The King Of Fight­ers XIV

EDGE - - GAMES -

PS4

Well, look, it’s got a lovely per­son­al­ity. While The King Of Fight­ers XIV has come a long way in visual terms since it was un­veiled late last year, that’s damn­ing with faint praise. Ter­rif­i­cally ugly back then, it’s merely thor­oughly dis­ap­point­ing at launch, es­pe­cially so given that KOFXIII’s sprite­work was some of the best in the busi­ness. Here, rather than call back to the golden era of fight­ing games, SNK seem­ingly wants to evoke the early days of PS3. This is the first game in this sto­ried se­ries to be ren­dered in 3D. We rather hope it will also be the last.

It’s par­tic­u­larly galling given SNK’s stated am­bi­tion to make KOFXIV the world’s num­ber one fight­ing game – an aim that, at any point in the past cou­ple of decades, would’ve seemed fan­ci­ful in the ex­treme, but which now feels like a real pos­si­bil­ity. Cap­com, for so long the king of the genre, has left its com­peti­tors with some­thing of an open goal by mak­ing a com­plete hash of Street Fighter V. Un­for­tu­nately KOFXIV is ham­strung from the get-go by a visual style that isn’t ex­actly go­ing to turn many heads. Stomachs, maybe.

It’s par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing given the qual­ity of the work else­where. A ros­ter of 50 char­ac­ters is one heck of a launch of­fer­ing. The cast is split into teams of three: Fatal Fury’s Bog­ard broth­ers join up with Joe Hi­gashi, for in­stance, while Ryo Sakazaki, Robert Gar­cia and Yuri Sakazaki are on hand to rep­re­sent Art Of Fight­ing. Others come from Sa­mu­rai Show­down, and then there are se­ries stal­warts such as Geese Howard. Plenty of char­ac­ters are brand new, and with a grap­pler di­nosaur, a geri­atric flask-swig­ger, and a Hara­juku girl with elec­tro­mag­netic hair, there’s no short­age of va­ri­ety. It’s a lit­tle over­whelm­ing at first, es­pe­cially since you take a team of three fight­ers into bat­tle, and so must learn three movelists at once. Genre-stan­dard ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with the usual quar­ter-cir­cles, half­cir­cles and Sho­ryuken in­puts will get you started, though a KOF char­ac­ter’s movelist can con­found even ex­pe­ri­enced hands with some un­com­mon joy­stick mo­tions. Novices can de­ploy the Rush combo, SNK’s spin on an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar fight­ing game tech­nique. Mash the light punch but­ton and your char­ac­ter will per­form an au­to­matic combo string whose en­der changes de­pend­ing on how many stocks of su­per me­ter you have. Even with none, when the Rush ends in a reg­u­lar spe­cial move, it does a de­cent chunk of dam­age for the bare min­i­mum of ef­fort.

Be­fore long you’ll be ready to try some­thing a lit­tle more com­plex, and SNK is only too happy to oblige. There are plenty of ways to spend that multi-stock su­per me­ter, and many can be can­celled or linked into others. A dip into the char­ac­ter-spe­cific combo chal­lenges yields valu­able in­for­ma­tion on a fighter’s flashy ar­ray of po­ten­tial com­bi­na­tions that you know you’ll prob­a­bly never use in a real match. In­put recog­ni­tion is strict – there’s no equiv­a­lent to Street Fighter V’s Sho­ryuken short­cut, for in­stance – but that just makes it all the more sat­is­fy­ing when you hit every­thing per­fectly and lay out some lu­di­crous string of in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful su­per moves that takes off over half an op­po­nent’s life bar. It’s only an AI dummy, of course, but we’ll take what we can get.

So, yes, it’s a com­plex game, de­spite the ve­neer of ac­ces­si­bil­ity. A four-but­ton con­trol scheme might sug­gest a more ap­proach­able game, but within that there is con­sid­er­able nu­ance. Tap both light at­tacks, for in­stance, and you’ll per­form an in­vin­ci­ble back or for­ward roll. There are three types of jump, de­pend­ing on whether, and for how long, you nudge the joy­stick down­wards be­fore you take off. EX moves can only be per­formed once you’ve pressed an­other two-but­ton com­bi­na­tion to en­ter Max mode, a fix­ture in older KOF games that was ditched for KOFXIII. Just as char­ac­ters are pinched from across SNK’s back cat­a­logue, so are some me­chan­ics: a Just De­fend sys­tem, for in­stance, which re­duces the block­stun and chip dam­age of blocked at­tacks when you start to guard at the last mo­ment, is an im­port from Garou: Mark Of The Wolves. Fur­ther in­tri­ca­cies emerge over time. Two dozen hours in, we learn that the Blow­back at­tack, which pushes away an op­po­nent who’s pres­sur­ing you in ex­change for a chunk of your su­per me­ter, gains a wall­bounce ef­fect on counter-hit. Manna from heaven for fight­ing game nerds, but not ex­actly the sort of thing to pro­pel you to the top of the genre in terms of ap­peal.

With so much to learn, good tu­to­ri­als are vi­tal. While KOFXIV may have SFV’s pal­try of­fer­ing licked, it tries to teach too much too quickly, rat­tling through the var­i­ous move­ment op­tions and ways to spend your su­per me­ter with­out ever re­ally stop­ping to ex­plain when, or why, they should best be used. There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing able to per­form a move once and do­ing so con­sis­tently, while un­der­stand­ing the con­text in which it’s most use­ful; the lat­ter is ar­guably the most im­por­tant skill in fight­ing games and it’s a con­tin­u­ing source of frus­tra­tion that so few games seek to teach it. Combo tri­als, sim­i­larly, get right into the com­plex stuff: you’ll go into bat­tle know­ing a great way to spend four me­ters, but with no real idea of how best to build those me­ters in the first place.

These are fun­da­men­tal prob­lems for a game with KOFXIV’s as­pi­ra­tions. Like its pre­de­ces­sors, as a high­level pur­suit it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing sight: fast, fluid, in­tel­li­gent and deeply tac­ti­cal. While there are some con­ces­sions in place for the mere mor­tals among us, there aren’t quite enough, nor is there suf­fi­cient help for those who want to im­prove. Cap­com may have left the field with an open goal, then, but SNK’s ef­fort has fizzed nar­rowly wide of the post.

While there are some con­ces­sions in place for the mere mor­tals among us, there aren’t quite enough

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