Early 90s arcade-dwellers had one of two allegiances: Capcom or SNK.

If you weren't pumping pound coins into Street Fighter II cabinets with the other Capcom kids, you were probably stufying combos from over the shoulder of whoever was dominating the King of Fighters machine.

SNK's series was faster, had longer combos, and you had to be a demon on the control stick to pull off all the split-second inputs.

That's probably why KoF's Kyo and Iori have always lived in Ken and Ryu's shadow, at least here in the UK. Still, anyone that's ever stepped into an arcade (when they weren't all just slot machines and coin pushers) will have a place in their hearts for this hardest-of-hardcore series.

I'm a self-confessed Street Fighter addict, but that wasn't going to stop me dusting down the arcade stick and practicing my MAX cancels - even if King of Fighters XIV looks a bit different from the arcade originals I remember.


That's right - the gorgeous hand-drawn 2D sprites of old have been officially retired in favour of 3D animation. SNK has gone for a more lifelike art style, which clashes a bit with the absolutely bonkers line-up of characters, but kept the bright colours and attention to detail we've come to expect from the series.

I know there was big fan backlash when the new look was first revealed, and a part of me wishes the pixel art could have stuck around a little longer. It's a good job that this new direction looks stunning in motion, then.

Seriously, screenshots alone don't do KOF XIV justice. Every fight has a flow to it, with slick attack animations and special move effects lighting up the screen whenever they connect.

It hasn't slowed the action down one bit, either: bouts are easily as fast-paced as 2010's King of Fighters XIII, which will be good news for fans that have been eagerly awaiting the next entry in the series.

It helps that SNK has crammed detail into every single stage background too. I played ten games against the CPU and spotted something new every match, and that was just on one stage. There are around 20 choose from, but it'll take a while to narrow down your favourites.

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Shortcut to success

It all looks spectacular in motion, kicking along at 60fps on PS4 - but those fancy effects only show up if you can actually pull off the moves. Something that's easier said than done if you're new to the series.

King of Fighters is hands-down one of the most technical fighting games around. Even if you've perfected Street Fighter's FADC ultra combos, KoF's super cancelling and MAX cancelling are a whole new challenge.

That's party because King of Fighters has a four button control setup. Six button systems have ruled the roost since Street Fighter II, so you'd think fewer buttons would make things easier for your button-bashing fingers and thumbs. Noooooooooope.

Light and heavy punches and light and heavy kicks get a button each, but different two-button combinations add more entries to each character's move list. Quarter circle and half-circle motions are just for basic special moves, too.

Throw in movement options like rolls, runs, dashes and three kinds of jump, and you've got an absolute minefield of moves and motions. Child's play for KoF veterans, I'm sure, but unforgiving as hell if you don't already know what you're doing.

Thank the gaming gods that SNK included a new Rush mode, then. Mash the light punch button and you'll pull off an automatic combo attack; have at least one bar of super meter stocked up and you'll end the combo with a flashy special move.

Sure, it's scrubby as hell, but if it gets you the win, who cares?

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Learning one character can be tricky, but learning the entire roster is going to take weeks of practice. KOF XIV is packing a whopping 50 characters, which puts Street Fighter V's 16 at launch (22 after DLC) to shame.

It also keeps the series trademark 3v3 team battle format, so you can't just swot up on one character - you've got to have three sets of moves memorised.

At least there are plenty of returning fan favourites, so veterans will be able to break out those powerful Iori combos they committed to muscle memory back in the 90s, or refresh themselves on the basics with Joe, Benimaru and Terry Bogard.

A lot of lesser-used characters also make an appearance, but it's the brand new ones that had me most excited. Boxer Nelson only has two special moves, but his crazy normal attacks all link into each other for some difficult-to-predict combos. He's crazy quick, too - catch an opponent on the defensive and you'll have no trouble rushing them into a corner.

Oh, and in case you hadn't guessed by the wacky portraits in the screen grabs above, the new additions are just as bonkers as the rest of the cast. My personal favourite? King of Dinosaurs - a wrestler that fights in a T-Rex mask. Because why not?


It's the gameplay that really matters, and on that front KoF XIV delivers.

Offline, either against the CPU or another player, each round absolutely flies by. Attacks hit hard, combos connect quickly and health bars plummet when you land a few special moves. You'll be on the receiving end at first, even if you play through the tutorial first - it's basic and pretty unforgiving.

Add a few EX moves, specials and climax moves to your repertoire and you'll soon be dealing that damage back. Learn evasion rolls, guard evasions and blowbacks, and you'll avoid getting hit altogether. See, I said there was a lot to learn.

I headed online to find some competition, and was amazed by how well matches played out. The last game in the series had absolutely dire online multiplayer, but SNK seems to have fixed things for 2016. I had very few games with any lag, so hopefully the servers will hold up once more players start connecting on launch day.

There are Survival, time attack and trial modes to practice on, and even a story mode, in case you don't enjoy the bitter taste of defeat at the hands of other humans. It's nowhere near as in-depth as any of Netherrealm's games, or even Street Fighter V's story DLC, but it's a handy introduction to the roster and good practice to get you ready for real opponents.

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King of Fighters XIV verdict

King of Fighters XIV doesn't lose anything in the shift away from hand-drawn 2D sprites to more modern 3D animation. It's as frenetic and colourful as ever, even with the bold new art style, and fights are just as fast-paced as they used to be. Series fans should be very happy.

That also means combos and special moves are still hard-as-nails to pull off, which could be a real problem for anyone picking up an arcade stick for the first time. If you don't know your half-circles from your down-back charge inputs, you're not going to be chalking up a lot of wins.

Even fighting game veterans will be humbled by the pinpoint precision needed to pull off those satisfying MAX cancel combos. Or maybe Street Fighter V has just made me soft, and SNK is the wake up call I've been needing to step up my game.

Rush mode makes it a whole lot easier to get started, though. Take the time to learn your characters once you've mastered the basics, and KOF XIV can be a deliciously deep fighting game. Just don't expect to pick up a controller today and be on the main stage at EVO come July.

Buy King of Fighters XIV here from Amazon

Stuff says... 

King of Fighters XIV review

King of Fighters gets brought bang up to date with a fresh new 3D look. If Street Fighter just isn't technical enough for you, KOF is the hardcore fighter you need.
Good Stuff 
Loads of content, no waiting for DLC
Excellent, lag-free online multiplayer
Huge roster of fighters
Bad Stuff 
On-point combo execution is a must
We'll miss the 2D sprites
KOF is never going to be newbie-friendly