SNK’s King of Fighters series has a long and illustrious history, taking up residence in the hearts of many fighting game lovers. Originally released on the Neo Geo back in 1994, it’s been faithfully chugging along ever since. 2016’s KoF XIV, however, was the first time the series went 3D and the results were impressive.
As it turns out, the game is still pretty impressive almost four and a half years later. Presumably to whet appetites for KoF 15 coming later this year, 14’s entire package, with all the DLC, is being re-released as an Ultimate Edition.
From a purely statistical point of view, this is a massive fighter. Fifty-eight characters, including the eight add-on DLC fighters, makes for a grand range of fighting styles, and the horde of arenas to match are just as remarkable. In addition, 10 DLC costumes are included along with 10 KoF PS4 themes.
King of Fighters 14 Ultimate Edition: A Modern Fighting Classic Returns to the Ring
There’s also a lot to do here. The arcade story mode tells the latest saga of the King of Fighters tournament, wherein everyone is fighting to be the very best and beat the Champion. It’s not a huge spoiler to say that beating this big, generic fighting dude opens up the true boss who appears to be a demonic-looking alien just traveling around the universe looking for kicks (and punches).
There are some cinematics and dialogue scenes between fighters at various points, and while nothing here is in danger of being high (or well-written) drama, it’s fun. Tutorials, practice, and survival modes help players refine their skills, but, of course, the meat of KoF 14 is online play.
Two players can fight locally, but up to 12 can compete in actual tournaments, which is a distinctive sell for the more hardcore fighters out there. King of Fighters has always been distinctive because of its three-member team-based take on fighting. You don’t have to use the pre-set teams, though, and can pick any three you want.
Like most SNK fighting games, KoF uses a basic four-button fighting style of light and heavy punches and kicks. Although, some fighters focus entirely (or nearly so) on either punches or kicks based on their fighting art. On initial play, the game seems to work much like Street Fighter or other popular fighters might, but there are enough distinct differences to make KoF feel more unique.
Elements like the rush, dash, guard crush, and super meter, alongside the different types of jumps, all combine with a specific character’s abilities in different ways. The result is a system that takes practice to get adept with but still feels relatively familiar and intuitive to newcomers. The extensive training mode is a great help for getting up to speed and a necessity if you’re planning on spending much time fighting online.
The previously 2D art style makes a smooth transition to 3D. The characters have a fun cartoonish look and are sharply defined, brightly colored, and exceedingly well animated. Beyond that, the score is bouncy fighting rock, the narrators boisterous, and the character voice work entirely Japanese.
If you’ve grown up with fighters, from the original Final Fight and Street Fighter 2 on, King of Fighters has some other notable, if sadly expected, elements worth noting.
Mai, Final Fight’s classic ninja so over-endowed she apparently can barely stand upright has always been an expected bit of lurid, perverse design, but so many of the women fighters here are just as obnoxiously over-sexualized. Granted, SNK is far from the other fighting game maker stuck in the era of ridiculous character designs that seem purely aimed at sad teenage boys. The problem is that for more mature players who love the gameplay, this actually distracts from an otherwise excellent fighter.
King of Fighters 14 Ultimate Edition — The Bottom Line
- Incredible roster of 58 characters
- Deep fighting system that rewards skill without being unfriendly to newcomers
- Great online tournament modes and generally robust multiplayer
- Admittedly, the game is still five years old and KF 15 is coming
- Too many of the women characters are just inanely over-sexualized and creepy looking
King of Fighters 14 Ultimate Edition really is just the original game with all the DLC automatically added. There’s no other change to the base game. If you missed it the first time around, this is still a fine way to get into the series.
The online tournament play is robust and the fighting system has plenty of subtlety and nuance. The massive character roster offers incredible amounts of experimentation, even if we personally wish the developers would grow up when it comes to their depiction of women characters.
[Note: SNK provided the copy of King of Fighters 14 Ultimate Edition used for this review.]