Return of the King
As their major fighting-game rival—Capcom—went 3D and companies like Arc System Works began producing visually stunning sprite-based fighters designed for the new era of HD televisions, the once-great king of the 2D fighting genre, SNK Playmore, was faced with an ultimatum: Evolve or die. And so, they created The King of Fighters XII—an attempt to infuse that trademark SNK passion for sprite-versus-sprite combat into a refreshed, rejuvenated, and redrawn project that would serve as a spiritual rebirth for the company.
Unfortunately, KOFXII was a dismal failure. After years in development and racking up costs, SNK Playmore decided the game had to be released—and fans were shocked to find a product that felt like a half-finished beta with a $60 price tag. The game failed to win the affection of fighting fans both casual and hardcore, but worse, it let down the longtime SNK faithful who had had so much hope in its potential.
Thus, The King of Fighters XIII had a daunting task set before it: It had to undo all of the damage its predecessor had caused. And in that task, it succeeds.
This is the game that KOFXII not only should’ve been, but also needed to be. KOFXII was never a bad game at its core; it was a great fighting game that simply hadn’t had the time to fully mature. KOFXIII presents itself as the exact opposite, wrapping its deeply crafted core gameplay in a package filled to the brim with modes, options, content, and polish—giving players everything from a branching-path storyline mode to an extensive character-color customizer. More than anything, those characters are the one place where KOFXIII most addresses complaints players had about the previous chapter. KOFXII’s seemingly random selection of 22 character choices has now been beefed up to 34, providing the return of long-time favorites like Mai Shiranui or K’ that were sorely missing before. As well, as a part of the roster increase, the proper division of participants into three-person teams is back to being the norm.
Even with the increase in size, SNK’s roster of fighters is filled with personality, whether it’s their design, voices, or the intricate details that went into their painstakingly crafted sprites. Speaking of details, SNK was always known for their amazingly complex and creative stage backgrounds, and the work that’s gone into transferring that tradition to HD is, at times, unbelievable. Even as epic productions like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 continue to push the boundaries of what we expect for graphics in gaming, there’s still something heartwarming in the type of quality 2D that KOFXIII displays that simply cannot be replicated by any amount of polygons.
Of course, one of the biggest question marks in terms of what SNK Playmore would give fans in The King of Fighters XIII was the quality of its online networking code; to say many of SNK’s previous efforts in getting their games online haven’t gone so well would be an understatement. In the online matches I’ve played in KOFXIII, I found that I needed to slightly tweak the timing both in my hands and in my head in terms of reacting to moves and performing my own. The more I got used to that adjustment, though, the better the experience felt. At the same time, my online matches were all played in the game’s prerelease days, when opponents would be few and networking variables favorable. The real test will come once KOFXIII is in the hands of the public and we see how it holds up under a wide variety of conditions and levels of connection quality.
The best thing I can say about The King of Fighters XIII is that—mentally and emotionally—it took me back to the era of the NeoGeo and reminded me of why I fell in love with SNK’s fighting games in the first place. Forget KOFXII—this is the company’s true first step in trying to remind the world that it continues to be royalty in the genre it once ruled over. I just hope enough players out there are still ready to listen.
SUMMARY: The King of Fighters XIII is a return to the glory days of SNK fighters—and a game that makes up for the mistakes of the franchise’s previous chapter.
- THE GOOD: An extremely well put-together, visually beautiful fighting game
- THE BAD: Some little touches sadly missing (sprite filtering settings, 1v1 online play)
- THE UGLY: SNK fans if the netcode doesn’t hold up once the online community really kicks into gear
The King of Fighters XIII is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.