The most recent entry in the King of Fighters franchise is the first one to boast 3D fighting environments. This being the main selling point for this release of the series unfortunately doesn’t add enough to the game to really make it stand out.
Being the first in the series to be made specifically for the PS2, KoF:MI is essentially still a 2D fighter that just happens to have 3D backgrounds, character models and the ability to step to the side. This unfortunately does not make it a successor to Soul Calibur. The effect of the 3D arenas on the game is negligible and almost something that you could completely ignore. Basically, it exists as more of a novelty then anything else. Which is unfortunate, it would be nice to see a game with this style of fighting be able to live up to a predecessor like Soul Calibur, but it doesn’t.
The games controls, though intuitive seem sluggish and robotic. The moves follow the standard quarter turn this way, back, forward, back style that are pretty much the mainstay of all fighting games, as, well, there isn’t really any other way to do it. The difference in fighting games lies with the ability to quickly execute a series of moves and the ease with which they flow together. KoF:MI, again, unfortunately feels clunky and not easy to work with. It seems as if over the years not much though has been given to a revamping of the fighting system to perhaps make things flow more smoothly. Some of the major moves in the game seem almost too easy to perform. One example of this being the amazement felt when playing the game with one of my roommates he discovered by pressing right and one of the punch buttons he could perform a 12-15 hit combo on me effectively taking away about half of my energy. Of course that move can’t be performed until your power gauge has been charged up, but it’s only a matter of time in a round of combat, and of course by the time you get it there, the easy to perform combo can pretty much decide the match.
Moving along with the apparent mediocrity of the game are the five play modes offered to you: Story Mode, VS Battle, Survival, Practice and Training modes. Again, it’s a merely adequate set of modes, nothing spectacular, and nothing that is going to draw you to the game unless you’re already a fan of the King of Fighters series.
The story mode, the main focus of the game is your standard fighting game fare. Except, in this case, it seems that we are dealing with a particularly hateful script writer as much of what is said makes little to no sense, and the voice of the character introducing you to each round of combat hovers somewhere between fairly annoying and really annoying. The story, such as it is, tells the story of a group of fighters attempting to wrest control of the cities underworld from the mysterious group known as Mephistopheles. That about sums it up. And like most fighting games it is merely a vehicle for the butt kicking that we really signed up for. So, I can’t really hold that against the series, as fighting games have never been known for their exposition.
The character design, though in some cases pretty neat is, which I think is becoming an increasing theme in this review: mediocre. The characters appearing from previous KoF games look better for being modeled in 3D, in fact the character models are probably one of the stronger points of the game. The unfortunate part of all of that being that none of them are particularly inspired.
As far as the sound in the game goes, the music is your standard generic heavy metal guitar with dance music beat for the most part. The voice acting is annoying, and unfortunately you cannot shut it off without turning off all of the sound in the game. So, the games sound design is yet another stop on the mediocre train going to “just ok” town.
The other new additions to the game, namely the ability for each character to execute four types of jump moves and a “knock back” attack, which allows you to launch an opponent into the air and proceed to juggle them around for larger combos does little to enhance the gameplay.
I’ve struggled hard to find good things to see about this game, but it all comes down to the fact that it is a mediocre fighting game at best. It offers up nothing new, and really will only be pleasing to people who are already fans of the KoF series. If you happen to be one of those people, then most likely you’ll get a good amount of enjoyment from it, for those of you who aren’t particularly big lovers of the series, I can’t see that picking up this title will give you much of a thrill.