The King of Fighters series has been around for a while now, the first entry launching back in 1994 and featuring characters from SNK’s fighters Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting as well as a few other titles. Whilst fighting game fans have taken a shine to the series, I’ve always felt like it’s taken a backseat to fighters like Street Fighter, Tekken and Mortal Kombat when it’s come to the mainstream crowd. Those who have played the series have enjoyed it though, and rightfully so – it’s always offered a great fighting experience and featured a wealth of fantastic characters.
With The King of Fighters XIV, the latest entry in the franchise, developers SNK have really changed things up, the biggest change being the transition from 2D sprites to 3D models à la Street Fighter IV. It’s the most significant change that’s happened to the series in years and truth been told some fans have been so disappointed with the decision that they’ve decided to boycott the game. They’re missing out – The King of Fighters XIV is an enjoyable fighter that lives up to the series’ royal name.
Fighting in the game is team based with a focus on three versus three combat. It’s different to the likes of Marvel Vs Capcom though – you don’t swap out characters on the fly, but instead have your team mates introduced when your current fighter gets eliminated. It’s essentially a best of five match, with each fight finishing when all three fighters on a team are defeated. In different game modes you can change the game to a one on one contest as well as introducing an assortment of different handicaps, though the bulk of the game is spent in three versus three.
Combat will feel familiar to anyone who has played a fighter before, though The King of Fighters XIV also offers a new gameplay dynamic called ‘Rush’ that makes the game a lot more accessible for newcomers. Rather than having to learn often complicated combos, players can mash the punch button and unleash deadly combos on their foe with ease. If you’ve got a full power meter you’ll even finish the combo with a more powerful attack, something that packs a lot more punch and comes with a series of pretty visual effects too. Taking advantage of the Rush attacks comes at a price though, with the ease of attack coming at the expense of the actual damage output – at least it allows you to fight with style without flicking sticks and having to time perfect button presses though.
If you’re more interested in pulling off the slick attacks manually, you’ll be glad to know you can give them a bit more power by activating your ‘MAX’ ability. Pressing both shoulder buttons when your power meter is charged gives you a MAX power boost for a short period of time, giving a temporary damage output boost to each of your character’s special attacks.
Whilst the game offers extra mechanics for things such as dodging or jumping out of the way of enemy attacks, it’s generally incredibly accessible and a lot of fun. I never felt like I had to button mash to victory thanks to the ease of it, and the combination of the Rush attacks and the MAX power ups left the combat feeling stylish as well as enjoyable – the fighting mechanics are certainly up there with any other fighter on the market right now.
The three on three nature of the game demands that you don’t simply stick to mastering one character, something that I’ve often been guilty of in fighters. It led to me experimenting with different characters and ultimately exploring more of the different fighting styles on offer in the game. So far I’ve found that my favourite characters to use are Leona with her great ranged moves and Kukri with his sand-like abilities – I’ve yet to find a third that I’m particularly good with, but the game has given me plenty of incentive to experiment.
Thankfully there are plenty of characters to choose from with forty eight characters initially on offer. After beating the story mode you’ll unlock the two ‘boss’ characters too, bringing the total roster count to fifty – a pretty impressive collection of fighters, especially when you consider that each feel so unique to use. A lot of the game’s fighters will be familiar to series veterans, with the likes of Terry Bogard, Kyo Kusanagi, Geese Howard and even the Freddy Krueger-esque Choi Bounge returning to the tournament in The King of Fighters XIV. There are a few new faces too, so returning fans will get to experiment with a characters they’ve never played with before.
The game features a simple story mode with Antonov, eccentric billionaire and ‘owner’ of the King of Fighters tournament, having set up a new tournament to bring all fighters together with the winner ultimately facing off against him, the ‘true king of fighters’. Whilst the story mode is considered the game’s main single player mode, it’s over fairly quickly. It’s made up of a series of encounters that’re split up with a few cutscenes in-between, the story eventually climaxing with an encounter with Antonov and an additional tricky boss.
In honesty I was a little disappointed not to see a more robust story mode. Fighters like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter have raised the bar when it comes to story based content in fighters, so it was a shame to see that The King of Fighters XIV was restricted to one fairly short campaign that doesn’t offer much different based on the characters you choose. There are some instances of varied interactions between characters during the story though – if two characters facing off against each other have a bit of history, there’ll be a neat little exchange between the two that offers a little depth on their back story.
Outside of the story there are a few extra game modes like versus, training and mission. There’s a full blown tutorial too, allowing you to get to grips with the game’s combat and manoeuvrability mechanics. The mission modes are quite enjoyable – the trials task you with completing challenges with each character in the game, survival sees you taking on hordes of the game’s combatants with just one health bar, whilst time trial tasks you with beating enemies as quickly as possible.
Whilst a lot has been said to criticise The King of Fighters XIV’s visuals, nothing actually looks bad in-game. Admittedly I’ve always been a fan of the 2D sprite based style of previous entries in the series, but the 3D characters still manage to look good – sure they’re not packed with the same style and detail of their 2D counterparts, but it was still pretty cool to see everything brought to life in 3D.
The backdrops looked great too and were packed with little details that made you feel like you were fighting in a living and breathing environment. There’s a great variety of stages to fight in including the likes of an underground prison, a hotel with a giant aquarium with a whale on show, as well as the Great Wall of China. Whilst they all looked neat, I did notice that some seemed a little saturated of colour. It wasn’t always the case and I’m sure it was done to make sure the characters themselves stand out, but there was often an obvious visible distinction between the colours of the characters and the stage they were fighting in.
The only real issue with the visuals is that other fighters that adopt the same 3D style on a 2D plane have managed to look so much better. Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat X use the same style and look absolutely stunning – whilst The King of Fighters XIV isn’t ugly, it certainly doesn’t live up to its current-gen fighter counterparts on the aesthetic front.
The game features multiplayer options in the form of local and online play. Online works well and I’ve yet to suffer any lag in the matches I played. You can either play ranked matches and face off against opponents similar to your skill level, or alternatively face off against a variety of players in the game’s ‘free mode’ lobbies. Best of all, free mode allows you to either play three on three, one on one, or even in the uniquely fun ‘party mode’ that sees a party of six each control a character in three on three combat.
Whist I enjoyed The King of Fighters XIV a lot, my pre-release experience with the game meant that there weren’t always a lot of players online. This left me to focus primarily on the single player mode and I quickly found myself getting a little bored, even with the plethora of trials each character has. There are plenty of different single player modes but given that I’m not really the high score chasing type, they got old fast. I’m sure when the game officially releases there’ll be a lot more players to challenge online though, ensuring the game offers hours upon hours of entertainment.
Whilst The King of Fighters XIV has brought a big change to the fighting series with its shift to 3D style visuals, it hasn’t deterred from the overall experience – the 3D models actually look quite good when you get used to them. Most importantly the enjoyable fighting mechanics and expansive roster that fans have been used to has remained the same, whilst SNK have even made the game more accessible for newcomers with the game’s all new Rush mechanics.
It might not offer as much single player content or be as visually impressive as other current gen-fighters, but it still packs a hell of a punch and will keep fighting fans coming back for a long time thanks to its expansive online modes.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 26/08/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed)