as a respectable 3D fighter. Everything else has been an insult to true fighting games.

So when SNK announced they were making a 3D fighter out of the King of Fighter series, you can imagine the bedlam that ensued amongst not only 2D fighting purists, but SNK fanatics as well. “OMGWTF! SNK sold out to Sony!” This comment was heard after the fact Sony of America stupidly told SBK they didn’t want 2D games on their system and which is why SVC Chaos and Metal Slug 3 ended up Xbox exclusives. Microsoft was only too happy to pick up these two titles with major name recognition and guess what? They sold like Hot Cakes! Metal Slug 3 was the #2 selling game when it came out for the system, and SVC Chaos and both Xbox exclusive SNK games are selling strong. Metal Slug 3 is a Shooter of the Year candidate come the year end awards and SVC Chaos is going to be snatched up, no matter how broken it is, thanks to online play! SNK and 2D gaming fans around the world proclaimed this to be proof of SoA’s amazing arrogance and stupidity coming back to bit them in the ass. And of course, Sony agreed to take KoF 2002/2003 for the PS2 coming out next month. Sony 3 trillion, actual gamers 1.

And that’s where KoF:MI comes in. SNK agreed to make a 3D fighter solely for the PS2 platform. And everyone freaked. They accused SNK of selling out or caving in to Sony. They screamed bloody murder as it would be an insult to the entire ten year history of KoF. That the game would be ass. That SNK Playmore is a horrible company and is a bastardization of the “TRUE” SNK name.

I should know. I was one of these guys. I was afraid there would be no more 2D KoF games. That this was the wave of the future. That SNK would manage to completely alienate their fanbase and disappear for a second time. There was no way I was going to buy KoF: Maximum Impact. That would show SNK how stupid they were and just how smart the fans were. We knew best. There was NO WAY SNK could make a good 3D game. Especially a King of Fighters game. SNK IS 2D gaming after all, and the thought of a 3D fighter was so jarring, it was akin to reading the Necronomicon straight through.

But then SNK, those bastards. Those heartless evil bastards. They manipulated me. They manipulated everyone. They created a pre-order bonus so tantalizing only a monster could say no. With a pre-order of KOF:MI you got…..A TERRY BOGARD FATAL FURY HAT! How could I say no to that? Honestly, how? I remember talking to Dave Olvera (Picky here in the Kliq) and listening to him say he would never ever buy KoF: Maximum Impact. That it was just wrong. Then I mentioned the Fatal Fury Hat as a preorder. And he went out and preordered it immediately. This is the effect this hat has on SNK fans. None can resist the temptation to have this hat. It’s Terry Bogard’s after all. Terry is the symbol of the KoF series, even though he hasn’t been the main character for a long long time. Hell, he’s even the symbol of SNK itself. SNK releasing this hat was the smartest move they have. And it is honestly what got me to preorder this keeping my streak of SNK preorders alive. It was akin to SNK giving their hardcore fans a wearable orgasm that they could throw into the air after each win.

Then closer to the release date, SNK announced a massive bonus disc complete with bios, interviews, a gallery, and more. SNK fans began to take note. SNK was really pushing this game to the moon. Far more than any game they had released since being resurrected. Skeptics said the game had to be terrible that they were doing all this. The focus was on the hat and the bonus disc. Not the actual game. That’s a bad sign. SNK fans coming around said, “This is SNK trying to capture a huge chunk of fans. With TV commercials and these bonus items, people will buy MI in droves. Then when they play an actually good and balanced fighter in 3D, SNK will have a new group of fans. Plus Metal Slug 3 sold amazingly, and there was no marketing. Imagine what all this will do.”

