Those of you who know your gaming history will be aware that Capcom’s great rival during the 1990s was SNK, a firm famous for its Neo Geo arcade system and seemingly endless assembly line of one-on-one fighters.
The King of Fighters series arguably marks the company’s high point in this genre, and even today the franchise continues to draw considerable interest from fighting game connoisseurs whenever a new edition hits arcades.
Seen by many as the arch-enemy of Capcom’s own popular Street Fighter lineage, it’s somewhat fitting that King of Fighters has now made the transition from coin-op to iOS, and we’re pleased to report that this handheld iteration is more than a match for the iPhone port of Street Fighter IV.King of the ring
Like Capcom’s aforementioned classic, King of Fighters-i is a 2D fighting game packed with special moves, complex combos, and more depth than is immediately apparent.
Each character has a repository of unique attacks, many of which are executed by inputting stick and button combinations.
As well as a punch and kick command, you also have an 'evade' button (for skipping through incoming fireballs) and a ‘special’ button, which is context sensitive and either allows you to perform a ‘blow out’ (a move which stuns your opponent and knocks him off-guard) or one of your specials.
In addition to these options, you can also inflict massive damage by tapping one of the gauges at the top of the screen. These fill up as you both dish out and receive damage, and provided you’ve got enough juice in the tank you can push your foe back with a mighty super combo which fills the screen with its dazzling power.There's no 'I' in team
Much of this will sound very familiar if you’ve already experienced the iPhone version of Street Fighter IV, of course. What makes King of Fighters different is the fact that you don’t pick just one combatant, but a team of three.
The idea is that once a character is defeated your next team member steps in where he left off. This concept has been at the centre of the series since it began way back in 1994, and it ensures that you become adept with three different fighters, rather than just one.
For all its depth and strategy, it won’t take you long to best the Arcade mode in King of Fighters-i. In fact, there’s a very good chance that you’ll breeze through the game on your first play, which will be rather disappointing for those of you expecting a challenge.
You can boost the difficulty by switching off the special move shortcuts (which means you’ll have to memorise each input and time it to perfection) but ultimately the game just isn’t hard enough when playing against the computer.
Thankfully, there’s bonus content to keep you coming back for more. Success in battle earns you coins, which you can spend on items like collectable trading cards. You can also unlock artwork and other assets by repeatedly completing the game with different characters.Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer
King of Fighters-i features local multiplayer over Bluetooth, but sadly doesn’t support online contests. It’s a real shame, but when you consider how much Capcom struggled with latency in the recent Street Fighter IV Volt, perhaps it’s a blessing.
It would be unfair of us to conclude this review without mentioning King of Fighters-i's sublime hand-drawn 2D visuals. The characters are lifted directly from the latest arcade instalment of the series and boast sharp detail and silky-smooth animation (especially in the case of scantily-clad female combatant Mai, whose 'assets' bounce around like two puppies scrapping in a sack).
Some will say that arcade fighters simply cannot function as intended on touchscreen devices, and the fact that SNK Playmore has had to introduce special move shortcuts lends some credence to that viewpoint.
However, while it lacks the precision of its coin-op ancestors, King of Fighters-i still manages to entertain and will please those of you who have already beaten the iOS version of Street Fighter IV to a bloody pulp.