I’ll be the first to admit that it’s been quite some time since I played an arcade fighter like King of Fighters so, for me, the learning curve was always going to be relatively steep.
Things have changed a great deal since the days of Street Fighter and the sheer amount of moves and combinations can be intimidating but that’s not to say that the latest iteration of SNK’s primary series doesn’t have its’ merits.
Right from the get-go it is clear to see that KoF XIII is meant to be housed in an arcade cabinet, from the hyper-cheesy rock music to the bright fluorescent menu screen – everything shouts ‘made for arcade’, so I was interested to see how the game would translate to PC.
There are a number of offline game modes available which are, apparently, a huge improvement on the previous title in this franchise, with an Arcade Mode, Story Mode and a Versus Mode.
Arcade Mode – as you might expect – allows players to focus on one-on-one combat, enabling you to choose any two characters you want and go head-to-head over two rounds. This is perhaps the most traditional method available and allows the player to focus on trying out their favourite characters moves in a combat situation of your choosing (and extension of this is the Practice Mode, which enables you to practice moves, combos, etc.)
Story Mode, on the other hand, provides those with less of penchant for fighting games a purpose for playing round after round, as ‘teams’ of fighters go up against one another in 3-on-3 fights.
Whilst the basic arcade mode held little interest for me, I have to say that choosing a varied team of fighters and choosing the order of combat (after the AI has chosen theirs) allows for a fairly strategic approach, as you can decide whether you prefer your quick and nimble fighter to go up against their lumbering behemoth or whether you’d like to pit your weakest fighter first or last, and so on.
For my run-through of this ‘campaign’ mode, I chose the ‘Ikari Warriors’ team in memory of the 1986 Amstrad CPC game of the same name, although Ralf and Clark are now joined by the sexy killing machine, Leona.
As with many of the teams, Ralf and Clark are much the same type of fighters, with few variations amongst them. While Leona is a more sleek and nimble fighter, capable of mixing it up with some of the more powerful ‘Ex Special’ moves, expending the built-up Super Meter.
These special moves are potentially devastating to your opponents and feel hugely gratifying when you can pull them off, but it is incredibly irritating when it happens to you as there is simply no way to avoid them.
Likewise, there are a number of characters whose moves (particularly sliding and holding moves) feel like they’re being spammed by the AI and are often completely unavoidable and it can often be a case of luck as to whether you will come through the match successfully.
As the main offline attraction of the game, the Story Mode allows for various outcomes and requires you to play as different teams to progress, meaning that there’s is a fair amount of replayability here, even though the story itself only lasts a few hours.
I would also suggest that if you’ve never played a King of Fighters entry – or not played one recently – then it may be wise to do a bit of research on the back story, as the arc regarding Ash Crimson and Elisabeth Blanctorche which spans back to the 10th game in the series from 2003 can be very confusing if you don’t know what’s going on.
If neither of these modes are for you however, then you’ll probably be most at home in online mode. Going up against fellow players from around the world and testing out your skills can be hugely satisfying but be warned: if you’re a casual player or you can’t string endless combos together you may struggle a little.
As is the case with many games of this type, the online community are made up primarily of the hardcore and they will happily hand your behind to you on a plate, leaving you to sheepishly head back to Story Mode where you can once again feel like the all-powerful King of Fighters.
While the game itself provides a lot of entertainment and has a great deal of depth and customization, for me it is the character models and back-drops that are the real attraction.
Despite the relative 2D nature of the game, the characters look stunning and contain a huge amount of detail, even at lower settings. While the back-grounds look incredible and it is easy to lose a match just watching the hordes of fans on top of double-decker, open-top buses or observing the detail in the red skies of the apocalyptic setting as you progress.
While I have since moved from 2D fighters to more modern ‘fighting simulations’ such as UFC and Fight Night, jumping back in to a traditional fighter like King of Fighters XIII reminded me that, when done right, there is still a place for these kinds of fighting games in an industry that is swiftly moving on and if this is your kind of thing then with the fun, but challenging, online mode and the incredible depth of single player content will keep you busy for easily 25+ hours.