The Basics: While KOF: Maximum Impact wasn't SNK's first foray in the world of 3D, it was the only one worth remembering...until now. Southtown is once again threatened by a new mysterious underworld syndicate, and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to take part in the latest King of Fighters tournament...
SNK could have gone the lazy route and just tossed more characters and pointless extras without bothering to tweak the fighting engine. *cough*Mortal Kombat*cough*. Instead, they've listened to their fans, and have turned what was essentially KOF with 3D graphics into a more technical fighter, sacrificing only a sliver of speed. Now there's a parry system to deflect oncoming blows, guard canceling when they're coming too quick to parry, super canceling for even flashier combos, safe evade to avoid being slammed by said combos, and most importantly made sidestepping a useful and even essential part of the game, including special sidestep attacks that are sure to come as a surprise to someone still locked in the 2D plane.
They've also added a ton of characters to bring the roster total to thirty eight, while making some major improvements to the returners. Nearly everyone got a new desperation move (the KOF version of super attacks), and some have entirely new stances to really mix up their combo abilities. Unlike the first 3D KOF, all the characters have their own unique storylines, complete with rivals and endings, as well as special intros for characters both old and new. While the new additions such as Luise and Nagase really shine with their unique fighting styles; one a vision of elegance, kicking ass as she glides through the air, while the other a quick-footed ninja with plenty of spunk and pure firepower.
On the cosmetic side, the graphics have been revamped to bring the characters closer to their 2D originals, especially noticeable in some like Leona. They've also have an Elton John-sized wardrobe full of extra costumes to unlock, along with a heap of stages that KOF fans should recognize, and some classic SNK tunes to groove to a nostalgic beat. And with two hundred challenges, there's plenty of cool trials to earn them with. That's not counting time attack, survival, and the extra modes where you can take down a Metal Slug tank or battle to push a bulldozer over a cliff! Old school fans will be pleased by three person team mode, which includes a party variant where random bonus and negative effects are applied to spice up the challenge.
What we think: King of Fighters 2006 has Billy Kane in a pimp suit. I shouldn't have to say more, but I will.
I was a huge fan of Maximum Impact, so SNK didn't have to do much to please me for the sequel. So what do they do? Fix every last flaw I had with the fighting engine of the previous game, and add in some of my all time favorites from the KOF series, such the candy-loving cool customer Kula Diamond. Another greatness for someone who doesn't have skilled fighting friends is they've really upped the ante with the AI, who even on normal wait for an opening before crushing your advance. At the same time, the final boss doesn't have the usual SNK cheapness. I took him down with Terry's "Buster Wolf" in both rounds without ever having to continue. And yes, this time you'll have your choice of English and Japanese voices, just in case it isn't a KOF game to you if Terry isn't mangling the English language.
For SNK fans, King of Fighters 2006 is the kind of experience that makes you forget other games exist. My preview copy is lodged in my PS2 right now, and to be honest the only thing that's going to get it out of there is a review copy. Even now, I'm glancing back at my TV thinking "just one more round." It's satisfying in short bursts, and addictive when you want to pull an unlocking marathon. It sticks to its 2D fighter roots while going beyond them to create something that's truly unique in the world of 3D fighters, with a complex air game and earth-shaking special attacks. It continues the legacy of Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. It doesn't take itself too seriously.
And it's great fun.