Review – King of Fighters 2006

Beat King of Fighters 2006 on story mode, and you will see the name Falcoon pop up several times, in many important positions. If you are at all familiar with SNK, you might have heard it pop up in discussions from time to time. Is he a gaming auteur, like Kojima or Miyamoto? Is it SNK’s bold new leader?

Not quite. The truth is that the man is just a fan artist that was hired by SNK a few years back, and was somehow given the reigns to the KOF: Maximum Impact series, arguably the most important thing they have going for them right now. KOF 2006 (which is really Maximum Impact 2 with a new name) actually answers the question of “if you put a fan in charge of their favorite game, what will you get?”

But what am I saying? This makes it sound as if the game is a trainwreck. In fact, it is a fantastic sequel, one that is bigger and better than anything the original had to offer. It’s just that this isn’t the direction I expected them to go in. The Maximum Impact series is their only 3d fighting game venture, and thus is their only real chance to step back into the big leagues against the likes of Namco, Tecmo, and Sega. But Falcoon is your typical example of a Japanese Otaku and SNK megafan, thus he has made a game that appeals exactly to that niche, both in Japan and the States. That’s great for a majority of SNK lovers, but it sure as hell won’t make any inroads with the general population. Yet there are also huge amounts of polish added to the combat (which still has some major issues), and a lot of new to go with the old. This game is a tug of war between the past and the future, and strange future at that. Like a good fight, I’m not sure which one will (or should) emerge victorious.

“You steppin?”

Maximum Impact was a fast, sometimes fun little 3d fighter, but it suffered from a list of issues, namely the unfair advantage given to players who pin an opponent on the ground or on the wall, and a large list of cheap combos and infinites that could break a fight before it began. A far better effort than SNK’s horrible 3d efforts from the 90’s, but there’s no denying that MI was only a foundation rather than a premium game.

Thankfully, KOF 2006 plays better than Maximum Impact in every conceivable way. The balance issues have been greatly fixed (though it is still easy to beat an opponent pinned to the wall), and attacks just feel solid, weighty. Most importantly, SNK has stood behind the idea they played around with in the original Maximum Impact – making a 3d fighter that has the feel and strategy of a traditional 2d affair. It isn’t exactly a new idea (Street Fighter EX tried to do the same), but SNK has a much better grasp of how to do it.

Glitches and balance aside, launching projectiles and super combos in Maximum Impact never felt awkward. With 2006, they have expanded upon the system with even more goodies. Super cancels, Parries, Ukemis, and Guard Counters add up and make the combat feel as robust as a traditional 2d KOF. Considering 3d fighters tend to stick to just sidesteps and counters, this is quite a lot of added depth. Thus KOF2006 feels like the best of both worlds; It combines the extra strategy and tactics of a 2d game with faster, looser 3d combat and more lenient timings. This is nice for newcomers, since they can learn the basics without a steep learning curve. It’s also nice for guys like me, since the more advanced, 2d-esque techniques feel easier to pull off than in a traditional KOF.

But just as important as balance is the fact that this is just a fun game, plain and simple. It isn’t too dumb or complex, and watching favorites like Terry and Billy Kane pull off their signature moves with all the flash and fancy of 3d really is a treat. That being said, I’m not sure everyone will agree with me on this one. Competitive players still won’t find it worthy of tournament play, and fighting game newbies won’t find it as easy to pick up as a Namco fighter, unless they know some of the basics of Street Fighter. Then again, the same can be said for a lot of games.

“Yoga flame!”

Sometime ago I wrote a small article about unlockable content, and this game happened to be one of the bigger targets of the discussion. In short, there’s a metric ton of goodies to unlock here, but to earn them all, you’ll have to beat some 200 missions. And maybe a few plays through Story mode. And Survival mode. And don’t forget Extra Mode, which at least lets you do crazy things like destroy the Metal Slug and knock a steamroller driven by Mr. Todo off a cliff.

The point is, it takes a lot of time to get all the stuff, and considering the difficulty of some of these things, you may not ever get it all. I’ve realized since writing that article on unlockables that some of these modes are actually useful. For example, the missions often require you to use certain techniques in order to win. 20 missions later you may have to do the same thing in an even harder situation. The missions end up being a great way of familiarizing players with the combat system without their even knowing it. But Mission Mode isn’t enough to change my final opinion on the unlock system. It still bugs the hell out of me, mostly because it may prevent some players from accessing a virtual orgy of SNK goodies.

