E for Effort: King of Fighters Maximum Impact
SNK is an interesting company to research and write about, especially because they’re completely downplayed and have been outside the public scope of knowledge for a long time. Despite this they used to produce some of the most advanced gaming hardware of the “Golden Era” that is the age of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, and Super Nintendo. In the mid ninties comparing the arcade and home console version of the Neogeo was like comparing a Nintendo 64 to a Playstation 3. Ironic turn of fate that SNK later became famous for being a company behind the times. SNK tried more than once to catch on to the new trends of the gaming world. They made a CD based system, they made a color handheld system, they even made a 3D system. None of that really caught on compared to the original Neogeo, that arcade system that my generation will remember as the machine that had 4 games at their local pizza place.
Sometimes I really wonder if SNK’s had it too rough. It seems like they get shot down no matter what they do. I can’t think of any other company who’d been shot down as many times as SNK and still got back up. Sega’s a close contender, and one I used to really love on the same level as I do SNK. Sadly they’re a company whose spirit I think is not what it used to be. It’s a hard thing to explain, especially because I’m not one of those people who hates Sonic the Hedgehog. I work in a gaming store. I see lots of happy little kids who love their Sonic the Hedgehog games. It’s just my general impression that Sega has somewhat lost its spirit. Super Monkey Ball Step and Roll’s attempt to ride on the Wii Fit trend and the amount of protest it took to release Yakuza 3 to the United States simply speak to me and say that the creative minds in the company now have less say than they used to. Sega is willing to close the doors to a project they feel is a risk. It’ll be a sad day for me when when Sega finally admits they’re never going to bother with Shenmue III.
This is why I love SNK. They do what they love for better or worse. Fighting games were a dying market that SNK never stopped making games for. Not everything the company produces is golden, but they always work with what they have. SNK is an E for Effort company that never gives up. SNK’s only limitation is their fans and those fans’ willingness to support the company. When their fans supported them they released a slew of magnificent games with all the frills available. There was a time when SNK would hire bands to re-record their game soundstracks live, something they probably didn’t need to do. How many companies in those days would go through that trouble just so your Sega Saturn game would sound better? Not many because they didn’t need to. Look at King of Fighters XII. That game was expensive to produce, moreso than if SNK had simply made the game 3D. Supposedly each character took an individual employee nearly a year and a half to complete. Love it or hate it, without KOF XII we wouldn’t have KOF XIII. KOF XIII looks magnificent.
Today I’m looking at a game that failed to impress most reviewers, was generally snuffed at by the gaming public and was even ignored by the many of SNK’s supposed fans: King of Fighters Maximum Impact; or in other words a pretty good example of how people typically react to an SNK game. I think Maximum Impact is a terribly ironic example because this game actually went out of its way to give people something they wanted: A 3D KOF that didn’t rely on the low-resolution graphics that the King of Fighters series had become known for. It was a relatively early PS2 and XBox game and for a first effort it was not that bad at all. It was actually a pretty great effort when you consider SNK hadn’t really touched a 3D game for half a prior to Maximum Impact. I recently gave this game a shot because of fellow Podsumaki host KD Alpha. The special edition box set of the game rolled by my store used for dirt cheap. As a collector I was tempted, so I started playing it and actually had a good bit of fun. It reminded me of a simpler time when I wasn’t a snob about fighting games. Even though the game gets me waxing nostalgic and remembering my earlier days as a fighting game enthusiast there’s still some things I don’t really care for about it, but regardless I can respect it. I think maybe other people could too if the fighting game community were a little less stuck up.
Just because I’d never actually played this game before doesn’t mean I don’t know something about it. I’m an SNK nut. I know more than I really should about a game I’d never touched before this article. During SNK’s bankruptcy there were several heavy losses to the company’s staff, among them lead concept artist Toshiaki Mori. Toshiaki Mori is otherwise known as Shinkiro. Many of you can still enjoy Shinkiro’s excellent work as he continues his career at Capcom. Just recently he did the illustrations for Tatsunoko vs Capcom. What this meant is that when SNK rose from the dead they needed a new head artist King of Fighters 2003. A popular fan-artist who called himself Falcoon was elected. While he’d worked with SNK at prior to their bankruptcy his return seemed to be dictated by fans. It was a rumor at the time that a contest was held to choose the lead artist and Falcoon was the winner.
KOF 2003 was the only official King of Fighters game that Falcoon worked on. After that he was tasked as the head character designer for a side series: Maximum Impact. Love him or hate him, this guy is responsible for all the new faces in the game and reflects a bit of the attitude this game was made with. Even though he wasn’t actually in a controlling position for the first game, he identified the series for me. I can respect him to a degree, but for a long time the fact that he was a fan-artist reminded me of something: I really dislike the idea of fans being put in charge of professional projects because I really don’t trust fans. I’ve gotten over that.
