King of Fighters: Maximum Impact
The legendary Hungry Wolf – gone toothless?
I first made Terry Bogard’s acquaintance in a musty, dusty pizza flavoured corner store. His brother Andy seemed to be the real show stopper at that particular Fatal Fury cabinet location, mainly due to the easy power of his elbow strike. I had thought the game to be a poor rip-off of Street Fighter II, but people I knew from Japan told me different. They told me that Terry Bogard was a legend.
SNK has provided a steady diet of King of Fighters games, featuring a cast built up around Terry “The Hungry Wolf” Bogard over the years, and the beneficiaries have always been the same people. Those people who believe that The Wolf is a legend, that this SNK franchise is something special. Where other 2D fighting games have undergone facelifts, and new 3D fighters have appeared in impressive fashion, KoF has seemed content to tweak their proud relic on a yearly basis, apparently either unconcerned with the progress going on around them, or unaware.
Novelty vs Nuance
This is where King of Fighters: Maximum Impact comes in. It represents the company’s awakening, the manifestation of an awareness that tried and true does not hold water forever. But there are problems. And the tragic irony is that the game’s greatest draw is also responsible for its greatest drawback. The transition to slick 3D visuals imparts ambivalent feelings which lean toward indifference when all is said and done.
You see, while KoF was busy not updating itself, fans stayed loyal primarily due to their close connection with and affinity for the cast of characters. Favourites like Terry, Mai and Iori were iconic, and their special moves, such as Terry’s “Burn Knuckle” were on par with Ryu’s fireball in the eyes of fans. And so the move to 3D should be extremely exciting for fans, starved for change for so long. The fighters look sharp and animate well; but that’s hardly the point. Just seeing Clark Still rendered and shaded in 3D fashion is enough to elicit gratitude.
But – and you knew there was a but – the evident inexpertise at 3D modeling has caused much to be lost in translation. The characters, while stylishly outfitted in authentic KoF gear, lack the personality of their hand drawn counterparts. It can all be summed up by checking out Terry’s victory celebration: you’ll thrill to the camera panning around him, and him tossing his trademark red baseball cap to the wind, uttering “Okay!”. But then the excitement will die down in your heart almost immediately, replaced by a growing disappointment with the 3D format’s inability to capture the moment with authentic panache. And for fans, that will be the KoF: MI experience in a nutshell. The 3D novelty usurps the critical character nuance which has been the flickering life essence to this aging series.
So the new blood doesn’t represent KoF’s breast to date?
Introducing new characters is always a good way of injecting new life into a faltering franchise, especially in the case of KoF: MI, since the new guys have the benefit of not having to live up to any personalities as established by earlier 2D characterizations. Sadly though, after all the talk of Terry Bogard’s legend, I can safely say that the new characters won’t earn the same notoriety.
Tough and stylish siblings Alba and Soiree Meira headline a flashy intro wearing designer sunglasses and ripped abs, tough talk abound. You couldn’t introduce new blood without making at least one of them a busty babe, and so Lien enters the fray, serving up the expected combination of violence and sex we seem to crave from our gaming women. During the intro sequence, she chokes out some nameless dude, and then finds it necessary to zip down her jumpsuit front enough to expose exceptional cleavage which you might liken to two 14-pound bowling balls bursting out of a single ball bag. For the weirdos among us, we’re also provided with a cutesy little girl witch named Mignon (yes, as in filet), who does all sorts of cute things and is generally annoying. All told, aside from the brother’s outfits and Soiree’s abs, it’s a pretty unremarkable group.
But if there is something to be salvaged in the personality department, amidst the corpses of loveable gesticulations from the old guard and anything at all outstanding from the new – it’s kitsch. Victory one-liners in KoF: MI are hilariously bad. Thrill to the cataclysmic one-on-one battle brewing as the combatants exchange these lines: “What colour are your flame?” Then: “That’s all you have to say?” And so of course: “Get lost!” And does it get more bad boy than this: “Today is your final day; you’re extinguished.” Extinguished, yet! But the piece de resistance is a line uttered in faux British accent by Lien: “You’re just a stray dog barking harmlessly like that.” The comic relief found in the tough talk – unintentional or not – helps compensate for what is mostly bland character portrayal.
For all my negativity (as a fan of past KoF incarnations), casual fighting game fans should still enjoy KoF: MI as a solid and fairly deep distraction while awaiting more polished fare. There are Story, Versus and Challenge modes available. Story mode allows you to take a character of your choice through the 7-fighter gauntlet in order to ultimately clash with the unbelievably overpowering final boss Duke. Beating him with both bad boy brothers Alba and Soiree will unlock him as a playable character for you. You might expect the story aspect to be lame, but you’ll be surprised at just how bad it is. An obnoxious clown in a yellow leisure suit with a big red nose and ridiculous hairstyle, will meet with you in between rounds. His only purpose is to tell you, in exceptionaly slimy fashion, who your next opponent will be. His unwelcome appearances amount to the ‘story’ being told. I could have done without that sort of plot advancement, thanks.
Versus mode allows three on three team contests: whether it’s your three-man team versus a team controlled by the computer, or a team controlled by a friend, is up to you. Challenge mode is where the sumptious replay value might have emerged proper, but it doesn’t really. Unlike similar ‘travel/task’ modes from games such as Soul Calibur 2 or even Street Fighter Alpha 3, the incentives are very thin. There is no Guile to unlock here, no Shin Akuma. Instead we are basically limited to earning colour swaps of existing costumes for our fighters. Given the extreme difficulty of some of the challenges (the idea is usually that your fighter is handicapped while your opponent is powered up), it’s hardly worth the trouble, even for completists. (Similarly, finishing story mode will unlock ‘rigging mode’ for the victorious character, which basically means the character can now play with a unique accessory – such as Iori’s guitar – attached to them.)
The game’s actual fighting mechanics are nothing new or out of the ordinary. You’ve got your old school half circle-based D-Pad moves and charge moves, in addition to sequenced button tapping moves. Given its old school heritage, KoF: MI places a surprisingly great deal of emphasis on the latter, dubbing them “stylish moves”. These chain combos are by far the most effective way of draining an opponent’s vitality bar, and when you string them together with the power gauge-driven combos (curiously called DOA Thrashing), 20-hit-plus opponent-crushers and fast matches are the result. In fact, the game plays very fast on the whole. Sidesteps and counters allow some big misses, which in turn set up opportunities to dole out some merciless punishment once you’ve mastered a few stylish move sequences and your DOA Thrashings. Once you get the hang of this, everything but the toughest Challenge mode missions will be subject to your, er, thrashings.
Interestingly enough, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact comes packaged as two DVD cases. The second disc is a special edition DVD that includes character profiles, a nice slideshow, as well as an interview with an SNK boss lady who tells us that another KoF game will be released within the year, and she hopes that this upcoming instalment will be able to capture more of the characters’ personalities and include a larger cast. I found it funny that she should mention what appears to be her own disappointment with the same personality issue which I found troublesome. She admits this fledgling foray into 3D didn’t go off without a hitch; maybe they’ll get it right the next time ’round, because there’s a perceptible spot of trouble when even the die-hards consider passing.