For the hardcore fighting game aficionados out there, there's two developers in particular that will ring a familiar bell: SNK and Capcom. The latter was essentially the flame that ignited the frenzy in the genre with its Street Fighter franchise, but many would argue that SNK's The King of Fighters franchise is one of the developer's top games among its other properties and at times could stand toe-to-toe with Capcom's best.
Back during the PS3 & Xbox 360 era, while Capcom made the jump to fully 3D character models (yet still playing in 2D), SNK stuck to its roots with 2D graphics in both The King of Fighters XII and XIII. The former was exceptionally lacking in content, while the latter made up for that issue but had the baggage of the former's issues clouding over it.
Taking this into account, SNK switches things up drastically with The King of Fighters XIV as they've switched over to fully 3D characters models, with the matches themselves still playing out in 2D like you'd expect. The problem is that, while significantly improved from the original trailers released a year ago, the character models feel like they could easily have been on the PS3 instead of the PS4 the game is releasing on. When compared to Street Fighter V or the luxurious pseudo-2D character models found in Guilty Gear Xrd, KoFXIV's models feel like they're lacking. Additionally, the backgrounds are somewhat mixed. You have some locations which are exceptionally lavishly detailed with ornate features aplenty, while others are lacking in details.
On the technical end, though, SNK pretty much solidly delivered. The action during my reviewing of the game appeared to be a nearly consistent 60fps. There's occasional slow down moments, but it seemed to be on purpose for effects during special moves and returned soon after the move was over.
And of course, a fighting game wouldn't be anything without its gameplay mechanics. The King of Fighters XIV does well by catering to both the existing KoF player base that has stood by the series, while at the same time opening up to newcomers who might not be used to the complex combo mechanics expected by the series.
This is exemplified in the new "Rush" mechanic, a fancy name for the standard "press button repeatedly to execute a combo", in this case a Light Punch. And like some other games with this mechanic, if you have enough levels stocked in your power gauge you can launch a special attack at the end of the combo. The catch to this mechanic, like other games that implement similar systems, is that the damage from this combo is always weaker than the standard execution of the same combo normally. So it's really meant as a way for newcomers to get their feet wet before diving into the real meat of the game's mechanics.
For more advanced and veteran players, the mechanics are the standards you've come to expect from the genre for the most part. You have your standard directional movement and button attacks, which tie into special attacks which utilize a combination of both directional movement and button combinations. Landing successful attacks builds your power gauge and lets you deal special attacks. KoFXIV also adds a new "Max" ability which takes off one level of the gauge, allowing you to use more powerful "EX" versions of your standard special moves.
So considering how much Street Fighter V got derided for its lack of content at launch, how does KoFXIV fare? You have your standard tutorial mode, which unfortunately doesn't really do much to help out newcomers to the series and feels aimed more at the upper echelon of players. There's a mission mode available, with trials, time attack and survival, versus mode (both one-on-one and three-on-three versions) and even a campaign at launch (which wasn't patched into SFV until months after launch). Special mention also go to the menu design overall, which is very clean and easy to navigate.
That said, that last point isn't as big of a deal as some might make it out to be, as it its nowhere near what SFV's cinematic story mode is, as its akin to the more classic short cutscene-based campaign mode of earlier fighting games. It was a fun diversion, but it wasn't something I would probably return again after playing through it once. It's still nice to have it at launch, however, and it's commendable to see SNK add it in instead of ignoring it outright.
SNK has a storied history, and KoF in particular has its fair share of characters to boast of. KoFXIV has an absolutely insane roster, which helps things out quite a bit as the core of this game is built around its three-on-three battles which are the standard battle format. You have your series mainstays such as the Bogard siblings, Geese, Iori, and of course the fan-favorite Mai Shiranui. They're backed by newcomers Hein, Sylvie Paula Paule and the hilariously self-titled King of Dinosaurs. SNK even brought in characters from the non-KoF games via the "Another World" team. While not every character will appeal to everyone, but with just around 50 characters to choose from there's plenty to choose from in the roster. It should be interesting to see what happens matchup-wise at the upcoming tournament scene, if nothing else.
KoFXIV is an odd game in that it feels improved in many aspects over KoFXIII, but in other ways it feels lacking when compared to that entry. Some players are going to dislike the new 3D character models compared to the more detailed models found in Street Fighter V or the pseudo-2D models found in Guilty Gear Xrd, but it builds a nice base for future entries and they don't hurt the core gameplay which still retains that core SNK quality fans have come to know and expect. It may look different, but KoF is back for a new generation of newcomers and veterans alike.
|The gameplay mechanics are exceptionally solid.|
|While the tutorial doesn't help much, the newcomer mechanics do help ease new players into the series well.|
|Wide variety of characters to choose from.|
|Character models are lacking compared to other games.|
|Would have been nice to see a better tutorial mode, doesn't really ease newcomers into the series that well.|
|Some of the stages feel like they're lacking something compared to others which are much more detailed.|