"It confuses me as to how some of SNKís most memorable characters, like Billy Kane and Duck King, get excluded, while the bland ones keep coming back."
Like so many others, I glued myself to Samurai Showdown II in the arcades. If you never experienced it, let me sum it up in two words; pure brilliance. Still high from Samurai Showdown, I moved on to Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. They were SNKís other flagship fighters, and being an independently-minded teenager, I convinced myself they were far better than any of Capcomís offerings. After all these years, itís time to be honest with myself. Now that Iím older and a little less stubborn, I have to say, Iím just not that into SNK fighters.
Debuting in 1994, King of Fighters (KOF) was an excuse to merge the worlds of Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and to some extent, Samurai Showdown, into a single wet dream-inducing game. With new KOF titles popping up every year, SNK has drawn more characters from their backlog of games, such as Ikari Warriors and Metal Slug, and even introduced original characters. Today, KOF can hardly be thought of as a collection of SNK hits. With its own continuing storyline, it has become an entity all its own.
Like every other KOF title, excluding Maximum Impact, NeoBlood is a team-based, 2-D fighter. From a roster of 18 main characters, you build a three-person team, and then choose a fourth character to be the Striker. Non-playable characters, Strikers are called in during a match to deliver a few blows and then jump back out. Unlike most other team-based fighters, NeoBlood does not allow you to tag in and out. When the first character falls, the second one steps in, and the match is not over until all three characters on a side are defeated. Having a tag feature would have added a welcome strategic element, but I can do without. What I really need is a better selection of characters.
Most gamers have a mental list of their favorite fighting game characters. Mine include Ryu, Terry Bogard, Yoshimitsu, and Voldo, and I am willing to bet that most of you can name their respective games. I latched on to these characters because of their distinctive personas and styles. The KOF series has an immense stable of characters to draw from, but that matters little when so many of them are completely unremarkable. It confuses me as to how some of SNKís most memorable characters, like Billy Kane and Duck King, get excluded, while the bland ones keep coming back. You all remember Robert Garcia, donít you? Adding insult to NeoBloodís injury, legitimate classics like Joe Higashi and Yuri Sakazaki are present, but have been relegated to being Strikers. Itís disappointing to find that after all these years, I am hardly tempted to try anyone new. Tried-and-true Terry Bogard is still my first choice.
So you have your team picked out and you are ready to play. Veterans can dive right in, but casual fans and newcomers should hit the Practice mode first to double-check their character choices. It is evident that a lot of effort went into characters like Terry Bogard, Kim Kaphwan, and Kyo Kusanagi. Each one has a distinctive fighting style with balanced strengths, weaknesses, and move sets. With characters like these, combos and special moves just roll from your fingers with ease. Others, such as Clark, are questionable at best. Clark is a strong man without much speed or range. What he has are seven unique throws that do similar amounts of damage. The throws look impressive, but their limited functionality leaves Clark severely crippled.
The case of Clark is not an isolated incident. Inconsistency appears to be a theme for NeoBlood. Pulling off a special move with one character may feel silky smooth, but doing so for a different character, and utilizing the same motion, just might incite a little screen-biting. The real shame is how unbalanced many of the special moves are. Remember the Mortal Kombat leg-sweep? If you feel like reliving such glory days of cheapness, simply pick King and start shooting off double fireballs. You can make it all the way through on the hardest difficulty doing just that. Even the Striker system is rather broken. Strikers are not only pitifully weak, but they will often jump onscreen and right back off without attacking. There are no excuses for mistakes like these. NeoBloodís fighting system has been done to perfection before, so if imitation is flattery, then NeoBlood would have done well to smother Marvel vs. Capcom 2 with compliments.
NeoBlood can be frustrating, infuriating, and idiotically cheap. To top things off, I beat the hardest difficulty on my first try. It has all the ingredients for a disastrous fighter, and yet I continue to play it. I would say that itís due to nostalgia, but history negates that notion. As a kid, I went on countless all-night Street Fighter II binges while Fatal Fury 2 was lucky to get more than an hour of my time. I know that NeoBlood was actually made by Marvelous Entertainment, and I realize it is for the GBA, but the problems with NeoBlood are not all new. I claimed to be an SNK fan, but itís time to face the facts. Discounting Samurai Showdown II, everything SNK has done, Capcom has done better. In spite of my grievances, I play NeoBlood because it is still one of the most beautiful and action packed fighters the GBA has to offer for a quick fix on my bus-ride to work.
Well, that and I haven't bought Street Fighter Alpha 3.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (July 04, 2006)
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