The King of Fighters series has been around for ten years now, so it is about time that it made the step up to 3D. More than just the graphics have changed, though, and the game is now extremely fast and features a fun, open-ended combo system to play around with. The problem with these changes is that hardcore KOF fans likely won't accept Maximum Impact because this isn't like the games they have been playing for ten years now. KOF has always been the hardcoreŁ fighting series because it was a little deeper and it took more time to really get good at it than, say, Street Fighter. Maximum Impact, on the other hand, is pretty darn mainstream since it is really easy to put combos together and put on flashy, flowing, entertaining matches. Basically, this is a King of Fighters game that will appeal to non-KOF fans.
The fighting itself is similar to a normal King of Fighters game, but the combo system gives it an entirely different feel. You can do standard punches and kicks and each character has their trademark special moves but now you can link them into long custom combo chains. This is a pretty simplistic description of how it works, but here goes: Basically, some combination of a directional button and attack button will start a combo of three hits or so. During this combo, you can press another d-pad and attack button to chain another 3-4 hits onto that combo. Each character has several different combo starters and linkers and you can generally mix and match them to create a bunch of new and different combos. You can also work special moves into these combos to create different, even flashier looking combos. The whole system is really easy to figure out and it is very satisfying to unleash nine and ten hit combos that you actually learned yourself. I know that some fighting fans turn their noses up at the sound of ten hit combos and auto-hits and linkers and that sort of stuff, but the bottom line is that it makes a fun, accessible game that more than just the hardcore crowd can enjoy.
Another aspect of Maximum Impact that sets it apart from previous KOF games is that there are now walls surrounding each fighting arena. This means that you can back an opponent into a wall and keep juggling them to score tons of extra damage and big combo hit scores. You can also now attack opponents while they are on the ground and these extra hits count onto your previous combo. That isn't really fair, especially since you can get as many as four or five extra hits, but it plays more of a role as a way to keep the matches moving forward quickly rather than a cheap offensive move. Your opponent will be quick to jump back up and fight rather than lay there and take punishment, so that speeds up the pace of the matches.
King of Fighters: Maximum Impact just plain works. It is one of the fastest 3D fighters to date and when you can get some good back and forth action with two people that know how to create combos, the pace and flow of the game is just outstanding. The combo system is well done and fun to use because you can really teach yourself to play and play well. You definitely can't say that about Virtua Fighter 4 or Soul Calibur II. But don't' take that the wrong way. It isn't as if the game is so simple that you can just button mash your way to victory, either. As always, an experienced gamer is always, always going to beat a button masher. The gameplay is a whole lot more complex than what the Dead or Alive series or the last couple of Mortal Kombat titles can offer yet they are easily accepted into fighting gamers' hearts. Why not KOF: Maximum Impact?
Where Maximum Impact suffers is in the features department. There are the normal modes you would expect, but they all seem very half-assed. The story mode tells no real story and none of the characters have a real ending like you would expect. There is a mission mode where you have to fight under different restrictions, but there is no real reward for doing it. There is also a practice mode and a versus mode. The problem with these modes is that you aren't really rewarded for completing any of them. You get a different colored costume or a character profile, and that is it. VF4, SCII, MK: Deception, DOA: Ultimate, Tekken 4, and basically every other fighting game you can think of , and not just 3D ones , give you a ton of unlockables or at least ending cinematics so that playing single player is actually worth it. Maximum Impact just doesn't cut it in that department.
The strength of the King of Fighters series has always been its cast of memorable characters. There are two-dozen character including a handful of new ones, but most of your favorites likely made it into the game. Leona, Ryo Sakazaki, Yuri Sakazaki, Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, and Athena are just some of the returning characters. The new characters are sort of the typical cute girls and manly mens you expect in fighting games, so they definitely grow on you and they do fit in fairly well with the rest of the cast. In all honesty, it is really a thrill to see all of these characters in glorious 3D. Mai fanboys are going to have a field day with this game. Each character also has some alternate outfits that they don't have in the 2D games, so it is fun to see them wearing something different for a change.
Graphically, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact isn't all that impressive compared to other 3D fighters. The character models, animation, and the backgrounds are merely acceptable instead of amazing. It is a good first step, and the gameplay more than makes up for it, but the next 3D KOF game needs to look better in order to really compete. One thing that I am pleased with is that Maximum Impact actually has a real menu and not the ugly flashing text SNK used in KOF 2000/2001 and SVC Chaos. Its about time the menus were updated.
The sound also generally fails to impress. The voice work has been redone completely in English and there is no option for the original Japanese voices. This is regrettable, but something that only KOF fanboys will really care about. The English voices sound fine for the most part. The music consists of blaring guitar that is OK, but forgettable. All of the grunts, groans, screams, kicks, punches, and slaps you would expect from a fighting game are here and get the job done. Just like the graphics, there is nothing fantastic about the sound but it is acceptable.
If you are looking for a new 3D fighting game on the PS2, I would suggest giving King of Fighters: Maximum Impact a try. It plays a lot better than Mortal Kombat: Deception, and that is the only other new 3D fighter there is to choose from on PS2. Even if you aren't a fan of the King of Fighters series, please give Maximum Impact a rent at least because it really plays quite differently from the 2D games but you still get to play with all of the fantastic characters. Hardcore KOF fans should still check it out, but whether you really like it or not depends greatly on much of an impact nostalgia has on you. It is unreasonable to expect every new game to look and play exactly like the dozen games before it, but if that is what you want you aren't going to enjoy Maximum Impact very much. I suggest renting KOF: Maximum Impact first before you decide to buy it. The game is very fun, but it just doesn't have enough meat to it to make it easily recommendable for a purchase.