While the competition is currently concentrating on porting its fighting games to the Xbox 360, SNK Playmore taking a different path by continuing to support the system that pioneered online fighting game matchmaking, the Xbox. Over the course of the Xbox's short yet influential life, SNK has managed dig through its enormous library of arcade fighting games and reissue many of them with full Xbox Live compatibility. And now, fighting game fans have a chance to add one more of those to their virtual arcade collection, as SNK is bringing one of its most recent arcade games, The King of Fighters NeoWave, to the Xbox.
With the exception of a few titles on the ill-fated Hyper Neo Geo 64 hardware, SNK has powered most of its arcade games on the same, archaic, 24-bit Neo-Geo board for the last 14 years. Considering that the average lifespan of a home gaming system is a paltry five or so years -- and is even shorter for arcade hardware -- this is an amazing feat. So it was a big deal when SNK decided to firmly retire its beloved system and move on to a hardware that's more suited for today's modern technological demands, Sammy's AtomisWave. As the title hints, KOF NeoWave was SNK's first title for the new hardware.
Judging from the history of AtomisWave fighters -- which includes the beautiful high resolution 2D renderings of the Guilty Gear series -- you would expect KOF NeoWave to follow suit and sport the same luscious visuals. Well, not exactly. Although it does have better backgrounds than any KOF game before it, NeoWave doesn't take advantage of the higher resolution available for the character sprites and it continues to use the same decade-long sprites of past KOF games. Sure, these may have been cleaned up and polished a bit, but they appear to be grossly outdated when compared to the likes of Guilty Gear, The Rumble Fish, or even Street Fighter III: Third Strike. It's not all a loss, though; the sounds are surprisingly well done, featuring new tunes and remixes of old tunes. Being that this is a KOF game, expect to hear tracks that feature midi sounding horns, progressive head banging butt-rock, and a sprinkle of funk inspired beats.
The backgrounds aren't the only things that are new. At the beginning of the character selection process, players are able to choose from three modes: Super Cancel, Guard Break, and Max2. Super Cancel is exactly like KOF 2002 fighting system, minus the Max Mode power up -- that means your entire team can execute counter blows, rolls, and evasion counters. In addition to these familiar techniques, you can cancel your special moves with another special move or even with a super attack, but at the cost of one stock of super bar. Guard Break mode, on the other hand, doesn't allow you to cancel special moves, but it will allow you perform an attack that will crush someone's guard, allowing for a free combo after. Additionally, it is the only mode to feature Just Defend, a technique pioneered by Garou: Mark of the Wolves that allows a character to parry a move to avoid the dreaded block stun. Max2 is unlike either of the two mentioned modes, for it lacks the flashiness of rolls, guard breaks, or counters; it's a bare-bones mode that places a huge emphasis on the super bar. Characters are limited to only one super bar, but the bar automatically increases over time. Another neat aspect is that when a character performs a super attack when their life is in critical condition, they will execute their hidden Desperation Move from KOF 2002, a super attack that can inflict almost 50% damage to the opponent.
As of now, we haven't had the opportunity to test drive the game's Xbox Live capabilities, but if Samurai Shodown 5 on Xbox is any indication of what lag may be, then Xbox Live gamers will be in good hands. But if you can't stop obsessing over the game right now, check out your local arcade and pray that it has the game. Or you could simply head over to the media page to check out the screens.