King of Fighters: Maximum Impact Hands-On

The first 3D King of Fighters is now coming to the Xbox, complete with Live support. We fight our way through a few rounds.

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Last fall, SNK's venerable and long-lived fighting series, King of Fighters, finally made the transition to 3D on the PlayStation 2 with King of Fighters: Maximum Impact. The game tried to bring this character-driven franchise up to speed with contemporary 3D fighters like Tekken and Soul Calibur, though SNK's attempt to modernize King of Fighters may have met with only marginal success. Now SNK intends to deliver Maximum Impact on the Xbox, complete with some new features like Xbox Live support, and we tried out an early build of the game to see how it's coming along.

Like most of the game, the roster remains unchanged from the PS2 rendition of Maximum Impact, offering a mixture of new faces and classic KOF characters. Returning favorites include Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, the ever-stylish Iori Yagami, and recent series addition Maxima. Then you've got the new guys, like tae kwon do master Chae Lim and the snazzily dressed Meira brothers, Alba and Soiree. As this is the first 3D King of Fighters, it's also the first chance for fans to see their favorite characters in different attire from what they usually wear. Additionally, an alternate costume is available at the character select screen whenever you pick your fighter. Some of the costumes present interesting takes on the classic characters, though just as many are notably reminiscent of the defaults.

One of the King of Fighters series' hallmarks is its team-based fighting, whereby each player can select a group of three characters to engage in an all-or-nothing contest to the finish. It's disappointing that in its primary mode, Maximum Impact is merely a traditional one-on-one fighter. However, if you played the game on the PS2 last year, at least you know to expect that omission. Luckily, the versus mode features a "team play" option that does let you and your human or CPU opponent pick three characters. You'll simply fight one-on-one as usual, and when one character is taken out, the next sequential character on that team will come in to the fight. This, unfortunately, drops you back to the loading screen while the new character is loaded in, but at least it only takes a few seconds before you're back in the action.

Naturally, Maximum Impact isn't up and running on Xbox Live yet, since, well, the game's not due out for several weeks. But we, at least, got to observe that the game's Live integration will be pretty thorough. You'll be able to access your friends list even from a single-player match, for instance, and since the game will sign in to your Live account as soon as you get to the title screen, presumably your friends will be able to contact you for a pickup match at any time. Another new feature in the Xbox version lets you record your matches to the hard drive for replay later, just in case you want to evaluate your technique or observe Mai's excessive physics implementation.

Like the PS2 version, Maximum Impact on the Xbox will offer a perfunctory assortment of modes. Story will have you choosing a single character and fighting against one opponent after another as a creepy representative of Southtown's Mephistopheles gang goads you on. Versus, the mode that will surely see the most action, lets you play against the computer or another player with one or three fighters. The challenge mode offers up specific, brief missions that require advanced players to prove their mettle. Finally, the good old practice mode is here if you need to brush up on your skills with a particular character.

Look for Maximum Impact for the Xbox to hit store shelves in late May.
Look for Maximum Impact for the Xbox to hit store shelves in late May.

The core gameplay in Maximum Impact is easy enough to get a handle on, since it's fairly similar to what you've played in past games. You've got two punches and two kicks at your disposal, and each character has a number of canned combos that you can enact with the right sequence of button presses. You'll also build up three levels of a super meter as you deal damage, which you can unleash with traditional multi-hit special moves. Finally, you can dodge in and out of the background with a quick pull of the right trigger, which is nice to see since even the past 2D KOF games let you move laterally to avoid damage. It's all pretty standard fighting stuff that anyone with experience in the genre can pick up quickly.

Like its PS2 counterpart, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact has the trappings of a solid, middle-of-the-road fighter, and the addition of online fisticuffs should provide some firm replay value for anyone who enjoyed the original version. We'll bring you more on Maximum Impact as its late-May release date approaches.

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