Videogames are subjective. Yes, that is obvious, but considering how often a review or preview boils down to, “Well, is it good?” it’s worth remembering that, for a lot of people, that’s all that matters. And “good”, practically by definition, is subjective. What’s more, videogames are gestalts. Actually, just typing that reminds me NieR: Gestalt and NieR: Automata again. I managed to barely mention the gameplay of both of those games during that article, but, from my perspective, I prefer Gestalt’s “simple” combat to Automata’s Platinum “dodge all the time” combat. I hate “waiting for an opening”, and would much rather just slam the attack button mindlessly until the giant mutant cows come home. Does this mean I think Automata “isn’t good”? No, of course not, but it does mean that I would prefer a “version” of Automata that is a little more… mindless. And do I think my opinion is “right”? Heck no, I simply know what I like. Hey, if I’m going to play through a forty hour story, I don’t want to get stuck on one stupid boss because I don’t 100% understand its dodge window.
But sometimes knowing your opinion is wrong is a tad… disheartening. NieR Automata has outsold NieR Gestalt by a roughly twelve billion to one ratio, so it’s pretty safe to say that if there is another NieR adventure, it’s more likely to feature pretty robots dodging bullets than grizzled old men clumsily waving around spears. It’s the way of things. Even though videogames are made up of many completely separate pieces (what I like most about Automata could arguably work just as well in a JRPG… or even a “light” platformer), the people that judge “what went right” often latch onto one or two tiny facets and emulate that for years. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Skyrim for its expansive world or because you really like collecting cheese wedges, the game is deemed a success exclusively for its “open world gameplay”. And then “Skyrim clones” are thus labeled because of that emulated open world, and not because they borrowed any of the other billion moving pieces found in a game that large. Success can only be one thing, and look no further than the army of Super Mario Bros. imitators on the NES to see how well that works when the game in question is “simple”. And it’s just as easy to copy your favorite part of a game as its worst.
Today’s game is technically King of Fighters 2006, but, as I realized after ROB picked the dang thing, it’s a game with another name: King of Fighters Maximum Impact 2. What’s the distinction? Why does that name strike fear into my heart? Well, because this, like Street Fighter EX before it, is yet another 2-D fighting game franchise that decided to make the leap to 3-D, and forsake everything good about the good ol’ days. Delightful sprite-work? Gone for the sake of clunky 3-D models. Fireballs owning the only plane available? Welcome to sidestep city. And the beloved, honed-over-a-decade incremental improvements to the KOF franchise were all tossed out with the bathwater to make way for new characters like Kyo with a Dye Job and Butterfly Girl. The old King of Fighters is dead, long live the new 3-D king (of fighters).
And… uh… I feel kind of bad because… ya know… I actually like King of Fighters: Maximum Impact.
Fighting games, by my reckoning, are pretty much pure videogame experiences. There are no ways to “emulate” a fighting game outside of a computer simulation (you could, for instance, set up a Super Mario Bros.-esque obstacle course in reality, or just read Xenosaga: The Book and get much the same experience as the game, but the only way to hurl a fireball directly at an opponent that is attempting to dodge via a punch that launches its user three body lengths in the air is to ask Capcom nicely), and, in a manner of speaking, you know everything a fighting game has to offer within its first few moments. It’s extremely rare to see a fighting game that follows the JRPG tradition of “stick around, it really gets good about 20 hours in”, or the old action game chestnut of switching control to some unwanted gimmick randomly until the real game starts up again (I’m going to start calling this Batmobile syndrome). Ultimately, what you see is what you get with a fighting game, and if it doesn’t click in the first few minutes, you’re probably never going to like it. Yes, there’s the chance you’ll get better at a fighting game, or learn to appreciate it more as you discover the various systems, but that first impression is at its most pure in the fighting genre.
And from that perspective, from that general “does it feel right”, I’d much rather play Maximum Impact over practically every other King of Fighters game released before or after. And I kind of like the King of Fighters franchise! It’s no Street Fighter, MvC, or even Blazblue, but it’s always been generally fun. I played King of Fighters ’95 on the Playstation (1) roughly until about ten minutes after my eyes started bleeding, and I’d hop right back onto the Chang Koehan train if the doctors ever let me have that disc back. And, with the exception of King of Fighters 12 (or was it 13? Or both?), I have yet to find a King of Fighters game that I distinctly dislike. But, for no reason other than an extremely vague “cuz I like it”, I have enjoyed Maximum Impact from its first moment. And “Maximum Impact 2” is just MI, but with more characters (including Fio of Metal Slug!), so it’s arguably my favorite King of Fighters game in the franchise. In fact, before the release of King of Fighters 14, it was indisputably my number one KoF. King of Fighters 2006, you’re a pretty rad game.
But I feel almost ashamed to admit that. This is the King of Fighters game that is the least King of Fighters. All the little pieces that should make up a King of Fighters game aren’t here. Despite the 2006 moniker, it is forever relegated to the spin-off ghetto, where it’s forced to hang out with the likes of Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks and (shudder) Soulcalibur Legends. Ask any true King of Fighters fan, and Maximum Impact is bound to be derided. According to history, it’s the black sheep of the franchise, an evolutionary dead end that was later abandoned for more traditional gameplay. King of Fighters 2006 was a mistake, plain and simple.
But it’s one of my favorite mistakes, so eat it, objective reviews of the franchise. This gestalt, somehow, adds up to something great. Heck, show me another King of Fighters where I can fight a bleeding Metal Slug, and then maybe we’ll talk.
FGC #306 King of Fighters 2006
- System: Playstation 2, and like six arcades worldwide. You know, the PS2 era was kind of weird: a game was either on every system, or only PS2. That seems odd compared to the 360/PS3 “universal” era.
- Number of players: Only two people may become the King of Fighters. Wait, no, that doesn’t quite work.
- Favorite Character: I really enjoy the cast of this game, as it includes luminaries from Mark of the Wolves, Metal Slug, and the ol’ King of Fighters standbys like Mai and Ralf. But I’m going to go with one of the more unique Maximum Impact characters, Mignon Beart. She’s supposed to be Athena’s “rival” character, and she’s designed to be… as annoying as possible. And she succeeds! So I prefer to see her crazy antics defeating the hyper-serious main characters of the franchise. Nobody likes you, Kyo.
- A shape of things to dumb: Everyone in the cast gets a “fun” alternate costume. And most of these costumes are pure fan service for other SNK games! And you know all of these costumes would be deemed DLC a console generation later.
- Sideshow: This might be the only fighting game wherein the silly side games are more fun than… anything. Like, anything ever. Who wants to beat up a stationary car when there’s a Metal Slug available? Or an encroaching steamroller, so you can act out your wildest Who Framed Roger Rabbit fantasies? And there’s always the option to beat moai heads out of solid rock.
- What’s in a name? This is Maximum Impact 2 everywhere but on North American Playstation 2s. Considering King of Fighters has always been something of a niche of a niche genre (particularly in 2006), it’s a bizarre appeal to the diehard fans.
- Did you know? Billy Kane’s little sister makes her only playable appearance in this one. She’s basically a Billy clone, but it’s nice to see a little more female representation from the franchise.
- Would I play again: Maybe! I mean, I like this game, but there are a lot of other fighting games out there. Maybe the next time I need to see the Beart family again, I’ll shake off the dust.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Disney Infinity (3.whatever)! Time to play with toys! Please look forward to it!