The King of Fighters XIII: Steam Edition brings SNK Playmore’s excellent 3-on-3 2D fighter to the PC via Valve’s digital distribution platform. If you’ve knuckled up against friends and foes in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, you’ll feel right at home here as the intricate combat mechanics, gorgeous graphics, and fight-worthy music is impressively ported to home computers. That, however, isn’t the end of the story: it includes the all of the console DLC, King of Fighters XIII: Climax arcade additions, improved netcode, and graphics options to customize your gameplay experience. In short, King of Fighters fans who’ve patiently awaited a PC version can boast having the ultimate version of XIII. It may very well be the best 2D fighter of this generation.
Vanilla The King of Fighters XIII was an apology to every fight fan that felt that sinking feeling shortly after booting up The King of Fighters XII; Steam Edition makes an already polished game even better. Steam Edition‘s graphics impress in a manner that few modern 2D fighting games can match as it balances silky animation with a ruggedness that fits a fighting game. Guilty Gear’s visuals are beautiful, but overly polished. Street Fighter IV‘s polygons lack soul. Mortal Kombat‘s fighters can look downright awkward at times. Steam Edition, on the other hand, drips in pixel love. Steam Edition‘s graphics may not match Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online’s insane-to-the-point-of-distraction animation, but what’s there is absolutely stunning. Kyo’s jacket flows as he dashes and fights, powerhouses like Ralf and Clark are built like tanks, and Mai’s bosom sways in hypnotic fashion. I’m still not a fan of some of the CGI specials – a few look out-of-place against the sprites – but that’s a relatively minor complaint in a game that’s a visual masterpiece.
The international backgrounds are equally impressive; onlookers not only cheer on the three-on-three violence, they do so with body-rattling vigor that helps set the rowdy vibe. Steam Edition lets PC gamers with humble machines opt for less resource-intensive static backgrounds. Despite the spectacle, my favorite background is a more subdued one set in South Town where Mr. Big holds a shady meeting in a back alley – the perfect backdrop for a street fight.
It would be of poor judgement to overlook the darker side of Steam Edition’s wonderful visuals as this game is a decidedly non-PC game — to a fault. In fact, some elements are not just insensitive, but downright brutish. King and Yuri (rarities in fighting games as they’re both strong, full-clothed women) suffer the humiliation of having their clothes shredded by supers, leaving them partially clothed and unconscious on the ground — yes, it’s rape imagery either by design or accident. This isn’t new; it’s ripped straight from Art of Fighting, SNK’s early ’90s fighting game — and it should have stayed in the past.
But that isn’t the only offense. Semi-human, tailed animals cheer in Brazil’s stage — creatures that recall racist imagery from the early 20th century. Gender and sexuality slights are commonplace, too. It’s more than a little disturbing that this imagery exists in a game released this decade. The Border House has an excellent post on these topics that is recommended reading.
The in-game soundtrack is a throwback to fighting game music of yesteryear – for both the better and worse. There are a few rocking tracks, but there are also several near-jazz pieces that don’t match the high-octane action. Still, they’re melodic and somewhat memorable, which is more than I can say for several modern games with atmospheric soundscapes.
That’s the audio-visual. Now let’s get to the gameplay. The sweet, sweet gameplay.
Casual fighting game fans will enjoy performing basics and supers, but Steam Edition‘s combat system is one that rewards the dedicated as it allows them to inflict ungodly combos and big damage using cancels. It’s all about Drive Cancels, Guard Cancels, Hyperdrive Cancels, Super Cancels, and Neo Cancels. As the names suggests, you can cancel out of a move and into another to rack up big hits. These cancels (except for Guard Cancels) are governed by each fighter’s Hyperdrive Gauge, which fills as you land, block, and take hits. Depending on the cancel needed, you’ll consume between 50% to 100% of the Hyperdrive Gauge — so cancel with prejudice.
The Power Gauge fills in the same manner except that you use that use it to unleash those aforementioned Guard Cancels as well as EX Specials, Desperation Moves, EX Desperation Moves, and insanely powerful Neo Max moves that wreck opponents’ lifebars. These require anywhere between one and three power stocks depending on the attack.
The result is that you should carefully select your character order. If you have a character with a devastating Neo Max, you’d probably want to place it second or third in the lineup where it has a better chance of leaping into battle with three power stocks. I’ll leave it to better men than myself to dissect the game’s balance, but there doesn’t appear to be a fighter than has the innate ability to run roughshod over the rest of the 36 character roster. The improved netcode lets you mix it up online with the occasional hiccup — it’s superior to vanilla XIII‘s online component. I’m not sure why SNK Playmore has an aversion to the tried-and-true GGPO – Skullgirls, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online, and even Divekick utilizes the lag-reducing middleware.
Steam Edition includes a heap of gameplay modes, but the most eye-catching is Story Mode, which is, essentially, a fighting game mashed up with a visual novel. Between rounds you’re treated to beautifully drawn (but barely animated) cutscenes, and you can select various scenarios that move the story forward. There’s no voice work — it’s all text — but what’s there is relatively engaging. Frankly, I could do without yet another Orochi Saga, but this is thankfully the end of that tale (I hope).
As mentioned earlier, the online vs. mode is greatly improved over vanilla XIII‘s. I played various competitors for several hours with only one or two instances of lag, and no disconnects. This will hopefully keep the game alive in competitive circles, despite the lack of spectator mode.
In a console generation that saw the wondrous return of the 2D fighter thanks to the smash success of Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Street Fighter IV, and Persona 4: Arena, KOF XIII: Steam Edition should be considered a must-have title despite its borderline offensive flaws. If this is the result of SNK moving away from annual releases, I wholeheartedly approve and hope that the company applies similar care to neglected fighting games its deep game catalog.
The King of Fighters XIII: Steam Edition Minimum PC Requirements
- OS: Windows XP
- Processor: 2.0-GHz Intel Pentium 4
- RAM: 2 GB
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 9500 GT (with 256 MB RAM)
- Hard Drive: 5 GB
You can buy The King of Fighters XIII: Steam Edition on Steam for $29.99.