With 50 characters, tons of stages, plenty of online and offline modes and almost absurd technical depth, The King of Fighters XIV is everything fans of SNK's long-running fighting game franchise could want, though it's shed a little charisma with the transition to 3D.
I've been following The King of Fighters series for ages, and I've really enjoyed the evolution the series traditional 2D graphics have undergone over the past 22 years.
KOF 94 was rough, but it had character.
I was particularly taken with the style of 2010's The King of Fighters XIII, which looked like art come to life.
Now I want to play XIII again.
But that's all gone now. The King of Fighters XIV thrusts the series into the third dimension. The characters move more fluidly than ever and the dynamic super moves are nifty, but I'm not sure the style sacrifice was worth it.
Nakoruru and bird furnished by Samurai Showdown.
The transition to 3D has left the characters feeling flat. Maybe it's the lighting, maybe it's the shading; perhaps its a combination of the two. Even the most exaggerated characters feel plain compared to their 2D counterparts.
Other fighting franchises have fared much better in the transition to 3D, because they above and beyond. Street Fighter IV exaggerated the living hell out of its 3D characters, which preserved their larger-than-life feel perfectly. With its Guilty Gear Xrd games, Arc System Works laid D cel-shaded textures over 3D models, and the results were astounding.
The character in The King of Fighters XIV feel like they have recently been exported out of a 3D modelling program. I've seen more dynamic versions of some of these fighters in user-created hentai movies.
All of that said, the beating heart of The King of Fighters still lurks under all of that plastic-looking skin. There's nothing quite like being presented with a character select menu filled with excellent choices and being asked to pick three (or one, if you'd rather be all boring).
The game's tutorial mode is perfect for showing new players how deep in over their heads they are about to get. Will they learn the three different types of jumps, or will they stick to the newbie-friendly square button mashing auto-combo? Either way, they have got plenty of options with which to suss that out.
Mission mode is a series of character-specific challenges designed to sell arcade sticks. I need an arcade stick.
I particularly like the inclusion of an online training mode, in which two players can get together and just screw around. It's perfect for teaching, which I probably need as my early attempts at online battling have been beyond laughable.
Story mode is pretty much arcade mode with a few cutscenes and the odd bit of extra character dialogue. There's only so much you can do when you've got 48 core competitors to choose from. Play through with your favourite teams, see some humorous quotes and unlock some nice art. It's kind of relaxing, really.
So far I've had no issues with ranked online play that aren't stemming from my own skill. Fights are smooth, even on my horrible internet (permanently set to NAT type FU).
I've attempted to get into a Free Match room, but I have no idea what the hell is going on in there. Look at this nonsense.
It helps that most players are using the default portrait. Really.
I'm sure I'll figure that bit out eventually, and then I can start my march towards casual Team Another World domination.
There's more than enough good in The King of Fighters XIV to make up for the unfortunate trip to 3D land. If you find yourself missing the old 2D sprites, plenty of The King of Fighters art is just a Google query away. Might want to leave safe search on.