King of Fighters 13 Review

By Daniel Maniago - Posted Nov 22, 2011

More than a decade after the release of King of Fighters 2001, and a highly anticipated but poorly received KOF XII, SNK Playmore aims to restore the franchise's former glory with The King of Fighters XIII. Is the 13th installment of the series up to the task?

The Pros
  • Classic, 2-D gameplay
  • Beautiful, hand-drawn graphics
  • Balance changes from arcade version
The Cons
  • Lack of spectator mode during online matches

King of Fighters XIII Review

Back in the 90’s, when kids (and adults!) used to save their quarters for arcade machines at the local arcade, laundromat, or convenience store, the first King of Fighters game was born. The inaugural King of Fighters game, The King of Fighters ’94, brought together flagship characters from some of SNK’s most popular games at the time, such as Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and even Ikari Warriors. Due to its popularity, The King of Fighters saw a sequel every year thereafter, spawning classics (KOF ’98) and stinkers (KOF 2001, ugh) alike. More than a decade later, after a highly anticipated but poorly received King of Fighters XII, SNK Playmore aims to restore the franchise’s former glory with King of Fighters XIII.  Is the 13th installment of the series up to the task?

Just Like the Good Old Days

At its core, King of Fighters 13 plays like your typical fighting game. Players can choose from a roster of 34 characters to form a team of three. Fans of the series will enjoy the return of old favorites such as Iori Yagami, Andy Bogard, and Mai Shiranui (who was oddly missing from KOF XII), as well as several console-exclusive and DLC characters such as Billy Kane and NESTS Kyo. Battles are fought round by round in a one-on-one affair with two teams going at it in an attempt to deplete the rival character’s health bar. Fighting game fanatics will feel right at home with familiar features such as projectiles, combos, and special moves.

One of the first things you’ll notice about KOF XIII is its beautiful presentation. The game sports old-school, hand-drawn sprites, and some of the most gorgeous backgrounds found in a fighting game, a staple of the KOF series. The backgrounds are as detailed and animated as the characters themselves, enhancing the action. The game also sports the characteristic style and flair that the series is known for. Though characters like Ryo, Yuri, and Kim do sport traditional fighting threads, other characters such as Kyo, Robert, and Kula dispatch their opponents while looking sleek as ever. The character design of the KOF series has always been top notch, and KOF XIII is no exception; the game knows it’s a looker and makes sure you know it too.

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Keeping It Moving

Players more familiar with the Street Fighter IV series will find that KOF XIII generally plays at a much faster pace, due in part to the various mobility options available. An alternative to the standard 2-D fighting game jump and super jump is the Hop, a faster jump with a much lower altitude. Hopping opens new avenues of offense; air attacks that see little utility during a normal jump have newfound use during Hops.

Rolling is another feature unique to the KOF series, a forward-moving plunge that is invincible to attacks but vulnerable to throws. Rolling serves as not only an evasive maneuver but as another means of offense. Running is also available, performed with a quick double-tap forward. Switching from a long-ranged firefight to an up-close brawl is as easy as charging forward with a run.

King of Fighters 13

Meters And Gauges And Bars, Oh My!

KOF 13 has several meters on-screen to manage. There is the standard Super Meter, which is built by guarding, whiffing, or landing attacks. Super Meter can be used for Desperation Moves, the equivalent to super combos found in other fighting games, and EX Specials, which grant special moves increased bonuses like invincibility or increased damage at the cost of one stocked bar. New to the series is the Hyper Drive Gauge, which is also filled by attacking and being attacked. The Hyper Drive Gauge allows for Hyper Drive Cancels, which allow special moves to be cancelled into other special moves or Desperation Moves, increasing combo possibilities.

Further increasing combo potential is Hyper Drive Mode, which is similar to MAX Mode in The King of Fighters 2002. Activated by pressing B + C simultaneously, Hyper Drive Mode lets you cancel all normal attacks into special moves, special moves into Desperation Moves, and even certain Desperation Moves into a Neomax (the equivalent to a level 3 Hyper Combo in Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, performed by consuming both Super Meter and Hyper Drive Gauge). Because these two gauges are independent from each other, there is a large variety of systems to utilize during a fight, and battles are often won through strategic meter management.

Another important meter to watch is the Guard Meter. Tired of opponents who like to sit and block all day? A flurry of guarded attacks quickly whittles away at the Guard Meter, which, when depleted, leaves the player unable to act for a short moment, leaving them vulnerable to attacks. Players who feel their offense isn’t properly rewarded in other fighting games will find solace in knowing that their opponents can’t block forever in this one.

King of Fighters 13

From Arcade to Console

The console port of KOF XIII comes with a myriad of changes from its arcade counterpart in an attempt to rebalance the game and increase playability. Hardcore fighting game fans will appreciate SNK Playmore’s approach to adjusting characters in this console version: weakening attacks deemed over-powered (Raiden’s Super Drop Kick comes to mind, which has been given a much needed nerf) while buffing other aspects of the character. Various modifications have been made to the game system, including an adjustment to Desperation Move damage scaling, slowed Guard Meter replenishment, and increased meter built from guarding or getting hit by an opponent’s attacks. In addition, a color-customize feature has been included, allowing you to customize the color of your favorite characters’ wardrobes. As a downside, the online mode features no spectator mode, arguably a must for fighting games released in this online-era.

King of Fighters 13

We Have A Winner!

King of Fighters XIII aims to restore the franchise’s former glory and definitely succeeds in this undertaking. Gamers looking for a traditional, fast-paced 2D fighting game need look no further, as KOF 13 is a great addition to the series for both veterans of KOF and players entering the series for the first time. This new release has reinvigorated the KOF community at large, and the game is expected to see a wide range of competitive play both online and offline in both local and major tournaments. We are in a “golden age” of fighting games as the year comes to an end, and KOF XIII does its part in making gamers feel privileged to be a part of it.