King of Fighters: Maximum Impact

KOF celebrates its tenth birthday by bursting into the third dimension with Maximum Impact - but does it sting like a butterfly?

PS2, Xbox
SNK Playmore
Ignition Entertainment

By Stephen Rowley

Tradition suggests that a 10th anniversary be celebrated with the giving of tin, but instead what we received for a decade of the King of Fighters series is this, Maximum Impact. A presentation tin might have been a nice touch, but the goodies haven't been completely withheld as Maximum Impact includes a glossily produced companion booklet and Making-Of DVD. Oh, and of slightly lesser note, it brings the KOF franchise into 3D...

Plenty of game franchises have made the move up the dimensional ladder; funnily enough this movement began around ten years ago (Mario 64 anyone?) yet the KOF series has decided to stick to its bitmap roots all this time. The most obvious direct comparison would have to be the Street Fighter EX games, the 3D rendition of that classic series, and this update is quite easily the more successful of the two. Maximum Impact has managed to stay true to many elements of the KOF franchise, and still plays quite smooth and fast. However, when it is seen next to other series' that have been perfecting 3D fighting over the years, it doesn't hold up quite so well.

In terms of looks, the biggest draw (for some at least) will be the new character designs by Falcoon (the guy behind a lot of KOF character artwork). For the most part, he has managed to both round the characters out within the extra dimension, whilst keeping them recognisable to KOF stalwarts. There are some new characters too; Alba Meira (sounds like a dessert), his brother Soiree (er, OK) and a buxom breasted, bee-hived blonde, British Bond-alike babe. Part of the Making-Of DVD states the reason a 3D KOF has been so long coming, is down to being able to have enough detail in the character models, so as they can compare to the rich detailed legacy of the bitmap designs.

However, two issues arise from this, the first being the alternate costume designs. Some long-time fans aren't going to be happy with all of these alternate costumes, feeling they don't correctly portray the characters they know and love - admittedly a minor quibble. The main issue from so much effort going into the character design is, of course, that other areas suffer. The background environments in particular, are of a noticeably lower quality than in most other 3D fighters of this generation. Adding to the misery, they've all been done before elsewhere (in one way or another).

Other areas have lacked attention too - the music isn't worth mentioning, and the voice acting ranges from cliché to camp, none of it particularly good. Lastly, the overall presentation is a bit sparse, with rudimentary cutscenes the biggest giveaway.

How it plays is more important though, and it is at least reminiscent of the KOF series; it has a good deal of speed to it, but the transition of some character moves - initially meant to be applied in a 2D environment - don't always hold up. Partially as a result of this, there is a noticeable lack of balance between the characters, and a few characters in particular become too powerful. Even in the wrong hands this can be true, as somewhere along the line, button-basher friendliness appears to have sneaked in.

Still, it doesn't entirely break the game, as long as you are aware of the problem and play accordingly. The effect of this on your enjoyment of the game will depend a lot on how much a fan of the series you are. Overall though, it's not a bad attempt and can be quite fun in the right conditions.

In terms of game modes we're again only seeing the basics here. The obvious single player Story mode and two-player VS (with an online mode conspicuous only by its absence), and of course Practice mode. In addition to these there is a Challenge mode, consisting of a series of 'missions' - reaching certain goals with various handicaps - and a Time Attack mode. Lastly there is an un-lockable Profile for each of the characters (though these are available in the manual), which allow you to set the Rigging model for each character. However, these are just some extra accessories the characters wear along with their other unlocked outfits.

Overall, it feels that the Dead or Alive style of play was the biggest influence on this 3D redesign of KOF. In fact, everything from the general feel, the menu design, music and everything right down to the bouncey bits is reminiscent of DOA - just not as convincing. Indeed, in some cases this fan-service wobbling addition is overly extreme and unnecessary. Coincidence or no, there are even a set of moves referred to as 'DOA Thrashing' moves. This isn't to say Maximum Impact doesn't have it's own worth, and the KOF trademarks prove to be a much greater part of the experience - the comparison should just help you decide if it's your cup of tea.

Graphics Sound Gameplay Depth Presentation OVERALL
7.0 6.0 7.0 6.5 6.0 7.0

As a transition from a 2D series to a 3D game it is very successful, but the developers' lack of experience in this area shows through in a few areas. Long time fans of the KOF series will probably be split in their opinion - some overjoyed to see favourite characters in a new guise, others depressed about the unbalanced play and button-bashing-friendly design. Non-KOF fans will probably wonder what all the fuss is about, and stick to their Tekkens, DOAs, Virtua Fighters and Soul Caliburs. As a first attempt though, it shows some promise for the KOF series becoming a proper contender, and the already announced Maximum Impact 2 could help to close the gap even further.

Video Coverage
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The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact
The trailer in full! [480x360, 1600kbps]
1.34min 8.00MB WMV

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