The paltry roster from Maximum Impact has been beefed up to almost 40 characters. You’ve got the return of some faithful KOF jobbers (Kim and Billy), some fanboy favorites (Kula Diamond and B. Jenet), and even faces from entirely different games (like Samurai Showdown’s Hanzo and Fio of Metal Slug fame). Each character has 16 different color edits, some of them drastically modifying their look so that they resemble characters from other SNK games or popular anime (I still can’t figure out all the in jokes). There’s the usual assortment of stages to find, as well as a huge number of classic King of Fighters songs. They even included the Japanese voice track for the purists out there. The whole game feels like a big hug for the fans, reminding us that in all the years of being shuffled around, SNK hasn’t forgotten its heritage.

The old in KOF2006 is complemented by a whole lot of new, all thanks to our pal Falcoon. I don’t want to knock the man’s hard work, but there’s no denying that he is a Japanese Alpha-nerd. Thus, his original characters are quite frilly and fancy (Falcoon has even admitted that the hero Alba Meira is a “cooler” version of himself. Who the hell practices self-insertion outside of desperate fanfiction writers?). Some of the alternate outfits for the old fighters are downright metrosexual. There’s plenty of T and A, and a good helping of Lolicon (complete with a catgril outfit). King of Fighters has always been exotic and stylish, but Falcoon makes the old guard look downright ordinary, except for when he screws around with them, in which case they’re just plain fabulous. This game is crammed with the wild and wacky of otaku culture, which is sure to please the many Japanophiles that surely dominate SNK’s fanbase.

It doesn’t seem like it would take much to design a “cooler” version of Falcoon.

The reason I protest this kind of artistic direction is not simply because I don’t like it. More importantly, I think it hurts the game more than it helps. This is a fast, fun fighting game that a lot of casual fans could really get into, but I wonder how many might be turned off by all the cheesecake. I respect the fact that SNK is doing such a good job pleasing the people that have held them aloft for so many years, but there are plenty of other games, including the mainline KOF’s, that SNK can make for them.

Just look at how many copies Maximum Impact sold just by moving it to 3d and throwing a couple of commercials on the TV. They could get an even bigger piece of the fighting fan pie by continuing to attract a broader audience. And with such solid combat, they could very well introduce the uninitiated into the world of competitive fighting. None of this will happen, however, so long as Falcoon is reskinning adult women to look like the jailbait from Evangelion.

On the other hand, maybe SNK shouldn’t bother dealing with the big dogs. Tecmo has the eye candy, and no one presents their fighting game with the completeness and polish that Namco can. It doesn’t look like anyone is toppling Sega any time soon when it comes to Virtua Fighter and the Japanese arcade scene. Not to mention that gaming journalists seem to be a bit hypocritical when reviewing SNK games. Its “stale characters” and “ancient gameplay” when it comes to King of Fighters, but when Tekken or DOA recycle faces and combat for multiple games, its “refining a solid formula” or “going back to the basics”. If SNK were going to impress the whole world, they would need nothing short of a miracle. In that case it might be just better to stick with your loyal followers and make them as happy as possible.

If you like SNK, either in the past or the present, this is a no brainer. You won’t just find a lot to like in The King of Fighters 2006; you might actually find yourself having more fun with this one than the last four KOFs combined. For the rest, I’d still recommend this if you’re looking for a fighter that doesn’t require a PhD to master. Otherwise it’s going to boil down to your own tastes, and whether the wackiness means anything to you. I’m going to be following this series very closely in the future. It has the potential to bring SNK back to the limelight. That is, unless Falcoon goes further and tries to attract the girls with some Yaoi. Lord knows he’s created a stable to work with.

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17 years ago

That was a very cool review, Christian. I have never played an SNK game before, but this review/history lesson on KOF was extremely informative. I used to think this game was merely a clone of Street Fighter. Even though it may have been, there’s enough of a following for KOF to wash away that kind of status. 

17 years ago

Well Matt, there’s no denying that SNK blatantly ripped off street fighter in their early years.  But KOF began as a crossover of several of their fighting games, and pretty much grew from there.  Nowadays there are definite similarities, but the pacing and strategy of both games is certainly different.  I’ve come to like both games for different reasons, and come to think of it, this is a pretty good game to play in order to become familiar with the SNK universe, as it goes into a good deal of detail for some of the character’s backstories.

17 years ago

Have you guys seen this?
There’s a buffet of KoF information there; nearly undigestable, but it hits most of the significant points. 

17 years ago

I haven’t read the KoF article there, but that is one of my favorite websites. Maybe I should shoot the guy another email about affiliating…