King of Fighters XIII Playstation 3 Review

Article first published as PlayStation 3 Review: King of Fighters XIII on Blogcritics.

One of Los Angeles’ own game publishers, Altus has squeezed in one last game before the end of the year.  The King of Fighters 2D fighting series is nowhere as glamorous as those from Capcom or notorious as Mortal Kombat but, its arcade roots ensure that SNK’s flagship has fans.  As most of the game arcades have gone the way of the drive-in theater, it remains to be seen how long many of the classic games can go without a serious reimagining.  With an industry that has been remarkably volatile in its short existence, in the race for scarce discretionary spending, nostalgia is unlikely a winning horse.  Has anyone seen the new Commodore 64 in their local big box stores?

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 received a lot of criticism from purist over what was perceived as a dumbing down.  There are no such issues with the comparatively nondescript fighter, King of Fighters XIII.  Capcom’s MVC 3 is filled with iconic comic book and video game characters and is therefore almost forced to offer an accessible product.  King of Fighters is really just about fighting and has no obligation to the casual fans of pop culture icons.  That being said, there is some fun to be had here for just about everyone.  You might even be able to convince a non-gamer or two to give it a shot.

King of Fighters XIII features a roster of over 30 hand-drawn fighters from which each player picks three fighters in arcade mode.  The story mode locks you into picking from set teams where you can change only the order of appearance of the team members.  The game does not let you change characters during the match, favoring a last man standing approach.  The teams do include representatives from SNK’s Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting but considering the format and lack of much personalization, even 30 fighters seems a tad light.

Starting up the game, players are faced with a lengthy list of a menu starting with a tutorial for those that need some help with the controls which as with most fighting games isn’t difficult to start playing but will require quite a bit of dedication to master.  The list continues with Arcade mode, Story, Versus, Practice, Playstation Network, Replay, Gallery, Mission, Customize, Player Data, Playstation Store and Options.  A long list like that is unlikely to endear many casual fighting game fans to the title.

The story mode is a pretty tight narrative that allows the player to enact the drama put forth.  There is quite a hefty story acted out in the voiced dialogue.  Unfortunately, the main arc is similar to what everyone expects and the banter is oftentimes just bizarre.  For those few that are interested, there is a lot of story to get through from varied perspectives.  This is fairly common in games ported from Japan but to compete with more mainstream titles like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and MVC, these issues need to be addressed.

King of Fighters as a title, not so subtly implies a game about fighting and as a 2D fighting game, KOF XIII is pretty good.  There are your standard light and heavy punches and kicks along with jumping, ducking and contextual blocking.  The real appeal to all of these retro-styled fighters is the combos and KOF XIII has them in spades.  The new and most powerful addition is what is aptly called a Cancel.  A Drive, Super, Hyperdrive and Max Cancels are basically performed by canceling a special move and starting a different one prior to the end of the first.  These will lay waste to your opponents but will undoubtedly require a bit of practice to master.

The online modes have been drastically improved but are still not quite ready for primetime and as this writer can attest, will certainly cause frustration.  With all of the SNK quirkiness, retro design and online issues KOF XIII is unlikely to garner many new fans.  2D purists and King of Fighter enthusiasts are who this game was made for and they should appreciate the quantum leap KOF XIII has made on both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  There isn’t anything quite as mechanically pure for a throwdown with a friend or tournament.

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