The King of Fighters XIII Review (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
If it ain’t broke, why fix it? For years, SNK has been attracting brawlers from all over the world with its King of Fighters series, mixing up folks from past and present games (including Athena and the Ikari Warriors!) into one big smorgasbord of projectiles, throws, and super attacks. Each tournament has culminated into an epic battle, even though the somewhat-iffy King of Fighters XII left something to be desired. Probably due to the fact that series mainstay – and sexpot – Mai Shiranui wasn’t included. But now the ship has righted itself once more, and King of Fighters XIII, releasing through Atlus this time around, is a welcome return to form – and not just for Mai.
First off, the fighting is slightly different than your usual 2-D brawler. Sure, you’ve still got your fancy button combos, supers, special moves, and show-off techniques, like any good beat-em-up would have. There are also other things to master, which kind of sets King of Fighters XIII apart. Four different jumping styles are available, and while you think that might be a complication at first, it actually serves as a benefit. It allows you to dodge more troublesome attacks and position yourself for an ideal counter, or get in right behind someone to throw them when they aren’t expecting it.
Furthermore, you also have gauges that serve you credit, including a guard meter that only lets you block so many hits (because if there’s one thing we hate in a fighting game, it’s a constant blocker). There's also a hyperdrive meter that opens up the opportunity for super combos and, of course, the standard power meter, which lets you execute blazingly strong attacks that obliterate half an energy bar or so. All of these are convenient to keep an eye on, as you also observe the fight and see what’s happening.
As for the fighting action itself, it’s about the standard for King of Fighters, which is a good thing. The game continues to uphold its three-on-three balance, so you can choose your fighting order from over 50 different combatants. Each one brings something new to the field, be it quickness, strength, or specialty in a certain kind of attack. Some are more curious picks than others, but there’s enough diversity here to keep dedicated fans coming back. What’s more, everyone handles quite efficiently, even if you don’t quite grasp the deeper aspects of the game, like the degrees of jumping and the hyperdrive.
There is an interesting feature where side goals appear during the match. Completing them actually serve as an advantage over the course of a battle, even if some are trickier to execute than others. We’re talking “complete three jumps in a row” or “hit an opponent with three normal attacks”. Some are a little more complicated than that, but overall, it mixes things up – especially for the pros that think they’ve got everything dialed in.
Along with a Story Mode that branches out in several directions (none, sadly, leading to the return of Geese Howard), the game also features a straight-up Arcade mode for living room brawls, along with Time Trial and Survival. A Tutorial mode is also available, should you feel the need to brush up on your fighting skills.
The main problem with Story Mode revolves around the two final bosses – they are CHEAP ASSES. Seriously. Even if you put the game on the easiest difficulty, your team will be made into mincemeat if you’re not prepared, as they launch grabbing shadows in every direction and perform the kind of frustrating grab attacks that last ages. SNK should’ve probably balanced them out better.
This is made up for with the game’s competitive side, as it’s perfect for local brawls. If your friends aren’t around (or, hey, maybe they’re better than you), you can hop online and take on others through online play. We experienced no real problems with lag or button reaction with these matches, as they ran quite smoothly. The replay system, though, is limited. You can view your best matches locally and save them for later, but you can’t share them online with others, nor see how other people are faring. It’s a slight downside, though, as the fighting options more than make up for it.
King of Fighters XIII does take a few strides forward in the presentation department. The backgrounds look slightly reminiscent compared to what was featured before in King of Fighters XII, but the animation has been greatly touched up, as you’ll see by executing certain moves or watching something as simple as a victory stance. Plus, we’re happy to see Mai back in action, with every curve completely in check. It’s like she hasn’t aged a day in the last 15 years or so…remarkable.
As for the music, it’s good for King of Fighters standard. Standard rock blares in the background for each battle, and it’s suitable as it is. The sound effects are good, too, particularly the mighty “thwacks” that emerge from successful hits and the characters screaming out with each successive attack. Mai’s voice is still whiny as hell, but we’ll put up with it just for the sake of having her back. (And if you really want to go into KOF overload, a multi-CD pack is included with the game, so you can listen to tunes from the series’ history at no additional charge.)
The King of Fighters XIII isn’t without its balance issues (mainly the bosses), and some things might be harder to grasp than others, particularly the jumping controls and figuring out how to make hyperdrive click. Regardless, it’s quite possibly the best game in the series to date – a devotion to old-school formula with new-style touches thrown in all around. And the graphics? Well, you’ll definitely like what you see. Grab some fighting friends and enter this tournament without delay.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]