The King of Fighters XIV (KOF) is the latest instalment in the popular King of Fighters series whose renown spans decades. Unlike previous titles, KOF 14 is rendered entirely in 3D on a 2D plane and a real effort has been made to make it the best in the series and hopefully become as popular as 98 and 2002 – these are regarded (by some) as the best KOF games made. The KOF series is one that has never really had the fame and fortune of others in the genre but for mine, it’s certainly one of the purest fighting experiences you can get. Unlike previous titles, KOF 14 has been tailored for veterans and newcomers alike. To appeal to newbies developer SNK has introduced a system called Rush whereby players can mash buttons to perform combos, giving a false sense of achievement. It’s great for those wanting to get straight into the action but it’s certainly not a true experience.
Nothing to see here! Just a Mexican Dinosaur fighting on a carrier…
To be true to the series, players will need to spend hours familiarising themselves with the characters and combos. With 48 characters to choose from and about a dozen unique moves per character, you could spend months and still not get through it all. The sheer amount of content in this title is astonishing, offering almost double the amount of characters as other fighting games. There are multiple ways to get in the fight including a Story mode, Versus, Mission and Online play. The Story mode doesn’t quite live up to its name, instead giving only glimpses at characters and reactions to opponents. Initially, Antonov (who the fuck is that? Give him a title?)) introduces players to the mode and welcomes them to the tournament and then there are two ending scenes that conclude the story. We’ve been rather spoilt in fighting games of late but I remember a time when the fighting was enough, not relying on a story to be considered a decent game. What is great about the story mode is the interactions between different characters and the picture it starts to paint over time. Considering there are almost 50 character to play you will be waiting a long time to see all the conversation snippets from all characters but it also means you can find something new to enjoy each time you play with different combinations. In the Story mode players will choose three characters instead of the traditional one character only and finding the right mix for your team is crucial to winning. As I mentioned before the introduction of Rush combos certainly helps new players get into the game quicker and this feature is much needed because of the complexity of the controls. Fighting genre purists will find plenty to love as the challenges faced to perfect moves and combos will take hours upon hours to get right. When you do get it right in a battle there really isn’t a better feeling in the (virtual) world. The other modes on offer are your standard fare with some minor tweaks. Where players will find the most fun outside of the story will be in Mission mode. Choosing from Trial, Time Attack or Survival players will be able to increase their skill and hit the leader boards.
An impressive list
All the options
Plenty of online options
In Trial mode each character has set challenges to attempt over five levels of difficulty and it really is no easy beat. In each level you will have set combinations that you need to execute in a few seconds. If you take too long between button presses it will go back to the beginning and you will start again. It took me a little while to figure out what was going on and a few more hours of utter rage and frustration but after nailing them all (for one character) I was one step closer to greatness!! Time attack is exactly what it sounds like, fight 10 opponents in the shortest possible time, and Survival will pit you against a never-ending stream of opponents. Aside from these there are a couple of training and tutorial modes to really fine tune your craft – you’ll need to spend hours upon hours here if you hope to be competitive. Online mode is rather a bit of a let-down with unstable connections currently plaguing the experience. I tried to spend a fair bit of time online but found it near impossible to find a stable game.
The biggest boon in KOF 14 (and possibly the greatest source of frustration) is the complex and robust fighting mechanics. There are just so many combinations and move-sets to learn, and for newbies to the genre this might seem daunting. The Hyper Drive system from the last title has been replaced with a new and improved ‘Max Mode” where players can perform unlimited special moves before the meter runs out. Returning are the Super Special Moves and Max Super Special Moves and new to 14 is Climax Super Special Moves requiring all 3 bars of your power gauge, or two with max mode engaged.
Visually the game is lacking somewhat. A move to new 3D models is a welcome one but a lot of the criticism has focused on it looking like something from the PS3. I personally didn’t think it was too bad but it’s certainly not its strong suit. What makes up for it is the great looking characters. They may be somewhat clunky in the cut-scenes but they all have their own style and individual flair. Each and every one of them is different from the next which is something to be commended noting the amount of characters to choose from. There are 19 stages that are just as impressive as the character design, ranging from the Great Wall of China to an aircraft carrier. There’s enough variation in design for things to remain fresh for hours.
The King of Fighters XIV is a vibrant and potent fighting simulator with challenging, but ultimately rewarding, fighting mechanics. The introduction of Rush combos will appeal to rookie fighters and the complicated combinations and move-sets will have veterans frothing. Visually the game doesn’t quite stack up to other fighting games like SFV but the impressive array of content ensures KOF IV trumps others in its genre. Enthusiasts looking for a powerhouse title would be remiss to overlook this gem.