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The King of Fighters XIII

Score: 82%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: SNK Playmore
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Fighting

Graphics & Sound:

With the complete graphical overhaul already seen in the previous game, The King of Fighters XIII comes in without the surprise and high expectations. This time, fans are just hoping for tweaks to the freshly created sprites and backgrounds of the last game. That's just what you'll get this time around. There are more characters, more backgrounds, more details, and bigger effects. The game just looks gorgeous, in a word.

There's so much going on in the backgrounds, it can be fun to just watch a fight for all the funny stuff going on back there. The plump love from the last game is also back. There's a stage full of hundreds of dancing, clapping Sumo wrestlers, and another stage full of large ladies (which once again, is in France, making it one of the most unique French backdrops ever), and another is a jungle backdrop with lots of pot-bellied native creatures. It's as if the artists felt constrained by having to animate all that fit, muscular flesh and just wanted to let loose in the backgrounds. Everything is moving, and everything is lovingly hand-drawn. The parts that are rendered blend in quite nicely with the 2D-drawn art.

Still, there could be more detail, especially in the characters. Because they do lack fine detail, they clash a bit with the high detail in the background. For example, Joe Higashi has wrapped hands and feet, but that detail has been melted together so that it just looks like a coat of white paint on his hands and feet.

The sound effects and music are just as lush, with every hit ringing loud and clear, and a nice traditional rock soundtrack for the background music. It even does a good job of cutting down on the repetitive nature of fighting game sound effects. Each jab and kick might get a randomized sound, so it's not going to be exactly the same "hyaa!" every time. It's little details like this that count when you play a game over and over.


Gameplay:

Let me start with this: The King of Fighters XIII is the game that KOF XII should have been. Developers run over budget, deadlines get missed, I understand. If you skipped over the last game, you're probably fine. Personally, I think I feel a bit like Sonic fans feel with their franchise. Maybe the game was done ten years ago. Maybe we should just remember the good times, and just let them be great memories. Maybe we don't need a fourteenth iteration of this game, no matter how flashy it looks.

Either way, KOF XIII returns you to classic 2D arcade fighting. Battles are mainly fought in a 3-on-3 team system, but there's no live tagging in and out as you see in other games like Marvel vs. Capcom. The fighting system has been streamlined a bit, which I'll go into a bit later. But what is back in this game is a Story Mode, and a Training Mode. The Story Mode could have had some text advancing features built into it. As it is, it makes you wait agonizingly long while it displays a scant few lines of text. But what is nice is that the story is illustrated. It's mainly still images with lots of panning, but every once in a while, there are little flourishes of animation. Even with the copious amounts of text, you may just end up looking up a Wiki for this game to understand it anyway. Still, the story's return to the series is more than welcome.

The roster has been expanded, ever so slightly. The outrageous oversight of Mai from the previous game has been rectified. Girlfriend still hasn't found some support for the twins, but I'm sure she just doesn't have time to shop with all that training. Lots of big favorites are back in addition to Mai, including K', Kula Diamond, King, Vice, Mature, and Billy Kane (a console exclusive character). Of course, you can never have all the favorites, but it would have been a real nice time to put Rock Howard of Garou: Mark of the Wolves fame into the KOF mix. And Rugal. And how about both of Rugal's kids? And maybe we could explain Ash Crimson's love of manicures and bump-its at some point? How about taking that beer can koozie belt off of Leona's hips? One can only hope.

Oh, and if you care about this sort of thing, there's an extensive color customization system included. So you can make everything pink, pink, pink, and then go back to normal. Or you can give Ash a patriotic red, white, and blue outfit. Ok, I don't know - you can do what you like, it's there.

Online mode has also been fixed. The debilitating lag that made it unplayable in the previous game has been lifted and tossed away like one of King's handkerchiefs. Availability of matchmaking and rooms was quite adequate when I went online to play. It's just the way it should be. There's also a lot of features like a Practice Mode that will let you practice and accept incoming matches at the same time.


Difficulty:

The King of Fighters XIII is plenty difficult. This is something in the tradition of the game that will probably never die. Sure, you might make it through to the end boss every time, but he's always got a ridiculously unfair advantage, and never seems to play by the rules. It takes patience and a precise strategy to beat this game.

That being said, the Tutorial Mode for this game is quite thorough. It even covers the mundane aspects of fighters that are basically before that "crawling" stage. I mean if you come to a fighter not knowing how to move backwards or forwards, there's a tutorial here for you. It's not amazing, and it probably won't shape an Evo champion fighter out of Grandpa, but it is pretty darn thorough.


Game Mechanics:

The King of Fighters XIII performs just fine as a fighter. It gets rid of some of the more gimmicky things from the last game like Guard Attacks. The classic 2 kick, 2 punch control scheme still stands here (one of the features I always loved SNK games for over their relatives in the fighting world). Damn though, if there isn't a whole lot of naming conventions going on for different sets of moves in this game. You've got a Drive Cancel, Super Cancel, Hyperdrive Cancel, and a Max Cancel. The labels Special, Hyper, Desperation, and EX also make it into this game, as if the developers wanted to encompass every fighting game ever made. But when it comes down to playing the game, you don't have to memorize titles, you just need to know that adding a special button combination to certain moves will up the attack power of the move you're trying to do, and certain moves can only be performed while you're in Hyperdrive mode. Pretty basic fighter stuff, and you can keep it (relatively) simple if you want.

The game plays smoothly, though it may have a different rhythm when compared to its peers such as Street Fighter. It may take some getting used to, but it's definitely a good system.

A nice bonus for those who pre-order the game here in the States is a 4-CD music compilation. It contains music from the long history of King of Fighters games, and is a nice nod to loyal fans. Overall, this game is a bit of an apology, a love letter to fans. Even the manual, in full color, with a little flip-book animation of Mai at the corner, is just a nice little touch. This game is not going to push itself into the forefront of 2D fighting, but it's a darn nice fighter that's been brought into this decade. I just want to say: Thanks SNK, I know we had some rough times, but it's going to be alright.


-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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