SNK Playmore might have lost the first round trying to bring its King of Fighters series into 3D, but here comes the comeback. The King of Fighters 2006 is markedly better than King of Fighters: Maximum Impact, the company's forgettable 2004 attempt to take its popular fighting series from 2D to 3D. While KOF 2006 doesn't do much of anything that hasn't been done before in other 2D and 3D fighting games, it features a huge roster of nearly 40 different characters, including a bunch of unlockable fighters that longtime SNK fans should get a real kick out of. And while it doesn't have online play (hardly any PlayStation 2 fighting games have bothered), it has a substantial number of single-player challenges to keep you busy and offers some fun, fast-paced, over-the-top martial arts battles.
SNK Playmore's second attempt at a 3D King of Fighters game fares a lot better than the first one, thanks to more characters and more options.
Those keeping track of the long-running King of Fighters series will be quick to notice that this installment is the first 3D game to absorb the series proper's yearly naming convention, which has been used only for 2D games in the series up until now. Does this mean 2D King of Fighters is dead and buried? Not necessarily, since this is the same game as Japan's King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2. More importantly, though, KOF 2006 is a solid game that's at least on par with other recent titles in the series. And it plays much more like a 2D King of Fighters game than like 3D fighting games such as Tekken or Virtua Fighter, so in many ways it holds very true to the series' roots. It mostly just looks different, and the 3D visuals, while not stunning, are pretty good in most cases.
KOF 2006 isn't drastically different from Maximum Impact, though it adds a lot of meaningful, new material. It features every last character from the first game, including King of Fighters veterans like Iori and Kyo, as well as Maximum Impact originals like the Meira brothers and Duke, the previous game's main bad guy who has joined the starting lineup for this round. It adds several new characters on top of these, notably including stick fighter Billy Kane and frost-throwing hipstress Kula Diamond. And then there are the hidden fighters--a lot of them. And, for the most part, they're not just rehashes of the main fighters, but completely different characters. They include SNK favorites like Kim Kaphwan and Geese Howard, plus some surprising additions like Fio from the Metal Slug series and Hanzo Hattori from Samurai Shodown, and even some downright obscure characters like Richard Myer from the original Fatal Fury, and Billy's sister, Lily Kane. All fighters in the game have multiple different outfits and many unlockable outfit colors, and some of these are really wild. So, with close to 40 different fighters in all, each with unique combos, special moves, and super moves, plus lots of unlockable outfits and stages and such, there's certainly a lot of stuff in KOF 2006, for a fighting game.
Get a load of that character select screen once all the fighters have been unlocked. That's a lot of dudes.
You can unlock all the initially hidden fighters either by playing through the story mode with different characters or by completing a misleadingly titled series of "easy missions," which challenge you to defeat particular opponents by using specific moves or by overcoming certain penalties. These are progressively challenging and also serve to train you on some of the subtleties of the gameplay, such as the new parrying maneuvers available to all characters. The missions are quite addictive to play through, especially since you keep unlocking new content as you go. And once you're finished with the 100 easy missions, you can move on to the "hard missions" for some real punishment. The game also features extra missions, which are bonus levels that range from trashing a sport utility vehicle like in the old Street Fighter II bonus stage, to taking on the Metal Slug tank in single combat. Again, these are interesting diversions that help give the game single-player longevity. There's also what's called the "quest survival" mode, which is like a typical survival mode except that you get to choose, between rounds, where to spend some points you earn, such as on replenishing your health or raising your attack power.