The King of Fighters XI PS2 Review

Publisher: SNK Playmore  Developer: G1M2  Genre: Fighting  Players: 1-2  

Age Rating: 12+  Other console/handheld formats: N/A

Since its inception, The King of Fighters series has had a dedicated fan base, that have followed the series religiously, through both the joyful highlights and crippling disappointments, purchasing the requisite arcade stick to get the most out of the game and dedicating themselves to mastering the many intricacies of the series. Blood, sweat and tears may or may not have been included.

But perhaps in trying to please their adoring fans, SNK are leaving the series inaccessible to more casual fighting game players and this is perhaps the biggest problem. We accept that like anything, games are geared towards various audiences and don’t wish for it to be dumbed down, but a better practice mode that learns you the ins and outs of the fighting system would be a nice inclusion for the less adept players all the same.

With this off our chests, let’s talk about the rather marvellous King of Fighters XI.

Beginning with the all important character roster. There are an ample 47 characters, consisting of such favourites as Iori, Terry and Mai as well as three brand new faces: Elizabeth the heir of a noble French family, Irishman Oswald who uses cards as weapons and Momoko a capoeira fighter. Within this gargantuan roster, there’s sure to be a character that suits everyone, right down to even the pickiest of players.

As far as modes go, things are largely familiar, though the challenge mode is deserving of a mention, as it‘s fairly unique for the genre. Just as the name suggests, the mode has you attempting to conquer challenges that range from super easy to devilishly difficult, some of which will have even the usually calm and focussed fans pummelling the wall.

This eleventh instalment once again has an emphasis on team based skirmishes and along with all the usual gameplay enhancing mechanics, such as runs, rolls and empty cancels, King of Fighters XI as always, brings some welcome innovations to the franchise, all of which will give the existing fans something else to master and everyone else something to cry about.

It’s now possible to tag characters in and out as you see fit. Quick shifting allows you to tag characters in mid combo. Another useful tag move is the saving shift, which switch’s one character out for another during an attack. Both of these moves are governed by the skill gauge, which gradually fills up during a battle.

The use of the Skill gauge extends to more classic KOF manoeuvres such as super cancelling, but perhaps its most important use is with the new dream cancel system. With this, you’re able to interrupt moves with a more powerful move of your own, granting you the opportunity to carry out some punishing combos on your hapless opponent.

In a nice twist, if the timer reaches zero during a round, the round isn’t simply rewarded to the fighter with the most health remaining as is usually the case. Instead the performance of each fighter during the round is evaluated and victory is then rewarded to the all round best performing player. Makes perfect sense.

The engine is well tuned and about as balanced as hardcore fighting fans could hope for, save for perhaps the traditionally cheap final boss who tosses projectiles as if they’re going out of fashion.

Graphically speaking, the sprites may be smoother than earlier games, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re old and crusty, perhaps a high resolution Guilty Gear style makeover is in order. Nonetheless these archaic graphics do – even in this age of polygons by the thousands, bump mapping and all the other technological goods with funny names – have a certain charm and style that are still pleasing to the eyes.

King of Fighters XI is strictly for those with the bleeding and often oddly shaped fingers, AKA the hardcore fighter. Here is a fighting system that has been honed over many years, with new additions that are successful in their execution, all of which culminates in a 2D fighting game of the highest class, one that should only be played by its strong fan base and the truly dedicated.