The King of Fighters series has been around since the hey-days of home consoles in a form known as Fatal Fury. Andy and Terry Bogard have been kicking butt and taking names since Fatal Fury I's release in 1990. That's right folks, 15 years of "heyeaaah!" And so, even with some ups and downs in the series, the Fatal Fury/King of Fighters games has been a haven for 2d loyalists. No more. With this move to 3d, SNK retains the feel of a frenetic 2d game and still adds the graphics and flash to appeal to new players. That isn't to say KOF: Maximum Impact is on the level of, say, Dead or Alive Ultimate – though it definitely has been influenced by DOA – but it is fast and fun enough to be worth a play. Just don't be insulted if it's not terribly original.
Like all good fighting game fans, I played Fatal Fury I and II back in the day, but haven't picked it up for maybe 8 years or more, so you can imagine my surprise, and concern, at SNK's moving it to 3d. KOF: Maximum Impact for the Xbox adds some nice features that were left out of the PS2 version: online play, Japanese voice-overs, and screen capture. These are all nice little additions that should be in every Japanese fighting game (and would be, if I had my way) because, try as they might, using English dubbing is almost always terrible. You can now play online, which is pretty fun if you can find people who won't completely kick your ass with a few punches and a super move. And the screen capture ability is welcome, although I found few times to actually want to use it. Aside from the additions, the game is unchanged. You still work your opponent over until your special meter charges up, allowing for a devastating super move.
As for the fighting, there are normal moves, super moves and things called flashy moves. The flashy moves are just special moves that don't drain your power meter (I have no idea why they're called flashy moves). The gameplay is generally frantic, but while it initially favors players who button mash, learning the special moves (which aren't that complicated) make the game much better. A big complaint I have about KOF: Maximum Impact is that once hit by a super move it is nearly impossible to regain the win – especially against the computer. Another complaint I have is that the combos are extremely simple to perform and, thus, easy as pie for a button masher. And even more aggravating is the computer, which acts like a button mashing child until it's time to perform a super move. And after it hits you with a super move, it goes back to stringing combos until you're dead. Of course, that's the point of the game. But the computer is always one quick punch ahead of your slower punch, one block ahead of your super move, and one super move ahead of your block. Most of the time in KOF: MI, I felt as though I was being brutally manhandled.
There is also a problem with juggling in KOF. If you get your opponent up against a wall, it is simple to wall-juggle them to their untimely demise. Bodies bounce off the walls and back into opponents; a simple kick or punch will cause them to keep doing this.
While each move in the game is simply a derivative of the Haduken fireball, Shoruyken uppercut, and hurricane kick from Street Fighter fame, they're all worth looking at in the command list just to know what is what. Though there are around 30 moves for each character (many are just longer versions of combos or different strengths of flashy moves) and each has 2 or more super moves. That's enough for a while, but you begin to wonder if there's any more depth to the game. Unfortunately, this is where King of Fighters doesn't quite live up to the series. Fatal Fury had enough depth and strategy to it to warrant replays to infinitum. But I wouldn't play KOF more than five minutes at a time. It just doesn't have the depth of games like Soul Calibur II or Dead or Alive Ultimate. And it doesn't even have the personality, style, or strategy of Guilty Gear X2 #Reload.
Obviously, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact – Maniax is overrun by better, deeper fighting games. Still, there's enough in this KOF to warrant a rental and a few hours of enjoyment. King of Fighters: Maximum Impact still hits hard and feels like a 2d game, but not like Fatal Fury. There's some fun here if you like to play online, or if you desire a change from the norm.
Because of the changes to the game, fans of Fatal Fury might opt out on this one. It neither brings back memories of the old days, nor promises a bright future for the series. But 15 years is a long time and Terry and Andy Bogard have had a good run. The new characters in the game are nice, but one woman's...ahem...anatomy dramatically overshadows her talent. It's a rental at best, but if you're willing to invest some time to learn the moves it does get better. But no where near the solidity of Dead or Alive Ultimate.