XBOX REVIEW: THE KING OF FIGHTERS: NEOWAVE

The 2D fighting genre is showing its age. by Cole Smith

May 18, 2006 - You're probably wondering how I managed to get this review done after just recently returning from E3 in L.A over the weekend? Truth be told, I began playing King of Fighter: NeoWave about two weeks ago. I didn't really get into it at all, and I thought that might be due to my anxiety/anticipation of attending E3. I would give the game another chance upon my return. I was right the first time.

I even talked to a fellow reviewer about NeoWave and he agreed with my original assessment of the game. It's just a repackaging job. Unless you're a "brand loyal" consumer, there's nothing in this version to get excited about except for perhaps the online component which allows you to participate in a 128-person tournament. I admit that sounds like fun but the overall combat system is lacking in depth. The golden age of the 2D-fighter is officially over.

For years, the King of Fighters has stood the test of time. I'm not going to argue with fans over its legacy. As far as 2D fighters go, the KoF series is classic, but it's seen better days. The fighting engine is about as good as it's going to get. It needs a complete overhaul to survive. I just can't recommend purchasing a game like this that uses the same engine that we've played for years with only a modest amount of new features and upgrades. Granted, the online component is a good addition but the fighting system is so archaic and shallow that the fun will be very shortly lived for the average gamer. Therefore I would strongly advise that you rent this game first.

Now having said that, even if you're not a fan of fighters the arcade-style action is brilliant fun when taken in small doses. Newbies will appreciate the basic control system and moves list which will offer them a decent challenge. But you can reach the ceiling quickly, at which time fights between equally-skilled opponents can be decided by one little mistake. Hardcore fans of the series thrive on such nuances. It's what makes this game so coveted but even they will admit that it's all about playing against another opponent. Nobody could possibly recommend the single-player mode except for training.

Some of the game's best features include a huge roster of fighters, some different moves and attacks as well as the inclusion of some classic moves such as the thrust attack and the evacuation roll. There are a good assortment of options and modes including online play as well as updated graphics. It's still a 2D game but the environments do look substantially better than they have in the past. They actually have a sense of spatial depth that makes them appear more realistic. There is more graphic detail in the surroundings and although the sprites have been cleaned up they still look like their raggedy arcade counterparts. I can hear the purists whining about the new backgrounds but they don't look out of place. It would be nice to see the characters brought up-to-date as well.

Navigating the menu system is like playing an action adventure game. It's so puzzling I almost required the assistance of a 12-year old to show me what the hell to do. The single-player modes include Story, Single, Team, Endless, Practice and Verses. There are some 42 fighters in all including Shingo, Ramon, Mai, King, Terry and Andy to name a few. Different characters have different move sets which you'll have to learn but fortunately many have had their move sets mapped to the same control scheme.

Most of the combat is combo based. Linking moves and using special attacks is where it's at. A new feature is the Super Cancel which will let you abort a move if you suspect your opponent has correctly guessed your actions and is planning a counter. There is also a Heat feature which allows you to charge up an attack and make it more powerful by exchanging your health for destruction. This feature should only be used when you've got nothing left to lose or if you're absolutely convinced your opponent won't survive the hit. It does take a good portion of your health.

Online play is the only reason to purchase this game. At twenty bucks it's bargain priced but if you're not going to take it online don't waste your money. You can play against another human competitor in head-to-head matches or you can join a tournament which can accommodate up to 128 challengers. The online menus are easier to deal with and the controls were precise with no latency.

There are some new attack animations but they are few and far between. They don't make up for the repetitive and poorly acted voiceovers. The soundtrack could be considered a mess, but for those that want to experience the original Japanese production, this is as authentic as it gets. Yes, it is a mess but it's fun when taken in the right context. Some of the sampled sounds are thin and piercing, as though they were recorded off of a cell phone. Expect all kinds of shouting from disembodied voices, squeaks, scratches, grunts, smacks and trashy garage band tunes.

King of Fighters: NeoWave is basically treading water. Its appeal will be limited to fans of the franchise that will defend the game to the death - as long as it's priced under twenty bucks. Taken as a whole, NeoWave is a classic fighting game - but it's essentially a remake of a classic fighting game. The fact that it doesn't offer many new features in the gameplay makes it appear like nothing more than a cash grab. It's time that SNK started to cultivate some new fans for its fighting titles instead of taking advantage of its loyal ones that deserve more than this.

Features:

  • Xbox Live support featuring online multi-player head-to-head fighting and Tournament Mode.
  • A total of 43 characters yielding 12 of the most dangerous fighting teams plus 7 bonus fighters.
  • Pick your team and fight it out in the original 3-on-3 battle format.
  • Beautifully rendered background graphics.
  • Activate "Heat Mode" to power-up your attacks.
  • Revives the evacuation rolling maneuver and thrust attacks.
  • Over-the-top Super Special Moves.
  • 3 modes of play: Super Cancel, Guard Break and Max2.
  • Link a Special Move with a Super Attack in the Super Cancel Mode to cause extreme damage.

By Cole Smith
CCC Senior Writer

Rating out of 5
King Of Fighters: Neowave (Xbox)
2.7
Graphics
The backgrounds are a great improvement but the characters look as rough and pixilated as ever.
3.3
Control
The controls are relatively simple. Thankfully many fighters' move lists were mapped to the same control configuration.
2.5
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
This could go either way. It's supposed to sound this bad, but whether you like it or not can boil down to either taste or understanding.
3.2
Play Value
The online mode is the only reason to buy this game. But I would advise you to rent it first unless you already know what to expect.
3.0
Overall Rating - Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: Xbox
Dev: SNK Playmore
Pub: SNK Playmore
Release: Apr 2006
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Cole

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best