When Capcom’s one-on-one fighting game series Street Fighter needed legitimate competition nearly two decades ago, rival Japanese developer SNK rose to the challenge by releasing a number of different rivals. Each title’s characters were obviously inspired by but different from Street Fighter’s, and evolved over time –with many sequels — to become very compelling gap-fillers for Capcom’s releases. The King of Fighters was a crossover title, taking some of the best characters from SNK’s fighting and action games, and pioneering a new three-on-three format. Instead of choosing just one character, you picked a team of three, and winning required your team to have the last person standing. Now SNK Playmore has released The King of Fighters-i 002 ($8) for iPhone 3GS/4 and iPod touch 3G/4G devices, and though this isn’t the perfect iOS fighting game, it feels even closer to the original source material than Capcom’s App Store titles Street Fighter IV and Volt – Battle Protocol.
Following Capcom’s lead, SNK has boiled The King of Fighters-i down from an arcade and console game with detailed, multilayered backgrounds and complex character animations into a flatter, simpler experience. The iOS title is based upon the latest KoF title, The King of Fighters XIII, but has only 14 characters compared with the console game’s 34, plus 12 completely flattened and unanimated backgrounds. Because of these reductions in scope, KoF-i’s is limited to Teams Fatal Fury, Japan, Women Fighters, and K’, plus solo characters Ash Crimson and Billy Kane. SNK fans keeping score will recognize a heavy bias in favor of Fatal Fury characters, with too few from Art of Fighting, and none from Ikari Warriors or Psycho Soldier; the company promises an October 2011 update with six more free characters, identities to be disclosed later.
Assuming that you’re okay with the characters SNK has included—and we were, as key names such as Andy, Terry, Joe, Kyo, K’, Mai, and King are here—you’ll be very pleased by how much of the gameplay remains intact from the long-running franchise. The sprite-based 2-D characters have all of their signature special moves, triggered via either correct virtual joystick and button combinations or an easier special attack button, plus super-powerful attacks, victory poses, and enough animation to be peers to Capcom’s fighters. Flame, electricity, and energy-based attacks are all rendered with typical SNK gusto, as the King of Fighters crew relies heavily on forces of nature to spice up the standing jumping, punching, throwing, and kicking. While some of the backgrounds have been so stripped of animation as to be sad, including a fireworks-laden arena that looks to have been frozen in time, the details in the artwork and the sheer left-to-right length of each stage’s background are both impressive, including Retina Display-supporting resolution and modest zoom-in/-out effects for certain special attacks and changes in combatant distance. Unlike the original Street Fighter IV, KOF-i doesn’t feel anemically equipped right out of the gate; it’s just stripped down.
Several key play modes make the KoF-i experience feel a little different from Street Fighter IV, too. By default, the game places you in the aforementioned three-on-three mode, letting you choose members of a team that will fight other teams, in whatever one-at-a-time order you prefer. Alternately, you can play a Street Fighter-style one-on-one, best-of-three-rounds mode, and access a Bluetooth-based two-player mode with team or single (one/three/five-round) battles. SNK doesn’t include the online multiplayer option Capcom added into Street Fighter IV Volt, which is probably for the best, as Volt’s implementation was so poor that online matches are a mess; the less ambitious local Bluetooth matches in KoF-i work just fine if you want to go one-on-one with a human opponent.
In all other respects, KoF-i is pretty much what we’d expect from a reasonably well-developed one-on-one fighting game these days. Intermission sequences provide a vague sense of storyline, using heavy text and still images rather than voices; you’ll probably want to skip them unless you appreciate the Japanese-influenced humor of seeing characters trading jokes with their clones. A coin collecting mode lets you buy in-game trading cards and extra costumes for the characters. There’s a full, energetic rock-dance soundtrack, plenty of in-game voice samples to coincide with the special moves, and virtual controls that are as responsive as can be squeezed out of Apple’s touchscreens.
Five buttons (punch, kick, evade, special, HD) and the joystick can all be independently repositioned and made as opaque or transparent as you prefer, even overlapping some odd bottom-of-display graphics—one of KoF-i’s only unfortunate design elements, seemingly introduced to fill the iPhone/iPod touch’s spare screen space. The other is the lack of true iPad support; SNK merely upscales the low-res art to Apple’s tablet devices, an issue that really should be fixed in a subsequent update.
Overall, The King of Fighters-i 002 is a very good fighting game, and like its console and arcade forbearers, it presents a respectable challenge to the Street Fighter series. While the initial collection of fighters has some obvious omissions, it’s a good start, and SNK’s promise to fill out the roster with additional combatants holds promise. Similarly, the flat background art is made up for with atypical detail and a legitimate soundtrack, plus solid controls and a reasonable variety of play modes. This is worthy of our B+ rating and strong general recommendation; we’re anxious to see it updated, and hope for proper iPad support in the process.
Company and Price
Company: SNK Playmore
Title: The King of Fighters-i 002
Compatible: iPod touch 3G/4G, iPhone 3GS/4, iPad/iPad 2*