Monday, March 12, 2012

While the thought of having your favorite fighting game characters with you at all times is definitely appealing, there isn't a clear-cut way to translate the sophisticated controls of such games to a mobile device. That didn't stop The King of Fighters M2 from trying. This mobile rendition of SNK's popular and long-running fighting game series features a few recognizable characters from the series and attempts to simplify the gameplay to make it easier to manage on a portable phone. But the result is a head-shaking shame, since The King of Fighters M2 is pitifully easy and packs none of the depth or action the series is known for. It barely even deserves credit for trying something different.

The King of Fighters series has featured many dozens of great characters over the years, including many fighters from SNK's other game series. A large cast of playable characters would have been a great place for this game to start from, but instead, KOF M2 merely includes four fighters: Terry Bogard in his signature denim and red trucker hat; the shapely ninja mistress Mai Shiranui; tae kwon do prodigy Kim Kaphwan; and Leona the soldier. Ironically, three out of four of these characters originally hail from SNK's Fatal Fury series, which is meaningful only because so many home-grown King of Fighters favorites (like Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami) are missing from this roster. Regardless, if these four were reasonably fleshed-out characters, the game could have been decent, but the real problems lie with the gameplay itself.

This is strictly a one-player game. Your fighter starts off every round on the left side of the screen. You can then walk or jump forward or backwards, but you might as well walk or jump forward, closer to your opponent. Then when you're close enough, you just jam on the 6 key to attack. You'll automatically alternate between punches and kicks, and if you're dexterous enough to press the button a few times per second, basically you're going to beat your opponent every time. That's all the fighting in this game boils down to.

For what it's worth, you do have a few more options as you fight. Most notably, by striking the opponent five times in succession, you'll initiate what's called a "stylish move." This abruptly pauses the action and puts you into a character-specific timing-based minigame of some sort. For instance, as Terry you'll need to rhythmically press the attack button as little dots move across the screen. As Kim, you'll need to dial in a string of numbers as they're highlighted onscreen. If you succeed in the allotted period of time, you'll pull off a special attack that'll take off a good chunk of the opponent's health. If you fail, it doesn't really matter because you can just keep on whaling away at the attack button and still win the round. There's still an incentive to nail down the timing of the stylish moves, if only so that you can finish each round as quickly as possible. As you play, you'll find yourself spending more time watching the stylish move sequences and the awkward between-battle dialogue play out than actually fighting against your opponents.

You can defend against incoming attacks and taunt your opponent, but you never have to. You can also use super moves and desperation moves, but you never need those either. All four of the characters play identically, apart from the slight differences in how their stylish moves are performed. The game does have a few different modes of play, at least. The main mode is story-driven, though that's putting it generously. Basically you'll fight through every combination of battles as each character, as each of them attempts to qualify for the King of Fighters tournament finals. Just when you think you're about to face off against some powerful boss opponent, the game ends and dumps you back to the title screen. You can then attempt the battle mode, where you can choose from any of the four characters to start with; and there's also survival mode, which pits you against an endless sequence of foes until your health runs out. Because it's so easy to win, you'll probably end up quitting out of survival mode before you actually lose.

Probably the best thing to be said for KOF M2 is that it rips the character graphics straight out of the NeoGeo fighting games it's based on. SSo even though Terry, Mai, Kim, and Leona appear very small onscreen (at least on our Sony Ericsson S710a handset), they look unmistakably similar to the real thing. The handful of different backdrops for the fights and some of the stylish moves and desperation moves also look halfway decent, but the game's choppy animation and really sparse audio defangs the action. The game's sound boils down to just a sharp snap for whenever somebody gets hit, and a little bass riff whenever you win a match, plus a longer version for the title screen. None of the characters' speech quips made it in, unfortunately.

King of Fighters fans excited by the prospect of having a portable version to play on the go should curb their enthusiasm, because KOF M2 is simply a bad game that's similar to its namesake only in the most superficial ways. You could maybe milk a shallow hour or 90 minutes of half-witted entertainment from this game, but you'd hate yourself for paying for it.

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