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The King of Fighters 2006 (PlayStation 2) artwork

The King of Fighters 2006 (PlayStation 2) review

"When you buy this game, you will be holding in your hands the game that you really hoped the first one was. You will have the game that you wanted, that you needed, and that you deserved."

Fight games come in two distinct flavours. In one corner, you have the style, in the other the substance. Flash, and function. The history of games has been littered with battles where one side specialises in deep and strategic gameplay, while the other concentrates on giving you more bang for your buck. The poise versus the noise, so to speak.

Fans of fight games have often found themselves struggling to convey the merits of their preferred game to the general gaming public. Truly, it hasn't always been easy. Of particular difficulty is persuading a non-fighter to look at a 2D game when there are millions of polygons bouncing around in some extremely entertaining ways in full glorious 3D. When one wants to extol the virtues of something so old-school, so retro, what is one to do?

Luckily, SNK thought about this problem, and realised that if you can't beat them then you might as well join them. And so, possibly as a way to increase exposure for the series, or possibly just as a way of succumbing to the inevitable, the much-revered King of Fighters series sprouted a whole extra dimension, in the shape of King of Fighters : Maximum Impact.

Being the first game in the series to be made in 3D led to some inevitable problems. Some of the characters translated better than others, and some were dropped in favour of newcomers. And, the newcomers are what caused SNK fans the biggest heartache. Mainly because they were far too overpowered. A side-effect of being designed for 3D, I guess. Further to this was the general combo-craziness the game suffered from. SNK fans were used to balance, and Maximum Impact unfortunately did not provide this.

A sequel had some work to do, then. There was quite a bit to fix.

And, quite magnificently, it has been!

When you buy this game, you will be holding in your hands the game that you really hoped the first one was. You will have the game that you wanted, that you needed, and that you deserved. The 3D visuals mask the 2D mechanics, with fights being on the single plane. Visually, the game is as bright and pretty as you could ask for. It is not a massive step up, but it is nonetheless a noticeable improvement.

The REAL improvement lies in the combo system. In Maximum Impact, it was possible for a player to overpower his opponent, and take away the entire health bar with several unblockable attacks. This time round, a modifier has been added so that successive hits reduce in damage dealt. A 15-hit combo used to mean instant death, now it is unlikely to do more than half your hit points. Factor in the parries each character can call, so as to counteract the attack and allow you to start your own, and the single biggest hurdle that the game faced has been ... well, hurdled!

This gives us an interesting beast indeed. Far from relying on the pyrotechnics, and the beauty, Maximum Impact 2 just uses these as the honey with which to attract the fly. The trap is set in the layered combat system. Building up 3 levels of special bar in order to unleash a desperation attack is satisfying in a way that only a well-crafted fighter can give you. No pre-defined sequence of button presses to remember here, this is proper organic combat the way it should be. Normal moves cancelling into special moves, cancelling into super moves, delivered with some generously eye-catching special effects.

Of course, being an SNK fighter, the cast is as important as the scenery. Over the years, many of fightings best-loved characters have been birthed in the SNK stable. Some have dipped in and out, others have been around forever. Some are sorely missed. Some are particular favourites. Some would be big enough to send KoF fans into sheer paroxysms of delight if they were to be playable in this latest incarnation. Like, say, if they made a fully 3D Geese Howard, for example...

They did. Geese Freakin' Howard, in glorious high-poly form!

Geese is not the only major player to make a welcome return. Also along for the new ride are Billy Kane, Athena, and some other even more surprising inclusions. Bonus characters are unlocked via single-player missions, as well as additional costumes. By the end of this mode, you will have 38 characters, and countless ways in which to dress them. Fancy turning Kula into Candy? Go right ahead, the option is here for you.

My favourite thing of all is that for possibly the first time in memory, the boss is not ridiculously cheap. No part of the AI is. It makes a refreshing change to be able to learn from the style of everyone you face, and develop your own style to beat them. In fact, the single-player portion of the game is very much a training ground upon which you can sharpen yourself before tackling the human prey that is ultimately much more challenging, and rewarding. VS mode is obviously more fun when two equally-skilled combatants face off, but can also provide plenty of enjoyment for novices. The skilled player will win more, but that is exactly what is to be expected. Button-mashers have never been welcome at the SNK table.

I have to admit, I was expecting bad things having been quite badly let-down by the original. It turns out that I was being far too pessimistic. Maximum Impact is the red-headed stepchild of the KoF family, whereas this bigger brother is a fully-fledged member of the family. Sure, the kid has some tricks, but he is far too annoying. MI senior, on the other hand, has style AND polish in abundance.

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Freelance review by Lee Weedall (July 09, 2007)

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