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.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Gankoba

    why is there no ipad version

  • Dnk

    KOF might very well be based on the same engine Capcom uses for SF4. Everything looks the same, from the interface, menu flow, settings, etc. It feels better because KOF is a 2D game, so the 2D sprites lend itself better to this engine than SF4 which is originally a 3D game. 
    It's also worth noting that SF4 Volt itself is slower than SF4. Capcom most likely caps the framerate so there's not too much difference when playing in online versus (not everyone has fibre internet).For those comparing SF4 and KOF: SF4 is a very tactical game and less about crazy combos. It's like chess vs whack-a-mole. Poongko (one of the top tier players) plays SF4 like KOF, very aggressive with some fancy combo chaining, but he's rather vulnerable defensively and often gets punished by top SF4 players.KOF's never been as popular as SF but remains a great series, especially if you're into 2D fighting. I myself will wait for its Volt iteration (when Capcom decides to license them the online mp-supporting engine).

    • Duffman

      "KOF's never been as popular as SF but remains a great series, especially if you're into 2D fighting."
      Sure, because SF was for kids while KOF was for men. So much kids in the world !

      KOF rulez SF.

  • Anonymous

    Glad to see Mai's bounciness has been restored.  This must be the definitive version

  • Anonymous

    would buy if there was icade support (and therefore iPad support as well).

  • http://twitter.com/einztrigger einztrigger

    Glad that Touch Arcade gives a very detailed and nice review on KOF-i games...some sites writes a bashing review and stating the games as SF IV clone...

    I also write my own review here with more screenshots and control details : http://eins.my/the-king-of-fighters-i-kof-iphone-games-by-snk-playmore/

  • http://twitter.com/Inaba_kun Phil Baxter

    This is indeed the best fighter on iPhone at present, but it baffles me why both this and SF4 run at such brutally low frame rates. (on an iPhone 4)  SF4 is roughly 15fps and KOF is roughly 20fps. As all they're doing is scrolling flat 2D backgrounds and moving a couple of sprites around there's no reason for these games not to run at 60fps. 

    Look at the amazing stuff Cave pulls off at 60fps. The hardware could handle it with total ease, it's just lazy and sloppy programming preventing it.

    • Dareyoutolaugh

      Hand drawn games, as this appears to be, would then require 60 frames to be hand drawn for every second of motion. When you consider all of the moves and responses and falls and throws for every character, that becomes a massive amount of artwork very quickly. Even if a company was willing to invest in that massive amount of artwork (Like Capcom did with Street Fighter III) , they then have to store it all in RAM. Resources, even in 2011, aren't unlimited. Trying to store all of the music, sound effects, VS screens, backgrounds, and then all of the frames for all of the characters. 20 FPS makes things *much* less RAM intensive. 

      Obviously Cave has to worry about a lot of this too, but the sprites aren't animated at 60FPS, they are probably even slower than either of these games, just that these sprites are being moved around the screen smoother. Apples to oranges mostly. Not trying to sound snobby, but I seriously dislike when developers are called lazy and sloppy by people that don't understand the complexities of such things.

  • HisDivineOrder

    Hard to beat SFIV Volt's price out the gate though compared to this...

  • backtothis

    Bought and bought. Thanks for the great review. Was pretty cynical about this one especially since it's pushing the usual price boundary, but it definitely sounds like a very competent fighter, which the AppStore has very few of. Hoping for multiplayer in the future.

  • Murderin Murphy

    iPad these fighters already!!!

  • Johnson Long

    Getting tired of these "dead" backgrounds...  The hardware can handle it, ANIMATE THE DAMN THINGS !!!!

  • http://profiles.google.com/o.a.setiawan Omar Aria

    KOF was one of the game that makes me amazed. 16 years ago at my high scool days, when i saw first installment (KOF 94) i was stunned  of how the animation does, really smooth framerates, fast gameplay, and super moves ! wow !. 9x series was their best, 200x playmore screwed it up ... this xiii is awesome, everything back to its original too bad my device (2nd gen) cannot handle it :( time to upgrade !

  • http://about.me/davidlnguyen David Nguyen

    Love it when the developer takes the time to make a pollished game like this. Price and value wise this isn't more fully featured than SF IV, but the whole point of this game is to just buy it if you're a fan of fighting games because it's awesome and less than 10 dollars. It's amazing how far with come with handheld gaming fighting games on the Gameboy Color & Neo Geo Color to something like this on our cell phones :) 

  • http://twitter.com/johnhood John Hood

    The review sold me! Let's hope online multiplay will be a free update in the not-too-distant future.

  • http://twitter.com/teknikal69 P Allen

    Very good game haven't even loaded Street fighter since purchasing this on it's launch. Best fighter on the system in my opinion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mr.MJY8 서용석

    thank you for using my YouTube VOD^^~
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mr.MJY8 서용석

    thank you for using my YouTube VOD^^~
     

THE KING OF FIGHTERS-i- Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 5