It seems a decade of King of Fighters wasn’t enough for the flagship SNK series as the franchise now enters its 2006 installment. The last time KOF entered the PS2 arena, the series evolved into the third-dimension, with the lackluster Maximum Impact. And while 2006 improves upon the previous iteration, it still limps away from the fight.
The most notable improvement in King of Fighters 2006 is the bump in the number of features – the roster nearly doubles, new fighting mechanics are introduced and new single-player modes are added.
The entire cast of Maximum Impact makes an encore performance and are joined by four new characters, and 14 unlockables, which are playable in story, versus, mission, survival and, of course, versus play modes.
In the midst of game play, SNK Playmore has implemented two new fighting mechanics that cover both the offensive and defensive sides of the coin.
Super cancels allow for your character to interrupt the final animations of a special move and combo straight into a super maneuver and allow for extended and even more damaging combos. The second addition comes in the form of parries and allows players to turn the tides on overly aggressive players.
While the additions give the game play a little more depth, overall, the game still feels much like the previous edition and falls into the trap of throwing a 2-D game into a 3-D engine. Jump attacks and sidestepping still feel a tad clunky and I just feel like I’m playing Street Fighter EX all over again.
It’s not to say King of Fighters 2006 is a bad game, but on the PS2, it hardly matches up against the competition (or even the recent Japanese SNK Playmore released Neo-Geo Battle Coliseum).
Graphically KOF 2006 gets the job done in the hand-drawn 2-D to rendered 3-D transition. The character models, while not as detailed to the degree of a game like Tekken 5, are nicely done and bring the fighters every recognizable characteristic straight from their 2-D romps. Overall, the game animates nicely and runs at a constantly smooth rate with flashes of pizzazz emulating from special and super maneuvers.
Almost all of the environments are fairly generic but do feature some nice subtle touches in the damage to the ground and arena walls. However, the environmental damage strangely doesn’t carry over to all the stages. If you can smash the cement with a bone-breaking throw, why wouldn’t you be able to do so in a different stage with a concrete surface or even the marble in the mansion?
Perhaps the titles biggest drawback is in the sound department. First, I would like to write a 10-page thank you letter to SNK Playmore for including the original Japanese vocals, but I’ll save that for a different time. The selection will spare players from perhaps some of the worst English voice acting that could possibly be conceived.
Aside from the dangers of the game’s English (the menus aren’t even free of typos), everything else is standard fare. The music lacks the drive to fuel fiery fights and is easily forgettable, plus the sound effects could have been easily ported straight over from any previous King of Fighters game.
Fortunately, the game’s strong suit is in its game play, which tries to keep a balance of satisfying longtime fans of the series while keeping a pick-up-and-play feel for those new to the series. All of the characters feature a surprisingly beefy set of signature, special, throw/hold, super and combo moves aside from their standard punches and kicks. Not only have the characters carried over every single one of their special moves from previous games, but 2006 also gives them new moves into the mix.
The 3-D element also includes the ever-popular “dial-a-combo” maneuvers. By stringing together mapped out combinations of punches and kicks, characters will execute a barrage of attacks in succession. The pre-determined combos end in a brutal punch or kick that sends the opponent flying, but players can throw in a special or super move in at any time before the finish of the combo and dish out even more punishment.
Players will need quick fingers to execute high-hitting combos, as the game play in 2006 is fast and furious. True to the series, matches are brief and brutal running at a speed almost comparable to the classic Street Fighter II Turbo fights. Everything definitely has a classic feel and runs as one of the fastest fighting games on the Playstation 2.
Even though there is no online fighting option once again, the mission modes will give those looking for a fight a run for their money. Not only does the mode extend the single-player experience, but it also uncovers a number of unlockables including clothing options and stages apart from the slew of hidden characters.
The hidden characters range from additional King of Fighters characters to those tossed in for some fan service to those who follow SNK – Hanzo from Samurai Showdown, B. Jenet from Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Fio from Metal Slug and more. While, unfortunately, the secret characters do not feature their own segments and endings for the game’s story modes, they give players a lot of incentive to dig around in the game.
Obviously the most glaring omission from the game is the three-on-three team-based combat the series was founded on. Even featuring two-on-two battles would be a step in the right direction for the 3-D installments.
The game still feels a tad unbalanced in areas with some questionable super moves executed by the characters. While the level three super moves should be extremely damaging compared to the lower level moves, the damage scaling limits how effective the characters’ ultimate super moves should be.
If a level one super does about one forth the damage and a level three super does roughly one half damage, isn’t it more effective use three level one supers?
Some characters have horribly unbalanced level three supers, most notably Nagase’s were she just turns invisible, and some supers such as Mignon Beart’s projectile-based attack take forever to execute and just require a simple sidestep to avoid. While most of the long-time characters balance pretty well, the 3-D additions most notably fall victim to balancing.
There seemed to be a few other game play nuisances that went overlooked such as the inability to move your character into a position of your choice prior to the start of round one. However, before rounds two or three (or higher if you change the options), characters can freely move around before the round commences. The game, much like Mortal Kombat, also has some rough crossovers during jumping attacks.
Overall, however, the game play is solid and still maintains as much of the classic feel of the series SNK could capture in the extra dimension of game play. King of Fighters 2006 offers players a large number of characters old and new as well as numerous one-player modes to keep the game going just a little bit longer.
While it doesn’t compare to the Playstation 2’s other top-selling 3-D brawlers, King of Fighters 2006 marks the series’ most impressive entry onto the system and adds enough to the mix to provide an even stronger basis to work from in future editions.
King of Fighters 2006 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Suggestive Themes, Violence and Mild Language.