"Once upon a time, the Street Fighter series was the greatest thing to happen to the fighting game genre. There was a massive roster of incredibly popular characters, a wide variety of special moves, and some of the best competitive gameplay ever seen. But for all of the success that the Street Fighter genre garnered with each passing year, there was only one other series in Japan that rivaled its awesomeness: The King of Fighters. There were no sumo wrestlers, Indian Yoga disciples, Sonic Booms,..."
Once upon a time, the Street Fighter series was the greatest thing to happen to the fighting game genre. There was a massive roster of incredibly popular characters, a wide variety of special moves, and some of the best competitive gameplay ever seen. But for all of the success that the Street Fighter genre garnered with each passing year, there was only one other series in Japan that rivaled its awesomeness: The King of Fighters. There were no sumo wrestlers, Indian Yoga disciples, Sonic Booms, and all that other stuff that gamers knew and loved. Instead, gamers were presented with character-driven plot, incredibly fast and flowing gameplay, and a slew of superpowered fighting freaks to boot. Outside of the hardcore gaming circles and arcades, until recently The King of Fighters series never got the same kind of mainstream popularity and appreciation that Street Fighter enjoyed. With the tenth anniversary of the series’ creation, The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact took the series where it’s never gone before: into 3D. It was a move that amazed some, infuriated others, and stunned everyone.
That’s right, all you 2D gaming fundamentalists. The King of Fighters, a series that stubbornly adhered to an “outdated” graphics scheme finally threw in the towel and tried to reinvent itself to keep up with the competition. Thankfully, the minds behind this new game knew better than to completely change everything; some (but nowhere near all) of your favorites are back in action. Kyo, Iori, Terry, Mai, Athena, and plenty of the old crew have returned to Southtown for this year’s King of Fighters tournament. However, there’s no Rugal or Geese to take down this time around. Instead, this competition is merely a front for a massive gang war for the control of the city. The Meira brothers are trying to save Southtown from Mephistopheles, a sinister gang headed by some musclebound Satanist named Duke. While this half-assed attempt at a plot doesn’t quite measure up to those of yesteryear, you’ll likely forget about it as soon as the fighting starts. That’s assuming, of course, that you don’t mind the mindnumbingly dull cutscenes that are forced down your throat between each bout.
Once you’ve finally gotten to some actual fighting, you’ll find that the combat system of Maximum Impact works like a traditional KoF game with a few new aspects tacked on. You’ll get to contend with sidestepping, evasive and offensive rolls, counters, and all those other little things that you’d find in most 3D fighters. Luckily, the core gameplay remains the same as its predecessors; you’ll still have to work over the directional pad and press a few buttons to execute familiar moves like Terry’s Burning Knuckle, Clark’s tackles, and Kyo’s pyrotechnics. All of the Stylish Moves, (aka the super moves and combinations) require you to fill up an energy gauge before use. While all of this sounds pretty damned awesome, there’s just one problem: all of those insane combo chains and hard-hitting moves are far too powerful and easy to abuse, making the game ridiculously unbalanced. You can utterly slaughter your adversaries in mere seconds with the right characters. Mai, Rock, and a handful of others are vitually untouchable after a minimal amount of practice. Playing through the game ends up being nothing more than pummeling a breif montage of pathetic enemies, followed up with a showdown with the overly-cheap Duke.
And what do you get for slogging through the incredibly boring Story Mode? Aside from unlocking the boss as a secret character, the only reward you’ll get is unlocking some unremarkable character profiles. You’ll get to see your favorite fighters stand to the side as you read over their heights, fighting style, pet peeves, and a paragraph summarizing their meager existence. You’ll also be able to equip your fighters with bonus accessories to give them a little bit more style. Too bad none of these little items make any sense whatsoever. Do you really want Iori to go on homicial rampages with a guitar strapped to his back? How about seeing K’ with some spiky shoulder pads? Do Clark and Rolf really need to bring their backpacks to the fight? Doubtful. The game tries to make up for these shortcomings by including watered-down Team and VS Battle Modes, which are essentially the Story Mode without the tedious cutscenes. The only thing even remotely interesting is the Challenge Mode, which requires you to complete certain objectives throughout the rounds. It’ll usually involve hitting an opponent with a certain combo, clearing the fight without suffering any damage, and plenty of other things to test your gaming prowess. However, not even completing the missions is very rewarding; you’ll be granted a few new stages and colors for your characters’ costumes. Considering how much content is packed into Soul Calibur 3, Tekken 5, and a few other fighters on the PS2, Maximum Impact comes off as lacking.
Speaking of lacking, the characters aren’t exactly wonderful either. Considering that the King of Fighters series is essentially based on two dimensional graphics, it’s little wonder that so much got lost in the translation to 3D. You’ll still get to ogle over Mai’s disturbingly bouncy breasts, see Terry don his signature cap, and watch all the classic pre-fight taunts you know and love. However, this game doesn’t rely purely on nostalgia; the new characters add a tiny bit more flavor to the lineup. Alba Meira looks like some kind of vampire fashionista, while his brother Soiree looks like some kind of breakdancing Brokeback Mountain reject (complete with light blue latex chaps and matching sombrero!) In case you’re tired of staring at Mai, the game spends plenty of animation frames focusing on Lien’s…special features. And for the pedophile in all of us, Mignon (yes, as in Filet) comes off as an irritatingly cute magic user clad with a catsuit, fake paws, and a swishy tail. You’ll also be treated to a fairly varied selection of stages, including a skyscraper rooftop, a cathedral, and even the dancefloor at Southtown’s disco nightclub.
Despite all the new looks and graphics, however, all the designs aren’t very impressive. None of the fighting areas are particularly impressive, offering little in terms of eye-catching details or beauty. All of the characters seem blocky and wooden, with remarkably stiff movements and dull attack patterns. There used to be something awesome about Terry screaming, “Are you OKAY?! BUSTAH WOOF!. Sadly, he now lacks any kind of emotions necessary to recreate the same kind of magic. The voice acting in this game is pathetic; it sounds as if fighters are all hooked on Ritalin. You will be treated to some hilariously awful dialogue, including quotes like Lien’s “You’re just like a stray dog barking harmlessly like that.” and Rock’s cringe-inducing “My blood…BOIIIULLS…” Even if these people are the toughest fighters in all of Southtown, they come off as utterly boring at best.
You can’t blame SNK for trying. After so many years of sticking with a tried and true formula, the idea of revamping the series and going 3D must have been mighty tempting. Unfortunately, their lack of experience with three-dimensional gaming is all too clear with Maximum Impact. It has plenty of the old characters you’ve come to know and admire, but they lack the same kind of charm and personality of their 2D counterparts. The gameplay, while an ambitious attempt to combine fundamental KoF gameplay with new playing styles, is incredibly shoddy. The emphasis on the Stylish Moves and a incredibly flawed combo system make the game one of the most unbalanced fighters on the PS2. Given the console’s capabilities, the game could have featured so much more quality content. Instead, the game ends up being nothing more than a stain on the series’ record, with improvement as its only option.
Community review by disco (June 03, 2006)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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