I remember, during my childhood years, hanging around my local arcade and spending my pocket money on whatever games they had there. I could probably afford my own if I saved, but I couldn’t resist. Amidst the fighting games stood The King of Fighters ’94. It soaked my money pouch up like a soggy wet towel on a public restroom floor. Characters from the Fatal Fury series and other Neo Geo games which, back then, were big at the time all mish-mashed into the first crossover game I’d ever seen. It wasn’t as popular as Street Fighter II, though, but it held its own in the growing 2D fighting game market.
A whopping 18 games later, 13 main entries and 5 spin-offs, and we are blessed with The King of Fighters XIV, brought to us by SNK and marking the first entry of the series to be in full 3D using 3D character models, stages, and cutscenes.
The King of Fighters XIV has what every fighting game should have, a single player story mode. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad and as far fetched as Street Fighter V’s story which Capcom added a bit too late. The plot goes something like this. A huge man mountain named Antonov is holding “The King of Fighters” tournament to give world class fighters from around the world a chance to challenge him for his title belt. This Antonov, a huge, tanned, blonde haired, cigar smoking beast of a man, is arrogant. So arrogant, in fact, that he is allowing teams of 3 to challenge him. Like fighting games before Street Fighter V and the latest Mortal Kombat games, which all have extensive story modes relying on long cutscenes, The King of Fighters XIV brings story modes back to their roots: A string of fights with a prologue cutscene, a middle cutscene, and an overall ending, plus a team specific cutscene depending on if you choose a proper team without mixing up the fighters. Unlocking each team’s movies is fun and gives you a reason to fight through the story with each one, and there is also a surprise end fight after Antonov is defeated, which was challenging and an interesting otherworldly turn of events.
This game is one of the most accessible I’ve ever played. By this, I mean that attacking consists of light and heavy punches and kicks, with special moves being simple age old button combinations such as quarter circle forward and punch. They are easy to perform and continuation of attacks or concedes fills up a gauge that, once filled, allows you to unleash super moves. These are made even easier to do using each character’s light punch combo which is activated by simply hammering the light punch button close to your opponent. This unleashes a flurry of attacks plus a super finisher if you have at least 1 bar filled. Max out this gauge and you can open up a serious can of whoopage with your fighter’s Climax Super attack, which is the most powerful in your arsenal. These are slick and stylish moves that take off a hefty portion of your opponent’s health. The biggest challenge is filling your gauge without accidentally using it up, which is a bit too easy to do causing many a frustration.
The combat is nicely balanced and extremely varied, primarily due to each character’s different fighting styles. Not once did I feel outmatched, although it was annoying fighting the 4 foot tall Choi with the taller guys. All of the favourites from across the series return such as Fatal Fury’s Bogard brothers, Andy and Terry, with their Muay Thai pal Joe Higashi, wrestlers Ramon, Angel, and King of Dinosaurs (which is The King of Fighters’ answer to Tekken’s King), bad guys Xanadu, Chang, and Choi, all of whom are heavy hitters, and King, Alice, and the famous Mai who are just a few of the many female fighters. There are 50 characters in total, all of whom are great fun to play as and have stories to tell. Sometimes fights will begin with a short conversation between characters that have a history, which is a nice little addition indicating characters’ relationships, but they don’t mean a great deal to the overall story.
Aside from the story mode, online mode pits you against other players across the world in ranked or unranked matches. Trials gives you character specific challenges such as activating a sequence of special moves or a combo, Time Attack pits you against the clock, and Survival mode tests how long you last with one health bar. Everything a fighting game should have is here with a cracking soundtrack to boot.
I’m having a great time playing The King of Fighters XIV. Its simple control scheme and special moves that are easy to pull off make it accessible to everyone. Fifty characters of all varieties cater to everyone, and each one is fun to play as. The balance is spot on. Characters such as the sultry Mature with her long kicks can easily hold her own against old man Tung with his unique ability to transform into a huge, muscled warrior when using special moves. Then there are weird and wonderful guys like Nakoruru who uses her pet eagle to strike foes, Meitenkun who has a clear cut sleeping disorder as he clutches his pillow, and not to mention Sylvie Paula Paula who is one of the most bizarre characters I’ve ever seen.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 26th August 2016