King of Fighters 2006 - PS2 - Preview

Every five years a gang of plumbers, Pokemon, elves and marshmallows (Kirby, who else?) get together for a smashing melee. Every three years more than two dozen warriors battle to be the King of the Iron Fist Tournament.

But only one game brings its combatants together every 12 months -- King of Fighters.

King of Fighters 2006 launches an attack on 3D gaming with polygons, evasive maneuvers, and more combos than you can shake a Dual-Shock 2 at.

 

One glance at the move list reveals a Tekken-style array of button formations. Roll your thumb across the bottom of the D-pad (left, left-corner, down, right-corner, right) and tap the X button to perform one of Athena's projectile attacks. Press the D-pad toward your opponent twice in a row followed by the kick button for a double jump kick. Lien has a number of Hwoarang-style combos, leading off with punches and ending in a fury of kicks. The brutes have powerful wrestling moves. The creepy characters perform supernatural techniques that look like they were born from the seedy side of Soul Calibur. This cast (which amounts to more than 20 playable characters) makes for one of the most versatile selections seen in a PS2 fighter.  

Characters come in all shapes and sizes. You'll encounter and take full control of various brutes, a few destructive beauties, and a couple of unique warriors who defy fighting game etiquette. Kula is a fierce attacker on imaginary ice skates. She slides across the area to strike her opponent with a swift spin, a quirky twirl, and a deadly thrash. Her moves look like they were taken from athletes participating in the acclaimed Olympic event. Figure skating doesn't usually appeal to me, but it works. It makes her style stand out so much more than a kick-boxing woman in an army uniform. King of Fighters has got that too, along with several other familiar character types.

Mignon is another unique offspring, moving with the finesse of a feline. Sort of. She has a series of weird moves that she performs from an unusual, cat-like stance. From forward flip kicks to a continuous punch (that looks like she's trying to claw your eyes out), Mignon is a one-of-a-kind fighter.

 
Here kitty kitty.

King of Fighters comes out swinging with dozens (seemingly hundreds) of super-fast combos. Each character attacks quickly and aggressively. The game moves with the speed of a 2D fighter but has the beautiful shine of the Tekken and Dead or Alive series. This intensity does not come at the expense of the player – though combos require immediate response on the player's behalf, the buttons do not need to be pushed faster than the character performs the action on screen. While challenging, this was one of the things that made the 10-hit combos of the Tekken series, and the Brutalities of Mortal Kombat Trilogy, a little stressful. King of Fighters 2006's combos are more traditional (think Virtua Fighter 1 but with more depth and attack variety). 

Final Fight must've been pretty inspiring to these developers, as it has led to a challenge mode that lets you take out cars, tanks, demolish boulders (into sculptures), and push back construction vehicles. The goal is just what you'd expect: attack the object on display with everything you've got. If necessary, arrows will show you exactly where to hit. While not a new mode to gamers by any means, these battles turned out to be somewhat challenging. Should I use quick strikes or harder (slower) hits? Longer combos are more effective than a single hit but are time-consuming. It wasn't easy to decide, and with a short time limit, I barely had time to think.

Successfully completing my mission allowed me to move onto the next, but not before watching the vehicles' abolishment. It's one of many cool graphic displays. The majority comes from attacks, most of which lead to some interesting spark, flash, and explosion effects.

 

Set to pummel its polygonal competition upon its release, King of Fighters 2006 is due this summer. If you want a fighter to pass through the summer days (and lead you well into fall, and likely Christmas), look no further. Not only is this potentially one of the best PS2 fighters of the year, with so many characters and special moves to master, it shouldn't have any trouble competing with the big boys on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. No die-hard fighting fan should miss it – if you've moved on to the next gen, come back for the King.

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