Me? I was in the middle. I expected the game to be crap. I just wanted my damn hat and planned to review the game and trade it in, making it the first SNK game I would ever trade it. Granted, 99% of my SNK games are for the actual AES/MVS and thus I can’t trade them in even if I wanted to (Yes, I am that much of a Neo Geo whore. Shut up.) So was KoF that terrible of a game, continuing my total disdain for 3D fighters, sending me back to my NGPC where I could play SVC:MOTM with my team of Yuri, Terry, and Akuma? Or would SNK pull off a miracle, making an amazing 3D game, but more importantly, one worthy of the name KING OF FIGHTERS?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Recently in Southtown, home to the KoF and Fatal Fury games, the leader of the main street gang in Southtown was assassinated. Fate was dead, and a new gang knows as “Mephistopheles” took control. Whereas Fate was a champion to the working class and the downtrodden citizens of Southtown, the leader of the Mephistopheles gang, Duke, was evil incarnate, claiming to be spawned from Hell itself. Fate’s adopted children, Alba and Soiree, vowed to prove Duke was behind Fate’s death and to destroy the Mephistopheles gang forever.

Alba and Soiree try on their own to establish a meeting with Duke to settle things one on one. Duke’s lackey, Hyena tells them that in order to meet Duke, they must enter and win the King of Fighters Tournament.
At the same time, various competitors from previous SNK games, ranging from Terry Bogard from the Fatal Fury games to Yuri from the Art of Fighting games to even Ralf Jones from Ikari Warriors, enter this year’s KOF Tournament. This year the Tournament is supposed to be a charity event with the money raised from it going to the needy. However as the competitor’s arrive, they learn there is a dark side to the organization throwing this year’s tournament.

And this is the basic plot of the KoF tournament. What’s great is the fact that there are two distinct playable storylines in this game. If you play as Alba or Soiree, the main event characters for the Maximum Impact line (if KOF:MI has a sequel), you will get a completely different plot line and cut scenes than if you play as any of the other 18 characters in the game. It’s a nice change of pace and really emphases who is supposed to win the tournament/who the main characters are, unlike previous KoF games where you have the plots completely written out, ranging from who lives and dies, to who wins and ends up feuding with someone else, but said stories never actually appear in the games. I’m very happy to see SNK finally start including a lot of plot in their KoF games, as the King of Fighters line has always had deeply detailed storylines that the casual or average gamer would never get to know unless they were a hardcore KoF fanatic.

KoF: MI doesn’t have the best storyline to ever grace a King of Fighters game, but it has the most detailed in terms of what is actually played out before you across the screen. Most fighting games fans will be surprised by how much meat the story mode has, especially compared to what else has come before it in the 3D version of this genre.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Simply put, KoF: MI is the best looking game SNK has ever put out. Now, that’s not really that fair considering the Neo Geo system and the graphical capacity is just a bit outdated. But Maximum Impact is very nice to look at indeed. The backgrounds are well designed and beautiful (I love the cemetery) and I was impressed SNK had people capable of doing 3D graphics this well.

The character designs were either hit or miss though. All the girls look… weird. Especially in the face. Yuri and Mai, I don’t know. They just don’t look right in 3-D. Which is a shame as Yuri is my preferred character every time she is available. In game they look like they’ve got the mumps or something. They just look odd.

The male characters however, for some reason, look fantastic. Iori and Terry? Wow. Just wow. And the first time Terry did his hat toss after winning a battle, I totally marked out. And the new main character, Alba is amazingly bad ass looking. I really enjoy this new character, far more than I ever have Kyo or K’. He’s no Terry Bogard though.

I also enjoy the new alternate looks for each character that you unlock when you beat the game for the first time. Once you have any character defeat Duke, you can get all new versions and looks for the playable characters. See Iori with very short hair. See Terry Bogard look just like Sabertooth from Marvel Comics (Mark of theWolves outfit). See Yuri as a ghetto chick. It’s great.

The rigging models are hit or miss though. Rigging models are unlocked for a specific character when you beat them game. Some characters have one rigging model for both looks. Some only have one. Yuri has two. In her original outfit she gets a Mr. Karate mask! In the alt look, she gets either a baseball cap or a bandanna. Terry…gets a wolf furrie costume for both appearances. I KNOW! Furries suck, right? Poor Terry.

Overall, I am very impressed with how Maximum Impact looks. I may be a bit biased though because of how amazing it looks compared to every other SNK game. It’s not as pretty as a lot of other games that are out. But one thing I think all SNK fans can agree on, is that the KoF crew has never looked better.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Again, we’ve got some hit or miss stuff going on here. All the music in MI is great. It fits the game perfectly. From the opening theme to the closing credits, the music just feels right. It’s there without being distracting, but you find yourself humming the tunes after the game is turned off trying to remember where you heard that music.

