SNK fans have been in Hog-Heaven recently as the company continues to release their latest titles on the PS2 and for a budget price. The latest installment is the eleventh (yes I said eleven if you can believe the series has been running this long) chapter in their most popular franchise The King of Fighters. Now while most companies are simply throwing half-assed ports and cheap cash-in games at Sony’s older hardware SNK continues to deliver quality titles at a discount price and KoF XI is no exception. With a massive roster of over 40 staple characters and enough depth in the gameplay department to give any 2D brawler a run for its money KoF XI is one of the best additions to your fighting game library in a while.
First and foremost we should make one thing perfectly clear. If you are not or never have been a fan of SNK’s proverbial series than KoF XI is not likely to change your mind. The core game has remained untouched over the years, then again if you are searching out reviews for the titles there is obviously some interest so let’s run down the basics. KoF XI is host to several familiar game types including Arcade Play, Single Battle and Team Play. Each mode is playable with one or two combatants and the only difference lies in how many characters you choose from the outset. When more than one fighters is selectable you can toggle between them at will thus creating an atmosphere similar to Capcom’s Vs. series.
In addition you also have a cavalcade of other modes that should be recognizable by fans of the genre. There is the familiar survival mode which pits you against and endless stream of enemies until defeat has been delivered. Next is Challenge mode which is strikingly similar to Soul Calibur’s version where fights must be won based on different terms the game deems necessary to throw at you. Finally is of course the standard practice mode where you can learn the fine arts of the complex fighting engine and practice your frame counting and special moves.
The mechanics behind King of Fighters have always been a cross between Street Fighter and other technical fighters. KoF XI continues this trend with enough depth to appease fans with dash moves and cancels that will tickle advanced players with delight. The roster of combatants is also impressive hosting over 40 faces both classic and fresh. The only downside is that with this many to choose from the moves begin to bleed together and feel the same, but thankfully there is just enough of a difference that you never feel like you have mastered them all. Everything else feels finely tuned and honed to perfection, which you would come to expect from a game in its eleventh iteration, but purists will take comfort in the fact that the game has not been dialed down like some other franchises that shall remain nameless.
The biggest crime with KoF XI isn’t its mechanics but yet a lack of online functionality. Granted I am probably beating a dead horse with the idea that online should be included in all fighting games nowadays, but for the price tag alone not including this feature is more about me being greedy as opposed to the game not delivering. Local play is still as fun as ever and while I can be disappointed that I cannot venture online to spar against the best in the world I can’t really fault the game for it either.
While the game mechanics and deep combat have certainly stood the test of time visuals are not so lucky. Sloppy is the best word to describe the look of the characters in KoF XI. Sprites are large and blocky and the animation is impressive for PSOne hardware. This wouldn’t be too hard to swallow if other companies hadn’t been doing it better for quite a few years now, namely Guilty Gear and of course the soon-to-be-released Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD, but in a world dominated by complex lighting and realistic animation King of Fighters XI feels like an ugly friend that you keep around simply because of your history with them. Backgrounds do a little to improve the atmosphere, but on a whole the game looks dated especially when playing on an HDTV.
Of course if you are buying KoF XI for visual fidelity then the joke is entirely on you. Fans of the series will likely not care that the game looks worse than most Xbox Live Arcade Game, the focus is clearly on game play and that is where it delivers in spades. In a day and age dominated by ridiculous chest physics and multi-tiered environments old-school arcade fans like myself should be rushing out in droves to snatch up SNK’s recent releases if for nothing more than to show the company how much we appreciate being given a choice of gripping onto the past. If you are a fan of classic arcade brawling action than King of Fighters XI is a no brainer, especially with a price tag criminally below twenty bucks.