The King of Fighters XIII Xbox 360 Review – Still Down With The King

King of Fighters XIII Box Art

Publisher: Atlus – NA, Rising Star Games – EU, SNK Playmore – JP
Developer: SNK Playmore
Genre: Fighting
Players: Single, Online Multiplayer
Release Date: Nov. 22, 2011
Rated: T – Teen

Long ago, when luxuries such as high-speed internet and online gaming did not exist, man would assemble at local arcades and bowling allies. There they would spend hard earned coin on various fighting games, battling for hours, enduring body odor, drunken idiots, and hardcore competition to prove who would walk away with glory and reign supreme on any given night. While the masses huddled around the Street Fighters, Mortal Kombats, Tekkens, or Versus games, the eclectic gamers would be tucked away in the darker corners, honing their craft on the venerable Neo-Geo with games like Samurai Shodown, Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, and the original team-up fighter, The King of Fighters. The KOF series has endured since its humble beginnings back in ‘94, still showing that it is more than an also-ran fighter. But is it really the king of 2D fighters?

The King of Fighters XIII is the latest release in the longest running SNK Playmore series. It’s had its ups and down, but its hardcore fan base remains very loyal. The series has always looked up to its Capcom counterparts and KOF XIII won’t change that. In fact, KOF XIII seems designed to appeal to that loyal hardcore fan base while making marginal steps towards inviting newcomers to the fold. What it definitely does is improve on the massive failure that was The King of Fighters XII in almost every way.

King of Fighters XIII Screenshot 7

An all new story mode was developed to coincide with the standard arcade mode. If you haven’t been following the Ash Crimson Saga that began in KOF 2003, you’ll likely have no inkling of what’s taking place in story mode. SNK Playmore emulates the branching path scenarios used successfully in the Blazblue games, but it isn’t the highlight of the single player package it should’ve been. The story is complicated, thus making it forgettable, as it plays out in boring cutscenes that are animated similar to a motion comic. You can’t advance the scenes and dialogue faster. You have to skip the scenes entirely. That’s probably more of a blessing, now that I think about it. You can jump around the story to unlock other branching paths and all of your available cutscenes are viewable in the gallery.

Throughout story mode, you will be stuck with the characters on the specific team you chose, meaning you’ll be using characters you may or may not know or like. Arcade mode allows you the choice of three characters on a team, as is tradition with the KOF series. You don’t switch or “tag” them out as gamers have become accustomed to in the Tekken Tag or Capcom Versus series. You fight until you knock the opponent’s character out or yours is knocked out, thus bringing in the next character on your squad. The faster you do it, the more health you regain in between rounds.

The worst SNK tradition of insanely difficult bosses continues. Saiki will throw projectiles that freeze you while he walks up and pummels you. He doesn’t even have a cool name like Rugal Bernstein or Orochi, but he sure fits in with the rest of them on the cheapness level. Thankfully, if you’re frustrated with him, you can actually choose to continue with different options to give you an edge like boosting your attack or starting the bosses with 25% health. And what is it with this disturbing trend of making bosses in fighting games nude? Enough already.

King of Fighters XIII Screenshot 5

SNK Playmore did a commendable job on shoring up the rest of the game. Tutorial mode has been added to introduce you to some of the finer points of the game such as EX mode (think EX super moves from Street Fighter), Hyper Drive mode (think special cancels in Street Fighter III and IV), and NEO MAX mode. Time Attack, Survival, and Trial modes are now present. Trial mode is intended to teach you about each character, but unlike most games that start you with easy moves and combos, this mode throws you right into advanced stuff. It is like being skipped straight to Street Fighter IV advanced trials. Plenty of patience and timing is required for the flashier or higher damaging combos.

On the topic of gameplay and combos; the controls are tight. Special moves are pulled off pretty easily. Combos, if you can grasp timing, are accessible even to novice players. Super moves are still annoying. The King of Fighters XIII is not the easiest game to get into. Convoluted story mode aside, the sheer number of characters, special moves, and desperation (super) moves to commit to memory can be overwhelming. Most characters will have similar motions for the move sets, but the desperation moves will all vary. Motions like Forward, Half Circle Forward, or Quarter Circle Forward and Half Circle Back are not entirely difficult for a long time fighting game fan, but the motions timing and precision make it a bit tough to combo or even pull off in a pinch, thus negating the idea they are desperation moves when you get caught by the opponent while trying to pull off your move and flubbing it. Canceling moves into desperation moves or even NEO MAX moves for bigger combos is a large part of the gameplay. Veterans won’t find the transition hard, but new players will just be overwhelmed if they are competing online until they can learn the fine points of EX and Hyper Drive modes. The level of play really reminds me of Street Fighter III Third Strike.

King of Fighters XIII Screenshot 8

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