Voice acting though? Hmmm. I will say I dislike Yuri’s voice. It doesn’t sound right. Terry is perfect though. Simply perfect. All the new characters voices fit them perfectly as well. Duke sounds evil (although he is sure a shitty fighter) Other characters besides Yuri whose voices I don’t like include Chae Lim, Seth, and Hyena, who sadly talks the most in the gam. However, Rock and Mai are spot on. Like I said, it’s extreme whether I like the voice acting or not, but you have to give SNK props for having every single bit of the game voice acting. Impressive. Especially for a fighter. But ESPECIALLY for an SNK fighter.

God I wish Geese was in this game though. Or Shingo. Hearing them totally voice acted would have made my day.

Aside from a very small selection of voice actors I found annoying, this game is brilliant in terms of the auditory quality. Too bad the collector’s edition didn’t come with a CD too.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Gameplay/Control

The controls are amazing in Maximum Impact. Everything is spot on. There’s no lag. There’s no screaming “Where was my burning knuckle?” Even the DOA moves are able to be pulled off without a hitch.

Each character has a dozen plus combos they can do and SNK even includes an in-depth manual of everyone’s moves. After games like SVC Chaos and CVS2, this was a breath of fresh air in regards to responsive controls. I was very happy and impressed with everything SNK gave us here.

I also want to point out that Maximum Impact does not play like a 3D fighter. It plays like a 2D fighter. I went in as Yuri and Terry, ignored anything 3D about the game and played as if it was a normal KoF game, and slaughtered the computer no matter what the difficulty level was at. I didn’t use the sidestep or spiral abilities that SNK put in at all. And neither does the computer really. Even the AI is like “This is an SNK game. Fuck that 3D shit.” And it fights you as if it was any other previous KoF game. Some 3D fans might be unhappy with this, but I LOVE it. Thank you SNK for giving us a game that looks like Sony wants a game to look like, but plays like what we SNK fans want.

Gameplay/Control Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

With 20 characters you have to beat story mode with, Duke to unlock as a playable character and 40 different missions to unlock in mission mode, you will be playing Maximum Impact for quite some time.

In addition to story and mission modes, you can even have team battles. After all, what is a KoF game without team battles, right? 3 on 3 play is what SNK does best.

There is always something new to enjoy here with Maximum Impact, and even after you’ve unlocked everything, you’ll be raring for more, especially with friends over.

Replayability Rating: 8/10

6. Balance

What? You thought it was going to be all fanatical ravings from me here? Nope. Sorry. Balance is where this game falls short by a mile. Don’t get me wrong. KoF:MI is fun to play. So fun it shocked me. But it is very broken. The boss, Duke, is the weakest boss in any SNK ever. I was able to double perfect him with Yuri AND Alba. My god, speaking of Alba, he is one of the most unbalanced characters ever as well. His combos are strong, lightning fast and cheap, cheap, cheap. When playing through story mode with him, I got hit maybe once. ONCE. All you need are the kick buttons and no special at all, and he can tear through just about anyone. And some of his special attacks, like Winds of Pain, take up almost the entire screen! Likewise Rock and Iori are unbalanced and overpowered as well.

Almost every character has a combo or big move that can’t be blocked and can be used in a cheap cheesy fashion. It’s laughable how you can cheese at this game, from ten hit combos while the opponent is on the ground, to juggling combos to combing specials immediately after each other.

Sure you can say that because every character has something cheap or unblockable about them that it’s balanced. But two (or in this case 20) wrongs don’t make a right. Still, it’s great when you can beat Iori or Rock on the highest difficultly, going in with the realization that they are broken characters. It’s a good thing this is not compatible with online play as the game would be flooded by people doing nothing but the same combo or special attack over and over again hoping they aren’t playing with someone smart enough to use the 3D moves like sidestep or spiral (which to be honest, very few people will ever use anyway) or guard.

Speaking of Guard, the computer sure loves doing it. You have a one in three chance of the computer blocking so much, you’ll activate the guard crush. ESPECIALLY Duke. Ugh. Duke, Duke, Duke. Easiest boss in the history of SNK games. After characters like Geese and Regal and Goenitz, Duke is just pathetic.

