If there's one disease that advancements in medicine will never cure it's the human capacity to complain. For years people bitched and moaned about SNK sticking with outdated hardware and recycling sprites for games that seemed to them nearly the same as what had come before, while the Dynasty Warriors series and its expansions continues to sell in the millions. So at the risk of alienating their small but dedicated fanbase, SNK dropped the Neo-Geo and created an entirely new 3D fighter for the Playstation 2 that managed to remain true to the King of Fighters series style, while improving on its systems and tossing in a half dozen new challengers. It was flashy and it was fun, so what was the problem?
Non-SNK fans complained because it didn't follow the Virtua Fighter mold, which has become the standard that 3D fighters are judged by. SNK fans complained because it was 3D, because the story mode was 1-on-1 (even though 3-on-3 versus is there for the playing), and because it had dubbed voices. I know the Japanese ones are the voices you're used to, but seriously you're just complaining to complain. Having come back from the dead once already, SNK isn't a company that gives up easily. So they've ported KOF: Maximum Impact to the Xbox with a whole host of improvements that I'm sure people will find some way to bitch about.
For those that never sampled the PS2 incarnation, KOF: MI is a faster and more juggle-friendly version of KOF fighting, with all the familiar quarter circle motions, hops, rolls, and attack names shouted at the tops of the character's lungs, with your choice of English and Japanese People Pretending to Speak English. The fact that it's in 3D feels a bit like a spatial afterthought and one of my few serious problems with the gameplay, which is the side step might as well not even be there unless you're avoiding a white hot ball of ki. Another being the inability to have an easy escape from knockdowns, especially in corners, while I wouldn't mind the ability to cancel moves...
In KOF:MI for PS2, I beat story mode with every character, completed every challenge in mission mode, and had countless 3-on-3 matches in versus. Now I've done about half that again in the Xbox version, as well as engage in a number of online matches, and while the flaws in the overall gameplay appear more obvious from my continues experiences, so do the subtleties of design. I understand and appreciate why a certain character's move takes this many seconds to come out, while that character's move is a half second less. It all leads up to a game that's more balanced that people give it credit for, and choosing anyone you have a decent chance of coming out a victor.
The visuals are essentially the same as the original, though all the menus and such have been redone in green in honor of its new home. The slowdown that was present in certain stages while using a flashy special attack, notably the night club, have vanished. In KOF: MIM's greatest new feature, Xbox Live support, you might notice a little controller lag if you're playing someone in Japan with a not so decent connection, but otherwise its the same as if someone was sitting right next to you.
Live play is fairly robust. In single game mode, you can enjoy playing 1-on-1 or 3-on-3 battles, choose to play with friends only, and even disable the exploitable boss character, Duke. Tournament play allows you to face a elimination grudge match with up to a hundred and twenty eight people participating...if you can ever get near that many people on at one time. The biggest fault affecting online play is the inevitable difficulty in locating other potential challengers, though I've been lucky in getting in a round or two during odd hours. You can't really fault SNK for the fact that their game isn't as popular as Halo 2.
Other additions for the Xbox port let you snap photos of the game in action, or save some of your more showboating replays from versus mode, though it's hard to remember about these options in the heat of battle. The profile mode from the PS2 version has also been expanded to sound and animation tests for all the characters, which really shows off how visually impressive this game is, something you'll be too busy cursing your missed Desperation Move to notice in a match.
Having the chance to review the game essentially for the second time, I can see that I was a little too generous to the PS2 incarnation of KOF:MI, but now SNK has been more then generous in boosting the original with a number of extra features and improvements, with online play being chief of them all. Scoring it was an easy choice, as easy as choosing which game to pull out when some friends drop over for a quick match, or when I want to get some use out of my Xbox Live subscription.