Last year, Capcom raised the bar for traditional fighting games on the touch screen with Street Fighter IV [$4.99], and a couple of weeks ago they upped their game again by releasing Street Fighter IV Volt [$6.99] with online multiplayer. To a lesser degree, we’ve also seen Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 [99¢/HD] on the App Store, and although quirky and rough around the edges it still offered up a decent portable experience for fans of that series. With SNK Playmore’s recently released The King of Fighters-i [$7.99], we now have all the major players of the mid-90s 2D arcade fighter rivalry once again battling it out with each other, this time on the App Store.
While SNK’s various fighting franchises all had a pretty dedicated following, it was always the Street Fighters and Mortal Kombats of the world that stole the mainstream spotlight. Now here, more than a decade later on iOS, SNK Playmore has brought their A-game for a shot at the iOS fighting crown. And true to its namesake, The King of Fighters-i takes that crown by elevating touch screen fighters to the next level. It’s missing the marquee feature of online multiplayer that Street Fighter IV Volt can boast about, but when it comes to control responsiveness, speed, performance, visuals, animations, and approachability, The King of Fighters-i tops the competition.
The King of Fighters-i is based off of the newest entry in the franchise, The King of Fighters XIII which hit arcades last Summer and is slated for a home console release this October. The game comes with 14 playable characters, and anybody who knows the King of Fighters series knows that that is just a fraction of the monstrous roster of total available fighters. But it’s a decent start, and all of the included characters are interesting and fun to use. Plus, SNK Playmore states in the game’s description that 6 additional characters will be coming by October in free updates, most likely in time to coincide with the console release of the game.
The meat of The King of Fighters-i lies in the 4 single player modes. First, there is the traditional arcade mode lets you engage in the 3-on-3 team battles that are a staple of the series or regular 1-on-1 matches. Then there is an endless mode which is your typical game of survival as you face off against as many consecutive opponents as you can using just one gauge of life, which gets refilled slightly in between rounds. Finally, there is an excellent training mode which not only lets you spar against a computer opponent with many adjustable parameters but also features a fantastic combo training section that will teach you how to pull off some of the extensive combos in the game, some of which are incredibly elaborate.
As for controls, The King of Fighters-i is set up very much like Street Fighter on iOS, right down to the virtual controls which can be placed anywhere on the screen that’s to your liking. Despite the similarities though, The King of Fighters-i controls come out on top, and feel a notch above Street Fighter in terms of overall responsiveness. There's a punch and kick button, a button for evading, one dedicated to simplified special moves, and a fifth button used for entering a hyper state when one of your special meters is filled. These special meters also allow you to do super and EX moves. All of this is explained well in the tutorial that gets you off an running with the basics without much hassle.
The one big feature I love about the controls here is the inclusion of simplified special moves. This allows specials to be pulled off just by hitting a direction along with the dedicated special moves button. For someone like me who isn’t as intimately familiar with each character’s move sets, this allows me to use any character on a whim and not have to worry about constantly checking a move list in the pause screen and trying to memorize their special moves. It really encourages using and exploring different characters rather than the ones I’m normally comfortable with, and also makes the game a bit more playable with virtual controls.
At this point, the bones of The King of Fighters-i seem fairly comparable to other entries in the genre, but it’s in the overall execution where the game really outshines its opponents. The first thing you will notice is that The King of Fighters-i is much faster than other fighting games on the App Store. The action can get really fast-paced, but thanks to the excellent controls it’s not a problem to keep up. Also, I’ve never ran into so much as a stutter in frame rate while playing, and load times are lightening quick.
Graphically, the game is pretty incredible. It contains static backgrounds similar to Street Fighter IV, which is kind of a bummer, but the backgrounds in The King of Fighters-i are much crisper and more vibrant than the drab, fuzzy ones found in Capcom’s offering. Where the game really stands out visually is in the amazing hand-drawn sprites which are animated so fluidly it almost feels like you're watching a cartoon. The character sprites are a bit jagged around the edges, but you’ll hardly notice once you see them in motion. The animations, to me, are what make The King of Fighters-i feel the most like an actual console fighter as opposed to just a mobile version of one.
With all the things there are to love about The King of Fighters-i, there’s still one big thing missing which is the lack of online multiplayer. This might normally have been forgiven on a platform like the iPhone, but since Street Fighter IV Volt just proved that it’s possible to pull off and will likely only get better in the future, it’s something I’d like to have in a fighter. There is a local Bluetooth multiplayer mode, but in my limited testing the performance seemed fairly sluggish. Still, I appreciate its inclusion and hope that SNK Playmore will explore more options for multiplayer in the future.
As a single player experience though, The King of Fighters-i has a lot to offer. The several arcade modes and combo training alone will keep you busy for some time, not to mention the Game Center leaderboards and achievements, but there’s also a really great collectible component to the game. Coins can be earned while playing the various modes and then spent in an in-game shop on things like concept and promotional art as well as collectible character cards. There are also different pre-fight dialogues for every character matchup in the game, which is a cool little detail if you have any vested interest in the various story elements of the characters. Luckily, it can also be disabled in the options if you choose so as not to slow down the matches starting.
I really can't find much fault in The King of Fighters-i apart from a lack of online multiplayer. If that ever comes into the picture it will just be icing on what is already a very delicious single player cake. Players in our forums have been raving about The King of Fighters-i since release, and as far as iOS fighters are concerned it’s raised the bar significantly against the competition, including the mighty Street Fighter.
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