We're sad to see a great series struggling like this. King OfFighters has traditionally been the hardcore gamer's choice of 2D fighter, but with the franchise finally, almost grudgingly, venturing into full 3D with the Maximum Impact games, 2D King Of Fighters has been left behind. You can talk all you like about how pure the gameplay is, but the harsh reality is that Neowave is badly antiquated. Not only has the formula been tried hundreds of times before, but it's been done so much better too.
The KoF series has become more forgiving and noticeably more like Street Fighter in recent months. Start a battle and you'll notice the three-level super bar, accessed mostly with two quarter-circle motions plus attack and your character will have motion blur echoes behind him as it unleashes its fury. It's so similar to Street Fighter Alpha, it's almost like you're playing it. But this ain't no Street Fighter.
With an unarguably solid fighting mechanic at its heart - obviously the result of over a decade of iterations - you couldn't call King Of Fighters: Neowave broken. It plays exactly as you'd expect, with some nice touches - like an evade button that lets you roll around oncoming fireballs and a charge button that increases your power but drains your own bar. It adds new tactical possibilities, sure, but this really is no-frills fighting. The three-character Team mode doesn't even let you swap or combine characters mid-bout - something Marvel Vs Capcom 2 did well over five years ago.
Some flesh on these elderly bones would help a lot. Whereas Capcom Vs SNKintroduced bonuses for finishing your opponent in different ways (adding an incentive to finish each round spectacularly), here a win is just a win. Post-fight screens feature fl at artwork of your character or team with the word 'winner' underneath. No after-bout taunts, no plot development... indeed, no real Story mode at all. Just a predictable string of opponents before you meet the boss. And while the difficulty level is well-paced up to this point, he is ridiculously powerful. That's powerful as in 'three slight cuffs around the head and you're out' powerful. He's so tough that you'll be grateful for the help options at the continue screen, which includes easing the difficulty setting and giving the CPU opponent just a third of its energy bar to work with. Then, just to make the game feel even thinner, you realise there is no online mode. Even though Xbox owners get one. Hmmph.
Graphically, Neowave pretends to be modern by having 3D backgrounds, although you'd never choose this over Soul Calibur 3 or Tekken 5 if you were after impressive 3D. However, you can do away with the third dimension and revert to flat layers of scenery. But then, instead of looking comfortingly traditional it just looks ugly - and very old. The sprites, meanwhile, look like they've been recycled, appearing rather low-res compared to their backgrounds. And Mai'sjiggling is still scandalous - all those years and she still can't dress properly. Finally, to cap off the aesthetic issues, shadows don't quite reach the fighters feet, making it look like they're levitating slightly. Hmm, maybe they are... Sonically, the game is also stuck in the late 90s. Character voices are badly sampled, sound whiny and begin to irritate almost immediately.
This game would have impressed us in 1999. We're not 2D-bashing here - great 2D games are timeless because they're not instantly antiquated by better technology. But compared to Marvel vs Capcom 2, There's really no contest - Capcoms masterpiece is still sensational. We've moved on since full-screen fl ashes of red and white were classed as special effects, but Neowave hasn't. Hardcore KoF fans might enjoy playing this, but for everyone else after some 2D fighting fun, Marvel vsCapcom 2, Guilty Gear X2 and StreetFighter Alpha Anthology and are all infinitely superior.
The hardcore tag cant excuse this. Even fans of King Of Fighters will feel short-changed.
- 3D backgrounds
- 2D fighters
- A sense of deja vu