Even after all of this, I need to point out that Maximum Impact is fun. A lot of fun. It’s just not balanced. And I think that is part of the fun. Being able to find out all the cheap things you can do, and then see if you can win without doing any of them. But that doesn’t change the fact that some characters are just too superior to others.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

SNK is the king of fighting game makers. Always has been, always will be. Sorry Capcom, but aside from SF2, SSF2 and CVS, your fighting games haven’t been up to the quality gameplay wise of anything made by SNK (And SF2 is my favorite fighter of all time). Sure there are a lot of fighting games out there, and there are a growing number of 3D fighters, but KOF:MI has a degree of style that makes it stand out from the pack of lackluster games like Battle Arena Toshinden.. Heck, this isn’t even SNK’s first foray into 3D gaming, but this is there first time where it’s good.

SNK has made a very typical 3D Fighter. There’s an arcade/story mode, some unlockables, and a Mission Mode. This is similar to games like MK:DA, MK:D, SFA3, and so many others. It’s par for the course for fighting games nowadays. SNK, in it’s first really hyped and watched 3D game played it conservative and safe. They gave us a good game, but there’s nothing truly original in it, aside from a few new characters and the fact SNK is putting a lot of emphasis on story for a title that could have been a throwaway for them.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

I couldn’t stop playing this game. I loved it. I don ‘t know why or how SNK managed to make a 3D fighter that drew me in and basically super glued the PS2 control pad into my palm, but I wanted to keep playing. Just a few more mission mode battles. Just one more play through of story mode to unlock another rigging outfit. Things like that.

I can’t believe how much I loved playing KoF:MI. It’s hands down the best 3D fighter I’ve ever played and far and away more fun than SVC Chaos. But that’s probably because EVERY character in MI if unbalanced in some way. :-P

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

KoF: MI does an amazing job here. It gives 3D fighting game fans a game that is actually fun to play, even if it is as easy as every other 3D fighting game on the planet. If gives 2D gaming fans a game that is as true to the KoF legacy as any 3D game can be. The fact it plays and feels like a 2D fighter is an amazing accomplishment and one SNK deserves huge props for. It more than makes up for the terrible 3D Fatal Fury and Samurai Shodown games that came before it.

Is it the best fighter ever? No. But it’s a darn good one. I can’t imagine any fighting game fan not enjoying Maximum Impact. But it has the dual problem of having possibly alienating the core KoF fan base by not being 2-D and also having the uphill struggle of trying to get casual gamers and 3D gaming fans to pick up a King of Fighters Title.

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

I will harp hear about the fact I’m not a big fan of some of the characters chosen for this. Damn it SNK, bring back SHINGO! People love Shingo! Give us Shingo in MI2. And Geese! God I want a 3-D fully vocalized Geese. There just seems to be a lot of big burly characters. Do we really need Seth, Ralf, Maxima, and Clark all in the same game? I would have liked a little more variety.

I do love the bonus disc. I enjoyed watched the character Bios and the documentary on what it took to make KoF change from a 2-D series to a 3-D one. Most of all I really enjoyed Mission Mode. Some of those “quests” were simple from doing a 3 hit combo to some very hard battles, like guys with 500% life or where you are at 50% life and your opponent has a permanently maxed out special bar, 500% life and double attack power and you have to just survive until the time runs out. WOW. I can’t describe how much fun it was to survive that.

KoF packs in a lot of great stuff into their first successful foray into 3-D gaming. I’m very happy with the result. Just give us Shingo and Geese next time, okay?

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

Short Attention Span Summary
A 3-D fighter than plays like a 2-D one? A 3-D fighter I actually liked and consider the best 3-D fighter I’ve played yet? I know, I can’t believe it, but it is in fact so. Better than Virtua Fighter 4, better than Soul Caliber 2, better than any non 2-D fighter that came before it, KoF: Maximum Impact shows the future is bright for SNK in this genre. But the fact remains as good as this game, the 2-D KoF games are still superior and remain SNK’s Strength. But I’ll be more than happy to live with this until KoF 2004.



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