While many purists will tell you that hardcore fighting games have no place on smaller, portable hardware platforms, the rest of us may have to politely disagree. The goes double for those portables that lack any sort of buttons, like Apple’s iOS-compatible platforms, which can now add the fighting frenzy of SNK/Playmore’s The King of Fighters-i to its growing roster of arcade-style fighting games. Anyone who’s played Capcom’s excellent iOS version of Street Fighter IV will feel right at home here, as the game relies on many of the same ‘tricks’ in squeezing the dynamic fighting franchise onto Apple’s hardware. KOF-i does a pretty good job bringing the true KOF experience to the iOS, despite lacking a few extra features that could’ve KO’d the competition.
There are four game modes to choose from: Team Battle for classic 3-on-3 battles, Single Battle for 1-on-1 fights, Endless mode for an endurance challenge with just one life, and a Training mode where you can practice with the touch controls and brush up on your combos. There’s 14 characters you can choose from and feature many of the series’ most popular faces, including the return of Billy Kane, who hasn’t been in the series since KOF 2003. SNK / Playmore has stated they will release new background stages along with six additional characters by October 2011, which will bring the roster up to 20. You can also earn coins while playing to unlock collectable goodies such as image galleries and character cards.
The graphics and sprites are borrowed from the still-unreleased (for home, anyway) KOF XIII, and are replicated fairly well on iOS devices, despite having a slightly rough look to them. Still, character animations are surprisingly fluid and really make you feel like you’re playing a console game instead of a portable one. It’s a shame the same can’t be said of the background stages, which are nice looking, but are static images with no animations. It’s not too bad since you’ll most likely be focused on the intense battles to notice, but it would’ve been nice to have fire or water move on a stage where some is present. The sounds and music are on point, and really get you pumped while playing. While all these features are nice, there are some features the game lacks that could’ve made things better.
Fans of KOF games in the past already know how difficult it is to pull off moves and counters with a standard controller, so trying to do it on a virtual pad isn’t exactly a walk in the park. While the controls are responsive and feature simplified special move buttons, when the action gets intense, it’s easy to hit the wrong direction or button, especially since the buttons are so close to one another. This makes for some frustrating moments while playing on the iPod or iPhone, which also makes you wonder why there isn’t a native iPad version available.
The main disappointment is also the least surprising; the lack of online play. While you can battle against other players using a Bluetooth connection, it would’ve been nice to have online multiplayer and take the action worldwide (much like Capcom’s recent Street Fighter IV Volt revision does). KOF-i is Game Center ready, but only allows players to share and compare their game completion level, rankings and achievements.
Despite it’s shortcomings and hefty $7.99 price tag, The King of Fighters-i makes for a pretty fun solution when you need your SNK fighting game fix on the go. The virtual controls work, for the most part, although you can probably expect a few frustratingly missed power moves when you need them the most; even the best-intentioned button-free solution isn’t without its problems. SNK/Playmore is promising future updates in the form of new characters, backgrounds, and more gameplay options, which could help flesh out the rather weak (for a KOF game) 14-character roster and pancake-flat backgrounds. Let’s hope online multiplayer and a native iPad version are among them, as they’d definitely help elevate a pretty good game to a great one.
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