King of Fighters: Neowave PS2 Review

The Neo-Geo was home to some of the world’s greatest 2D games, thanks to its 24-bit graphic capabilities in a 16-bit world. Despite the console and games selling for ridiculous prices throughout its entire 14 year tenure, the Neo-Geo survived until 2004 before SNK finally pulled the plug on it. King of Fighters: Neowave hit the arcades that year, and was the first of the series to be running on Sammy’s new 128-bit Atomiswave hardware. Ignition Entertainment have finally ported it to home consoles, but is it a worthy addition to the fighting game fan’s library, or will it simply not cut it now that a 2D fighter is something cheaply available over Live Arcade?

Let’s get one thing straight from the very start – 2D is still beautiful. Sure, most gamers won’t give it a second look, blinded by the next-gen 3D titles that make up the majority of the games released these days, but that is their problem. For every Dead of Alive and Tekken you have a Street Fighter 3 or Guilty Gear, great games with exceptional 2D animation, the latter also being created on the aforementioned Atomiswave arcade board. It came as quite some surprise then, that despite the new found power at SNK’s disposal, KoF: Neowave doesn’t look very good. The backgrounds are now animated and 3D, similar to those found in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, but the characters – all 43 of them – look incredibly dated. The main reason for this is because most of them ARE, simply being recycled from previous KoF games. Unbelievably, some are even largely unchanged from the first ever KoF game, all the way back in 1994. Up against the new 3D backdrops, they stand out like a sore thumb. A thumb that, despite being well animated, is desperately in need of a new look, while all the other fingers are showing off their new Hi-Resolution style.

On the subject of fingers and thumbs (and tenuous links), the KoF games have always had some solid arcade gameplay behind them, requiring lightning reflexes to pull off button combinations for the big damage special moves. Gameplay that has proved in the past to be solid enough to overlook any graphical inadequacies. Neowave is actually a rehash of King of the Fighters 2002 – not a bad thing, as 2002 is largely considered to be the finest in the series’ history. Neowave does add a few new features to the KoF mix, however. On top of the classic SNK four button control method is a new FIFTH button, which causes you to go in to ‘HEAT’ mode, giving you extra strength at the expense of health. I used this technique maybe once the entire time I played Neowave.

Much more useful is the addition of three different styles of fighting that you can apply to the character you choose. Super Cancel allows you to store three increasingly powerful super moves, much like the Street Fighter series, Guard Break gives you two bars of super moves, but allows access to a very powerful ‘guard crush’ attack which can completely destroy the block of an opponent, leaving them very vulnerable, whilst the ‘MAX2′ system is the most simplistic of the three – offering only the most powerful of your character’s super moves and slightly increased attack power, but sacrificing most of your evasive manoeuvres. Experimenting with what style suits each character is just as engaging as it was in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, with some fighters taking on a new lease of life with a well chosen “groove”. Again, it is another feature shamelessly borrowed from another popular beat ’em up, and further proof that Neowave truly lacks its own identity.

This is exactly the problem. Neowave is by no means a bad game – with the King of the Fighters name attached to it, you expect a quality 2D fighter – it is just woefully short of its own ideas. Sure, if this was the first 2D beat ’em up you played in the last six years you would almost certainly be blown away by the sheer amount on display. Neowave isn’t likely to attract any new players, though, appealing almost solely to the hardcore SNK/NeoGeo/KoF fans that pick up each one of these releases – ported to consoles by Ignition Entertainment – and these players will have seen all of this before. Solid KoF gameplay, a few extra modes not available in the arcades (survival mode etc.) and the usual insanely difficult bosses, but throw in a few horrible menu screens, best described as rushed and a lack of pre-battle cutscenes explaining the plot (which is an ‘alternative’ KoF storyline, hence the appearance of a few characters not seen for a while) and even the most hardcore of fight fan is going to find very little here that will replace genre favourites Mark of the Wolves and Street Fighter 3: Third Strike as the games of choice.

King of Fighters: Neowave is another solid title in the series, but with so little in the way of new features that when put up against other 2D beat ’em ups, it is hard to justify the purchase, even at the budget price point. It’s not all doom and gloom, as a large selection of characters and the groove system make it a fun little distraction, but the fans of this genre will want more than that. With Ignition releasing King of Fighters XI and NeoGeo Battle Coliseum within the next few months, Neowave may find it hard to establish itself before the others steal the limelight. If you are a fan of King of Fighters, this may tide you over before the next game. For gamers looking for some old school 2D fix, you’re best bet is to look elsewhere.

A series in desperate need of a massive update, and this isn’t it.

6.0 out of 10