SNK and Capcom introduced their fighting games at roughly the same time.  SNK came out with Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown and The King of Fighters.  Capcom had Street Fighter II and its spin-offs, and Marvel Super Heroes.  The rivalry between the two continued for a while until a partnership formed where both had games using characters from their respective series.  Since then SNK has gone out of business and been resurrected from the ashes.  Now SNK is bringing back King of Fighters on its 10th Anniversary with King of Fighters: Maximum Impact.

A new tournament is being sponsored by Mephistopheles, the gang that controls the city, lead by a mysterious character named Duke.  This brings the champions out to test their skills.  The game does have some cutscenes in between each match, but they do little more than announce and show the character who they are going to fight.

The game is advertised as classic 2D gameplay with amazing 3D graphics.  Does this transition fare well for the KoF series, or does it fall flat on its back?

The transition from 2D for 3D for the King of Fighters series provides mixed results.  The characters have transitioned well with smooth animations.  The particle effects from special moves are spectacular, which would be expected from the PS2.  All of the returning characters are instantly recognizable.  Terry Bogard has his signature hat.  Mai Shiranui has her very revealing outfit (although the outfit seems to be even more revealing now).  All of the characters have multiple costumes with a couple of choices of colors.  Unfortunately, the texture mapping is plain and the characters seem flatter than they really are.

Those who were disappointed that the US release of King of Fighters 2000/2001 had the “bounce” factor removed will be happy to find out that it has been included in this game.  Not only that, but these girls give the DOA girls a run for their money.  It seems like any type of movement will cause a sway from the women.

The backgrounds are varied, from a dance hall, to a parking ramp, ancient ruins, and a forgotten paradise.  Unfortunately, while there are a few nice background details, there aren’t nearly enough to make the areas feel alive.

King of Fighters: Maximum Impact has a hard rock track that really sets the mood for the game well.  However, the music isn’t varied much at all through the game.  The lack of variety really hurts this area.

The voice acting is done well, except for the cut scenes where you are introduced to your next opponent by some announcer.  He is especially grating on the ears.  However, there isn’t much voice acting in the game for the characters, and most of the characters sound the same in combat.

Control for the game is tight.  Square is a light punch, triangle is a strong punch.  X does a light kick while circle does a strong kick.  R1 combines the light attacks while R2 combines the strong attacks.

Unfortunately, you must use the D-pad for movement in the game.  The analog stick is completely disabled.  While this won’t bother some fighting game enthusiasts, it would be nice to have the option to use the analog stick.

Control is simple enough for anyone to jump into a match.  Most of the special moves use some type of quarter circle movement, so it’s easy to pull off special moves.  A move list is available at the pause menu to help newcomers learn the moves.

The fighting is reminiscent of the previous King of Fighters and Fatal Fury games.  The returning characters and their moves are instantly recognizable.  A Power Gauge at the bottom of the screen will fill up from landing attacks and being hit.  These will allow the characters to do special moves.

There are 19 characters to play as, and another one to unlock.  Mastering all of these characters will take a while, so you won’t get bored any time soon if that is your goal.

While the health meter is displayed at the top, a Guard Meter is also displayed.  When the characters guard an attack, the Guard Meter goes down.  When the Guard Meter is completely empty, blocks are completely ineffective.  If you don’t move in on the attack, you are vulnerable.  This helps keep players more aggressive and won’t let them turtle the entire time.

While the game is in 3D, it doesn’t feel like it is three directional.  The game feels more like the original Virtua Fighter than Tekken.  It isn’t easy to move to a different plane to get away from an attack.

The environments are very sparse, and they don’t contain any interaction at all.  While some have fences around them, there is no way to throw the characters over or through those fences.

There are multiple modes in the game.  The meat of the game is the story mode.  This is where you fight against other characters in the tournament set up by the city gang.  You must fight through six characters to reach the boss “Duke.”  Unfortunately, the first six characters are relatively easy to beat.  However, Duke suffers from the “Cheap Boss Syndrome” that many fighting games suffer from.  Duke has an attack that will wipe out your entire Guard Meter if you defend against it.  If you don’t, it will take away roughly half of your health meter.  This leaves this mode underwhelming.

A Practice Mode is included that lets you take one of the characters and practice moves against another player and hone your skills.  There are a few options on how to set up your opponent which is nice so that you can practice attacks against a crouching opponent as well as a standing opponent.

The Versus Mode is for battling either against the CPU or a friend.  The Single Play has you choose one character to play as and another character to play against.  The Single VS is the same except for it is for two players.  The Team Play lets you choose three characters to fight against three characters of your choosing.  The Team VS lets you play against a buddy.

The Challenge Mode has four different levels.  Each of these levels has missions.  You must complete a certain number of missions in the first level to play levels in the second mission, and so on.  Some of these include not falling a certain number or times or defeating an opponent when you start out with half your health bar filled.  This mode will unlock a few more stages and costumes.  The Time Attack sees how many enemies you can defeat and how long it takes you.

Unfortunately, without any kind of true ladder system, other than the unsatisfying story mode, the other modes feel empty.  Unless you enjoy choosing the characters for almost all of your specific battles, you won’t find much substance in KoF: MI.

All of the different modes within the game are highly customizable.  Unfortunately, as mentioned before, there really isn’t a true ladder except for the story mode.  However, if you enjoy customizing every single one of your battles, then King of Fighters is highly customizable and should easily satisfy your needs.