KOF Maximum Impact is not a serious fighter in the least and would have been something I appreciated before I became a fighting game snob. As much as I may dislike Falcoon’s style I’ve come to appreciate what he has to offer SNK as a whole. He and the Maximum Impact games added variety to SNK’s library. King of Fighters Maximum Impact was not made with the intent of killing off the 2D SNK games. King of Fighters XII and XIII make it obvious that just about nothing can kill 2D KOF. Maximum Impact was something simpler; something more accessible. It could be easily compared to Street Fighter EX, another series that was snubbed quite a bit by the gaming public. Ironically enough King of Fighters Maximum Impact and Street Fighter EX 3 have the exact same metacritic score, and they’re not glowing. Really goes to show you how much people hated the idea of a 3D fighting game that wasn’t exactly like what had come before it. I’m betting the grand majority never gave either series a fair chance.
The idea for this game was very simple: take popular King of Fighters characters and inject some common 3D gameplay mechanics into the KOF formula. Special moves were still performed the same way and things like rolling were still included. When we talk about injecting 3D what I mean is things like alternate costumes, semi-automatic combos, side-stepping and wall juggles defined Maximum Impact. It was pretty interesting to see it in action. There were even some unlockables. Beating the game with any of the 20-ish characters would award you with a character profile and bonus costume items. Beating the game’s challenge mode would award you with genuine alternate costumes and extra color schemes. Realistically it wasn’t much compared to a series like Soul Calibur, but I can’t say I mind that. I’ve only got it in me to play like that once and never again. Maximum Impact was fresh enough that I found it in myself to beat the game with every character, if only just to see how all the characters played. I’m actually thankful the game wasn’t obnoxious about hanging some unlockable carrot over my head. If I wanted to play the game forever, I would. When I feel like playing this game I think I’ll just crank up the difficult and hit arcade mode. This is the sort of game you can enjoy by yourself for a while but the real fun is in dicking around with friends.
I think the main problem with the game was that people were expecting Maximum Impact to be some solid competitive game. Definitely not if you can’t tell from the video above. Maximum Impact was one of those games that kind of fell apart if you got hardcore about it. Then again, that never stopped some fighting games from being fun. It’s what hardcore types would refer to as a “broken” game, but there’s something really fun and fascinating about learning a broken game. Sometimes the most broken fighters are the most fun; you ever play a game called Marvel vs Capcom 2? Just playing with the combo system and seeing what you’re capable of can be some pretty good times. Maximum Impact got snubbed pretty hard for being broken and having ridiculous combos, but I think it was blown a bit out of proportion. Ever seen what you’re capable of doing in a series like Tekken? Not as bad in a case by case comparison, but still pretty ridiculous. Really often hardcore fighting game players act like they’ve never indulged in any guilty pleasures before. It’s not like this game doesn’t know that it’s competitively broken. The game’s computer opponents are fully aware that they can pick you up off the ground even if it’s not as brutal as the videos linked here. The game still knows its own system well enough to steal a good 50% of your health in one combo.
To me this game should be considered a lesson to play first and judge later, it’s actually pretty fun in a casual sort of way. Playing Maximum Impact brought back memories of the time where I was really into Bloody Roar: Primal Fury on the Gamecube. It was a great gateway fighter, especially because it retained some of the spirit of 2D gameplay while producing some nice 3D eye candy. It wasn’t meant to be played in the tournament scene because it was quite clearly broken on the competitive level, but if all you intended to do was play the game with friends there wasn’t a better gateway drug out there. Bloody Roar: Primal Fury and other games of its ilk were just fun. Casual fighters like this are what got me into the genre in the first place. Were I a bit younger and had given Maximum Impact a chance it could have easily replaced Bloody Roar: Primal Fury as one of my favorite “for fun” fighting games. What ever happened to just being able to have fun with a fighting game? There’s a lot of reasons I think the fighting game genre died out; I think one of them is the fact that fighting game players in general tend to be real snobs. I’ll make a bet with you that if you can find a hardcore fighting game enthusiast he’s got some fighting game he never actually played that he’ll tell you isn’t worth touching. The bet is on right now; go find somebody that plays fighting games see if you can’t get them to verbally crap on a few games they’d never even played.
Like I said, Maximum Impact was never intended to replace the 2D King of Fighters games. If you wanted to play a really solid game meant for competition SNK was still making sure its players had the option. Maximum Impact doesn’t even connect with the official King of Fighters storyline. Some people have actually confused this for an unofficial Fatal Fury game because the setting is Southtown, an extremely central location in both the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury games. It’s an interesting and understandable misconception but Maximum Impact is one of those “alternate dimension” type deals. Don’t you love it when gaming companies do that? The storyline in the game is kind of a mess but the main characters in the game are Alba Meira and Soiree Meira, a pair of street orphans looking to avenge their adoptive father who was killed by a gang leader named Duke. Remember how I said people confused Maximum Impact for a Fatal Fury game? The fact that Alba and Soiree basically have the same backstory as Terry Bogard and Andy Bogard from the Fatal Fury games doesn’t really help that. The main thing I really don’t care for in this game happens to be Falcoon’s character designs: I just didn’t think the new Maximum Impact characters were anything to write home about. I thought the same thing about Street Fighter IV and I still like that game too, but it won’t stop me from talking about it.
