King Of Fighters XI
Out of all forms of entertainment, videogames are certainly the most progressive and forward-thinking. In no other form of entertainment do things advance at such a constant pace Ė with both the hardware or software Ė and in terms of the consoles, you can almost set your watch by the new generation of hardware every five years or so. Itís unprecedented in the history of home entertainment, and itís unlikely things will change in the future; at least not until the apparent Holy Grail of genuine photo-realism is achieved (which, despite what some people think, is still a long way away).
So, King Of Fighters XI. Itís almost as though the last fifteen years of technological progression never happened. Itís 1992, Nintendoís SNES is the market leader over main competitor Segaís Mega Drive (aka Genesis) and Sonyís Play Station is still far from reality (some three years from reaching UK or US shores). Street Fighter II is the definitive fighter and by far the genre leader, with the edgy, controversial Mortal Kombat series snapping at its heels. People are impressed by games that can throw around about as many polygons as you can count on both hands, and the idea of a rewarding plot is rescuing the princess from the big fire-breathing turtle.
Had KOFXI entered the market back then, it would have probably impressed with its simple-but-nice graphics and animation and remarkably wide array of combatants and styles. But itís not 1992; itís 2007. And this is KOFXIís real problem; it is resolutely stuck in the past. This sort of thing might have been cutting-edge when the series debuted in 1994, but in todayís market against the technically impressive and forward-thinking genre leaders such as Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur itís unsurprisingly left feeling archaic and decrepit.
Irrespective of technical deficiencies, measured against retro 2D fighters (which is clearly the market it is aiming for) KOFXI holds up fairly well. It has an impressive roster of about 45-odd (mostly human) characters, some of whom wield interesting weapons such as a whip or a lethal deck of cards, and all who fight with pleasingly varied styles. Each character has a small handful of moves, as well as a power meter which allows you to unleash visually elaborate and particularly damaging attacks once it is full. All the usual boxes here are ticked, and the fact each character does not have a huge amount of moves works in the gameís favour Ė especially when you consider how big the character roster is. Thereís no need to commit dozens of moves to memory, like some more recent fighters essentially require.
Controls are generally pretty good Ė you can use the D-pad or the left analogue stick to move your character, which helps when executing some of the more complicated movement and button combos. The characters donít really move very quickly and the fighting tends to be less combo-heavy, and more quick strikes and pressing your foe back, which lends a different feel to other 2D fighters on the market. One neat addition to the combat is the inclusion of a move where you can quickly travel a couple of [game] meters in either direction, invulnerable. Itís useful to have a fast move like this to close in on your opponent, which is also effective for breaking away when youíve on the defensive.
The most impressive aspect is probably the extensive variety of game modes. There are all sorts of different options, from team battles, practice modes, arcade mode and the obligatory two-player battles. In team battles things are made more interesting as you have to select three characters to fight as, and you cycle between them at will, a la Tekken Tag Tournament. Slight layers of strategy are also added in that before the fight starts you have to quickly select which order your combatants will fight, so you need to be eagle-eyed to get your favoured result from this brief mini-game. Two player battles are Ė like most games of this genre Ė the real highlight. Due to the wide selection of characters thereís potentially loads of mileage here, and against evenly matched competitors you could be playing this for a long, entertaining time to come.
In terms of graphics and animation, KOFXI is good for what it tries to achieve. Animations and character details tend to be pretty good, although backgrounds look a little on the simple side. Itís all adequate enough, but honestly, donít expect more in this department than youíll get from the classic likes of Street Fighter 2 or Eternal Champions. Special moves look good and kicks are powerful and wince-inducing, but itís not really attempting to push the boat out at all which is a shame.
The presentation is pretty nice Ė itís largely interesting because of vibrant, prevalent colours everywhere, but itís certainly unique and memorable for this very reason. There is some sort of story involving a weapons-proficient woman named Shion, the demonic warrior Magaki and their combined attempts to raise an all-powerful demon named Orochi. The plot is developed in a few static-image sequences, and each character has their own (often rather crazy) completion piece. Loading is very minimal between fights, and the frame rate is never compromised (which is pretty crucial for this genre).
So, King Of Fighters might be a much-loved series amongst its hardcore fans and it might deliver in all the areas that those familiar with the franchise would expect, but measured toe-to-toe against modern fighting games it just doesnít fare well. The fact it’s getting a budget release at just £15 softens the blow somewhat, but then considering you can pick up several excellent contemporary fighting games such as Virtua Fighter 4, Tekken 5 or even Soul Calibur 3 for the equivalent value and this point doesn’t hold as much weight as it might. However, if you are a fan of retro games and the prospect of a fighter stepped out of the early nineties sounds appealing, then you can probably slap another point or two on the score at the bottom and rest assured this game will provide you with many hoursí entertainment. For the rest of us who donít fit into this fairly narrow niche, itís hard to recommend KOFXI over the abundance of other fighting games you can get on the PS2.
Five out of ten