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Game: King of Fighters: Maximum Impact Regulation ‘A’ (NTSC-J)
System: PlayStation 2 DVD-ROM
Right off the bat, this is not KOF: Maximum Impact 3. King of Fighters: Maximum Impact Regulation ‘A’ is a straight PlayStation 2 port of its simultaneously-released arcade version, itself a slightly upgraded Maximum Impact 2. The result is an even finer tune of an already surprisingly good 3d brawler, albeit one based in 2d mechanics. It has more moves, characters and stages than its forebears, and also adopts the patented King of Fighters 3-on-3 setup for the first time in this series, but lacks the single-player-oriented unlockables, character endings and stories that rounded out the previous game. Regulation A is no doubt the definitive version of the Maximum Impact series from a gameplay standpoint, but perhaps not the most accomplished in terms of presentation.
What most immediately separates Regulation A from Maximum Impact 2 is its roster. The previous cast is available in its entirety from the get-go, which means some of the more colourful participants, like Fatal Fury’s Richard Meyer, or Metal Slug’s Fio Germi no longer need to be unlocked. The four new entries constitute the real value of admission though, and all are reasonably fun to play with if not at all game-breaking. Ash Crimson, the hero of more recent core King of Fighters games makes his 3d debut with his existing arsenal complimented by a few almost unnecessary additions that result in him being both a beast, and a simple entry point for newcomers. Blue Mary, a ubiquitous absentee from previous MI tournaments is finally playable, and largely analogous to her Real Bout self. Xiao Lon and Makoto Mizoguchi, the last two new entries, are newcomers to the KOF realm, Xiao Lon being an entirely new creation (and an admittedly interesting one) while Mizoguchi appears for the first time since his Fighter’s History series disappeared. He is an interesting inclusion not only because his origin game was made by Data East - not SNK (Fighter’s History Dynamite only appeared on the NeoGeo) but also because the visual punch of a lot of his moves have been lost, and apparently not compensated for, in his transition to 3d. Either way, the current roster is 42-characters strong as of Regulation A, and would be impressive enough by itself were the bulk of them not as varied and competent as they are.
The core fighting game is mostly unchanged from Maximum Impact 2, as it should be in what is effectively a minor revision. Regulation A’s physics allow it to be played pretty much exactly as a typical 2d King of Fighters game. Dialled-up combos are the key, and probably the only, differential here, and are simple enough to be quickly grasped and experimented with. Some of newcomer Ash’s bread and butter strings are p>p>P>P, P>P>K>D+K, and K>K>K>K>K, and as you can see the system is not rocket science. More than half the specials and combos are super-cancellable as well, making for some frantic impromptu chains and rapid turnarounds in matches. This time though, bouts are between two teams of three fighters, just as in the classic KOF games of old. Unfortunately, there is no tagging system implemented at all. The player is offered a chance to select the order of combatants pre-fight, but other than that, it is a one after another attritional affair. In itself, this is not a problem, except that a rather grievous failing of Regulation A arises from this arrangement- the loading times. Menu and character select interfaces are well implemented – 2d portraits are now used in place of 3d models, meaning there is no loading time to speak of during or between any of these screens. Still, once a character is KO-ed, the poor PS2 has to dump the character’s data and load another’s. The delay is marginal, but happens so often it becomes an unbearable annoyance. Understandably there is little way around this issue, given the hardware, but it is an unfortunate negative nevertheless.
Regulation A’s presentation is on the whole an uneven effort. As mentioned, the character select screen and general interface is fairly impressive – both as flamboyant as and more streamlined than those found in the other Maximum Impacts. The roster is huge, and stages have all received a Dark Resurrection-style time-of-day remix. Graphics are not best in class, but very easy on the eyes. Modes are the typical fare, with a ‘jukebox’ unnecessarily glorifying a boring sound test. The problem is that Regulation A has dispensed with the usual niceties that accompany a home port. There is no story mode of any kind – not even a text-based one. Further, the gorgeous full-motion video from Maximum Impact 2 is all gone – the endings, the intro movie – everything. In their stead is a remarkably unimpressive mishmash of stills and cheesy video effects set to a boring metal track that seemingly demanded zero effort to put together. Hell, it even recycles some Ash concept art from The King of Fighters 2003. Worse still is that there are no unlockables at all. You may get to play as Nightmare Geese, Jivatma and Luise Meyrink right from the start, but there is not a whole lot to do with this game after you get sick of the new characters. There is not even (can you believe this?) a high-score table saving feature as far as I can tell, and that is saying something about an arcade game. This is a straight arcade port in the strictest use of the term – no frills; you get a lot to play with, but what you see at the start is literally all you get.
King of Fighters: Maximum Impact Regulation ‘A’ is a really fun game. There are a whole bunch of characters to mess with and the combo system is easy enough to get into. Now if you happen to have a competitive interest in the game, all the better. I don’t know that there is a sizable scene for this game, if any, in Japan, let alone overseas. For the layperson though, this will be a predominantly single-player affair with the occasional match against friends here and there as long as the game holds interest. Given its lack of unlockable content and annoying loading delays, it may not hold interest for that long, and at the end of the day this is only a minor extension of the Maximum Impacts that have been around for ages now. Whether or not to purchase Regulation A will likely degenerate into an equation of the cost of importing, lack of movies, story and unlockables versus four new characters and being able to play problematic 3-vs-3 fights. If you happen to find yourself weighing the game up in those terms, do yourself a favour and either pick up or stick with Maximum Impact 2. I recommend this only if you’re getting it for free, or if you are a ninth-degree KOF nut. Regulation A is great fun, and, gameplay-wise, the definitive iteration of the series, but it ultimately lacks the lasting appeal to warrant the price of admission.
In regard to the loading issue, running the game off a HDD solves it. It would have been nice to see an official HDD installation for this game, as with the recent Street Fighter Alpha and Darkstalkers collections. However its absence should not come as a surprise considering this title’s bare-bones presentation in all the other areas.
PS: Thanks to SNK’s Blog for the images.