The main boss Duke I’m actually a bit fond of as a design. The basic story of the game is that Duke is the current ringleader of the gang that controls Southtown’s streets. Duke gained this position after killing Fate–Alba Meira and Soiree Meira’s adoptive father–and of course Alba and Soiree want to reclaim control of the town from Duke. Duke’s a stylish but simple design and the scar he has across his neck really helps distinguish him as a badass. You’re not about to forget it as his trademark when the camera zooms on his neck. The man should clearly be dead. From a distance you don’t really notice it, but once you see it up close you don’t forget. Even Duke’s voice is pretty badass, and Maximum Impact typically has horrible voice acting. Likely the main reason this game has English dialog in the first place is because SNK and Sony have had a turbulent relationship here in the States and Sony demanded it. That aside we have a simple but relatively cool antagonist for Maximum Impact. The man is quite serviceable as a villain so it’s too bad he doesn’t have very great competition. The main characters come off as pretty dull, at least in my opinion, while the rest of the cast can be interesting but insignificant.
How should I put this? I just find Maximum Impact’s poster children to be kind of boring. Honestly most fighting game protagonists do tend to be plain, but I at least find something to be a little sentimental over. Duke has some kinda punch to him. Alba Miera for me, not so much. He technically looks cool with the elaborate design of his costume, but for all his zippers and belts and what have you, the guy’s just kind of boring. I guess I don’t dig main characters that don’t show any emotion. He lacks an identity, he doesn’t even express much of a personality when he fights or speaks in the game. Ultimately I find him a forgettable lead character. He’s supposed to be a strong and righteous figure who wants to take his father’s place and protect Southtown from danger, but you’d never really guess it.
Soiree Meira on the other hand plays the role of the loudmouth little brother. If it weren’t for Alba acting as a stern figure to chide Soiree (on very slight occasion) there would be almost nothing to define Alba. Soiree seems to exist in order to reveal that Alba is a responsible and caring person. Soiree is very much so a complimentary character and individually he’s what I would consider a better design, but he also fails at what he’s supposed to really be. He really fails to compliment anything beyond what I just mentioned. Soiree dresses like a Texan who just hit his mid-life crisis and decided he was going to go ranching to prove what a man he is. That Texan isn’t pulling a very manly vibe rocking the teal and baby blue outfit either. To top that off Soiree uses Capoeira of all things; how does that even go with his style? Forget about complimenting himself, though. Soiree is clearly supposed to add to his brother Alba. How exactly does this guy’s wannabe cowboy look mesh with Alba? My only guess is that Soiree is supposed to look rural and Alba is supposed to look urban, thus making them opposites. I feel it comes off as forced, especially when Alba and Soiree had a pretty good way to compliment eachothers’ designs already: their tattoos. When Alba and Soiree Meira stand side to side there is a tattoo of a cow’s skull with wings that begins on one brother and ends on the other. They both have half of the same tattoo. It’s a shame Alba Meira in his primary costume couldn’t be wearing any more clothing short of squeezing some pantyhose over his head and robbing a liquor store. That tattoo could have been a very strong and distinguishing character trait along the same line as Duke’s scar. Instead it seems more like an untapped frill.
So clearly I have my issues with the game’s character designs. Falcoon as I saw him just didn’t have it in him to design characters of the same quality as other SNK fighting games. That’s all my opinion, though. For all I know there’s quite a few people out there who think the entire cast of new characters in Maximum Impact are badasses. Maximum Impact very clearly has its own sense of style, whether it be expressed through the characters or even the music. It’s good that the series has some way of distinguishing itself. Disliking the new characters really shouldn’t be enough to spoil the game considering there’s a nice variety of SNK favorites littering Maximum Impact’s roster. Whether or not I actually liked this game I still think it had some value to it. The funny thing is that all the people I’ve ever talked to who openly expressed enjoyment for the Maximum Impact games were people who previously had never played a King of Fighters game. That’s what’s great about Maximum Impact; as I’ve said these are excellent gateway fighters. The fact that hardcore players snub new experiences is their own problem, but unfortunately it becomes a problem for everyone when the fighting game community backs itself into stagnation. Games like Maximum Impact were good for the industry. It’s really too bad that we’ll probably never see another Maximum Impact game made.
Fighting game fans in general bought the first game and hated it, then never bothered to get the sequel. I really doubt SNK can afford to make another, though who knows. An updated version of Maximum Impact 2 called King of Fighters Regulation A can be found in some arcades right now. Both Maximum Impact and its sequel King of Fighters 2006 can still be bought brand new for pretty dirt cheap. Hell, I’ve seen the collector’s edition that I have brand new for less than 20 bucks. Supposedly King of Fighters 2006 is far better than the original, so that sounds pretty nice. If you were ever looking for a game to try and get somebody into the King of Fighters series, I’d say find them a copy of King of Fighters 2006 for the PS2. Not much to lose. Like most SNK fighters on the PS2, it’s pretty cheap.