There comes a point in every game reviewer’s illustrious career where he or she has simply needs to vent about a game. King of Fighters: Maximum Impact – Maniax has made me reach that point. If you read DailyGame’s review of the PlayStation 2 version of KOF: Maximum Impact, you’ve basically read our review for this, its Xbox-exclusive counterpart. Consequently, this review is going to be somewhat short, both in its author’s temper and in its overall length.
With that out of the way, let us count the ways Maniax fails to impress. As an Xbox-exclusive game, it’s fair to expect that the SNK developers would’ve spent more time tuning the engine. Maniax moves smoothly, don’t get me wrong; its frame rate is outstanding. But the 3D evolution of a franchise that owns 2D fighting is just plain poor. Unlike the solid 3D Xbox fighters already available (the Dead or Alive games and Mortal Kombat: Deception, for example), Maniax isn’t a true 3D fighter. Players can’t explore the levels, nor can they really maneuver in three dimensions other than to perform a roll move that occasionally allows them to dodge an attack. Maniax, in spite of its 3D change, is a decidedly two-dimensional game.
The “change” to 3D also exposes some gameplay issues, most notably character balance and power. With the new ability to beat opponents while they’re on the ground, many fights end up turning into juggling acts in which players catch their opponent in a corner (who knew corners existed in 3D games?), then beat them senseless until the energy meter drains. Within seconds, matches can be over. Where’s the fun in that? Also, although the game has some wicked-fast fighters with even faster 14-hit (or more) combos, many of the game’s 20 characters seem cumbersome. Sure, you can take those guys into a corner and beat your opponents to a bloody pulp. It’ll just take them eight years to get to that corner.
Likewise, time, practice and patience are the name of the game when it comes to the combo system in KOF: Maximum Impact – Maniax. In my opinion, KOF’s combo system has always been a good thing; button-mashers are pointless, frustrating and need to die. So, with this equally deep system in place, Maniax feels like a true arcade fighter wrapped in a console box. Fortunately, SNK has inserted a complete library of each character’s moves into the Maniax pause menu, making the learning process a bit easier.
If only tolerating the so-called Story mode were easier. Maniax features multiple offline modes (Story, Versus, Challenge and Practice), with the Versus mode being the place to find the traditional three-on-three battles. The return of this three-on-three aspect will bring tears of joy to KOF fans’ eyes, but the “Story” mode will turn them into tears of pain. Spoiled by actual plotlines in other fighting games, one would expect Maniax to follow a similar backstory model. No such luck. The story, as it were, in Maniax involves a clown-looking guy introducing the next opponent for each character. Why did SNK even bother?
King of Fighters: Maximum Impact – Maniax also fails to impress graphically, a surprising development for an Xbox-exclusive game. Maniax is definitely improved from its eight-month-old PS2 predecessor, but it’s nowhere near the caliber of the aforementioned 3D fighting games. For a King of Fighters game, Maniax looks drop-dead gorgeous, but that’s not saying much for a traditionally 2D series. Nor can you say Maniax looks great just because of its franchise heritage, because the franchise doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so comparisons with other fighters are bound (and expected) to occur. The audio, too, is complete trash. Sure, you can switch from English to Japanese recordings, but it’s none of it is lip-synced, nor is it compelling or clever. Five lines of recorded rubbish is still recorded rubbish.
The one thing Maniax does right in the Xbox-exclusive realm is online play. Smooth and lag-free are the two best ways to describe Maniax online, and when you’re given the opportunity to organize your own tournaments of up to 128 participants, you know the developer has done something right. Now if only they could find a solid 3D fighter to attach to those online functions.
Maniax isn’t a bad fighter, but it’s certainly not a good one, either. Rather than focus on incremental improvements to a quickly aging franchise, SNK should take a few seasons off and rethink what it wants to do with this series to keep it from becoming an also-ran. Because right now, that’s exactly what’s happening, no matter how many taglines and subtitles SNK throws on the package.
- Gameplay: 6.5
- C’mon guys…you’ve got three dimensions now. Use them!
- Graphics: 6
- A touch better than the PS2 version, but still not up to snuff with year-old Xbox fighting games.
- Sound: 4
- The voice work is just tripe, and the music isn’t much better.
- Replay: 7.7
- Incredibly smooth online play, but the only people you’ll find playing it are KOF fanboys.
- Overall: 6.5
- Serviceable but stale, the King of Fighters is quickly losing his reign.
— Jonas Allen