Some of us here at Push Square are looking forward to King of Fighters XIV. Honest. Which is lucky, given that a playable demo landed on the PlayStation Store yesterday, giving us a chance to try out this somewhat divisive entry in the series – and we're happy to report that the title shows great promise.
But first, let's address the massive elephant in the room.
Much has been made of the game's aesthetics, not all of it terribly kind, and for sure, King Of Fighters XIV sorely lacks the visual polish of its peers. The game looks a little better first-hand, mainly down to small touches and detailed textures that aren't always apparent on YouTube, but the stark reality is that it looks bad – just not quite as bad as we feared.
Worse, the SNK flavour and character lost in the transition to 3D is criminal: Kyo's face is all but unrecognisable, and the obnoxious Sylvie Paula Paula is a nightmarish example of terrifying over-design.
With that out of the way, things do get better. The breadth of King of Fighter's fighting systems are soon made apparent through a succinct tutorial teaching the basics, and this is where the potential of the game first starts to shine. A familiar four button setup is retained, alongside meter-inhibited super moves and cancel systems from King of Fighters XIII, together with evasive rolls, back-dashes, and the like.
Indeed, the scope of combat is such that in the first 12 hours after the demo's release, industrious players have already uncovered touch-of-death combos, in which opposing players can do nothing but watch as their character is beaten to a pulp - and sometimes knocked out - in a single, unstoppable combo chain. Whether or not this is a good thing remains to be seen, and is largely subjective anyhow. Crucially, the combat feels damned good. The combo system's neatly designed, team battles – of course – return, and the newly presented characters bring exciting possibilities to the table.
For us, the highlights are Nelson and Shun'ei. Nelson has insane strings of normal attacks and only two special moves, an incredibly fast dash, and a command grab; facing a skilled Nelson player seems a terrifying prospect. Meanwhile, the range and mobility of Shun'ei – both in the air and on the ground - opens up some exciting possibilities, and we're definitely looking forward to testing him out against others online.
That's the only other problem with the demo, though: it has no online functionality at all. Our experiences with the previous game's netplay were mixed, with lag often an inhibiting factor - so we're left hanging, hoping that the situation is much improved for XIV. Of course, there's single player content to come, something billionaire baddie Antonov knowingly – and mockingly – promises in the tutorial. The scoundrel.
All said and done, however, those itching to get to grips with XIV are well served here – there are a smattering of stages, new characters, and old faces to try out, and a decent versus and training mode will certainly provide a thorough head start for those waiting for the release of the finished product.
While some will undoubtedly write off King of Fighters XIV for its shocking design, playing the demo certainly made us look forward to release much, much more. We all knew that visually, it looked poor, but now at least we can be confident that the gameplay will stand up to scrutiny.
Have you tried the King of Fighters XIV demo on PS4? What do you think of it? Catch us in an unbreakable combo in the comments section below.