When you think of fighting games on the iPhone, there’s usually one thing that comes to mind – bad controls. Capcom did a somewhat decent job with Street Fighter IV, but the controls were still a problem. It’s no different for The King of Fighters-i, unsurprisingly. However, the overall package is what really makes it stand above the competition.
The King of Fighters-i features a total of 14 playable characters and it’s based off of The King of Fighters XIII. SNK Playmore has announced that 6 more characters will be added to the roster by October, free of charge. What’s surprising is that SNK included Billy Kane from Fatal Fury to the mix, a character that wasn’t even in the original arcade release. His inclusion serves as a sneak peek for what to expect from the console version of KoFXIII later this year.[drop]When you first start the game there is a brief tutorial mode that teaches you the basics. In terms of gameplay modes, there’s the traditional 3-on-3 elimination team battle mode, 1-on-1 singles matches, a 1-on-1 survial mode, and training. Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer support; you can only battle against other players locally via Bluetooth.
Aside from that, there’s a gallery mode where you can watch the opening movie from KoFXIII, view artwork and trading cards, and there’s even a novel you can read to catch up on the story for the game. Not like the story matters all that much, but you will be pretty lost if you don’t know who each character is.
If you’re unfamiliar with how 3-on-3 battles work in KoF games, it’s actually pretty simple. You don’t swap out characters mid-battle like you would in Marvel vs. Capcom. Instead, you choose an order for your team and fight in one round matches against your opponent with elimination rules. Each time you eliminate a character, your health bar will slightly increase. The match ends when all members of a team have been eliminated. Forming a team is still just as important as it would be for any team based fighter, but the emphasis is still on 1-on-1 fights since there aren’t any assists or swapping mechanics.
After a series of battles against different teams in Arcade mode, your reward is a simple “thank you for playing” message. There is some dialogue between characters for each and every battle, but it’s mostly somewhat amusing nonsense. Thankfully, the dialogue can be skipped or turned off entirely. You’ll also receive some coins by completing Arcade mode, which can then be redeemed at the shop to unlock trading cards and alternate costume colors.
SNK included a bunch of new stages for KoF-i that were not in the original arcade release of KoFXIII, boosting the stage count to 12. Some are remakes of older stages, while others are new entirely. While it’s not exactly a confirmation, it seems likely that these stages will be included in the console version.
Most of your time will be spent in training mode learning all the intricacies of your favorite characters. The options are pretty basic for the most part. There is no playback/record functionality but you can set an AI to do pre-determined attacks or throws. That’s more than sufficient seeing as this is a game for the iPhone. There’s also a combo training option for each character. It’s similar to the trial mode from the Street Fighter IV series but not as frustrating.
As with SFIV, the controls and gameplay mechanics have been modified to compensate for touch screen controls. Instead of using the normal button layout from KOFXIII (two punches and two kicks), KOF-i has one button dedicated to punches, kicks, special moves, evading, and Hyper Drive activation. Despite that, it seems like every character retained all of their moves.
The evade button allows characters to quickly move out of the way in either direction. If you use this technique while blocking, you can do a guard cancel in exchange for some of your guard meter. The special button is mostly used for doing EX moves, which is a mechanic that was added in KoFXIII. An EX move is basically a better version of a special attack but you need to use Super meter to pull it off.
The Hyper Drive gauge is also a new mechanic and it’s separate from the Super meter. By using half of the Hyper Drive gauge, you can cancel certain moves and extend combos. When the meter if completely charged up, you can activate Hyper Drive mode and perform as many Drive cancels as you want until the gauge depletes. And lastly, there’s the Neo Max special move. These powerful attacks can only be done when you have three gauges of Super meter and a full Hyper Drive gauge (or if you’re in Hyper Drive mode).
As you’d expect, the touch screen is what really holds this game back. The virtual arcade stick is responsive, as are the attack buttons, but it’s very easy to make mistakes that aren’t necessarily your fault. It doesn’t help that KoF-i is faster and more combo intensive than other fighters, including SFIV.[drop2]It’s really difficult to consistently cancel moves into each other as a result, especially when the window of opportunity is so small. Some of these cancels would be difficult on a controller or stick as it is, so imagine doing something at a specific frame on the iPhone. At times it’s just way too frustrating instead of being legitimately challenging. This is partially the game’s fault for being so demanding, but it’s also the platform’s for being less than ideal for the fighting game genre.
When simple mode is enabled, quarter circle and half circle inputs are often shortened to a single direction. Considering the amount of moves that require a ridiculous amount of directional inputs in this game, you’ll find that using simple mode is the best way to play. Desperation moves can be done by just hitting the appropriate gauge, and the all new Neo Max attacks can be performed by simply touching a character’s portrait on the top of the screen. It works as intended but it’s still difficult to use during combos.
When playing versus mode via Bluetooth, you have the option to do team battles or fight 1-on-1. For the most part, it works well enough. There were some times when the game would stutter due to lag, but that’s expected. You can also trade cards and replays with other players through Bluetooth.
Visually, the game is very impressive. It uses the same sprites from King of Fighters XIII, but the quality has obviously been downgraded for the iPhone. Despite that, characters still animate fluidly. The stages are also well done, but the backgrounds are completely static. It’s particularly noticeable when fire doesn’t move, but it’s not that big of a deal.
The soundtrack is mostly comprised of songs from KoFXIII as well, with at least one new song for the menu system. Overall, the tracks have an oldschool vibe to them. It sounds like fighting game music, if that makes any sense.
- Great gameplay.
- Tons of replay value.
- Good variety of modes to play.
- Looks and sounds great.
- Controls can be very frustrating to deal with.
- No online multiplayer.
- The price point is a bit steep ($7.99).
The King of Fighters-i is easily one of the best, if not the best, fighting game for iOS. It has great gameplay, responsive controls, and a surprising amount of content. The only downside, aside from the limitations of touch screen controls, is the lack of online multiplayer. What’s funny is that this game is better and has more to offer than The King of Fighters XII, although that’s not saying much. If nothing else, KoF-i serves as a brilliant teaser for the console version of King of Fighters XIII. It makes one wonder why SNK isn’t releasing it on a proper handheld gaming device.