I walked down the stairs partly holding my breath, hoping they had fixed the machine. A sigh and a grin, as I saw the KOF XII machine on, with Garth whacking away on the buttons. I noticed 1P was free, what luck – but just as I was about to drop in my pound – “Button A is broken”. WTF. I mean, seriously, what the hell! A brand new game, which is drawing in players that would normally stay at home – and considering the console release is only a few months away, it baffles me how an arcade manager could let this happen – on a friday night to boot. It cost like £8,000 (apparently)- how much money is lost when the machine is broken two weekends in a row? The irony is that there were probably at least three players right there that could have fixed the button, since we all mod sticks now! It’s a shame. And oh my god, people have killed those sticks. The last time I was there, when they brought in 98UM, I was pleasantly surprised to find they had proper japanese ball sticks but today I noted that these sticks were far more loose. Did somebody invest in Sanwa parts? Hmmmm. You buy cheap, you get cheap. I watched Garth bang away at the machine. It actually hurt my feelings.
Rant aside, let’s talk about the game itself. Graphically, it’s a mixed bag. The backgrounds are awesome. The portraits and all graphical elements like versus screens etc are sharp and high res. The anime girls that introduce the time trials look sweet, with smooth skin that’s almost glowing. However, a lot of the KOF sprites themselves, unfortunately, are far less attractive. The sprites strike me like a cross between AOF3 and Real Bout, massive, yet not quite high res, perhaps not helped when the screen zooms in so you can see pixelation and the 3 colours that make up somebody’s arm. Hand drawn they may be, but some of these sprites, have some some weird lines of colour on them, gaudy, muddy, greeny shades that are just plain, well… ugly. In comparison, Blaze Blue certainly is looking bright and shiny on the other side of the room (although nobody is playing it – who asked for that? A waste of eight grand that could have been spent on Sanwa parts if you ask me). It’s not that the KOF sprites are really bad, but I was expecting more. I have to note that Shen Woo, Beni and Ash look pretty damn cool and do not suffer from any of the above complaints. Speaking of Beni and Ash brings me to my final complaint about graphics – Ralf and Kyo’s fire. It’s horrible. That large black border around each flame looks really out of place. When you see Beni’s electricity or Ash’s green plasma, you’ll notice how beautiful they are, and this is probably because they are CG rendered rather than, I’m guessing here, captured footage of fire?
Ok, gameplay. I picked Beni, Clark and Iori. Iori is… well you’ve heard all about him and it’s true. He’s almost a new character to play with, although I was still doing scum gales and tick damage – the big difference, and this affects every character, is the timing… for everything. It’s all changed – recovery for moves, wake ups, rolls- it’s time to re-learn. Which is good, if not frustrating at first. I can cope with learning when exactly I can hit Terry after blocking a bare knuckle. What’s really scaring me are the jumps. These are… fast… and wide. KOF is known for rushdown, and the hops are… well, they’re gone, so crossing up with Beni is a lot harder. Pacing has to be re-thought, re-learnt. No Dwn C for Kyo, uhhh or Dwn B for Athena (it’s now fwd B). Grabs: er… uh. ARGH. I have yet to see any range grabs in this game. Maybe Raiden has one but Clark sure doesn’t, and grabs in general don’t seem to have any priority. I’ve been punched, kicked, ticked, and that’s when I’ve done my friggin DM. The only thing that helps grabbers is the counter system.
The counter system is similar to a KOFMI’s parry and in a way, SFIV’s FDAC. Just press back and CD – if they hit you they get countered. You can use it to absorb fireballs and it doesn’t seem to cost you any life energy (!). You can use it on wake up. Grabbers thus have one more card to play in the wake up guessing game- you go for counter and you get DM grabbed. Normal throws are executed by A+C, which is good, finally. CDs are still here, and a lot of long range pokes are command moves now, e.g. Clark’s Far D and Iori’s Far D – you have to press FWD to execute, so turtlers will find it harder- good, good! There are also some move feints in here… oh and basic combos are now C, CD… oh and Clarks Dwn Fwd A…
However looking across at SFIV, you get the feeling that the sprite detection is a bit flimsy in comparison. SFIV looks REALLY slow in comparison, btw, but it always has. What bugs me is that when you’re flying across the screen with your new shiny KOF jump, you don’t have any real sense of when that kick is going to come out and how it’s going to hit. I’ve seen a few things miss when they should have hit, and the lack of an impact accompanied by a good thudding sound effect doesn’t help the feeling that something isn’t quite right. But perhaps it’ll just get used to- it’s a new KOF afterall. Last words on sound are: crappy English voices vs “LOUND ONE! LEADY…” I don’t know which is worse…
I met Soleilmoon and we started messing around with some characters. Chin has a whole bag of new tricks, Kensou new threads and nice overhead grab, Iori can still scum gale maiden masher, and Robert is like wow with stolen Iori moves! I found the CC combos fairly easy to do, mash a bit then end with DM. Weird crossups in the corner when they shouldn’t and jumps that should crossup but don’t…. hey just like KOF!
Overall, this is the most important thing- it still feels like KOF. It’s really new, but I’m still pulling off the same mind tricks with Clark, the same combos with Beni and still screaming when I could have sworn I blocked in time- the truth was I was just too slow. KOF is fast! I like it that way. I’m going to get this on my console and probably never go back to the arcade again. Unless there’s a tournament and we bring our own sticks. Nobody’s banging mine.
Now here’s some HIGH LEVEL PLAY! (Thanks ST)