Ten years. That's how long it has been since Street Fighter got its first serious competitor from what has actually become one of their gaming pals, SNK. King of Fighters was always going to find it tough against what many call the greatest fighting game ever still to this day but managed to hold its own and gain its own fanbase, although primarily in the Eastern world. With other companies sticking to 2D, SNK has decided that after ten years it was time to move to the three dimensional world and Maximum Impact is their first 3D game. That is why perhaps it's not as impressive as previous KOF games but is a decent try for a first effort, and something which they can build with.
While storylines for most fighting games are weak, this one does a decent job of it. Rather than revolve around the tournament as per other games, the developers have decided to build a city for the fighting - Southtown. In Southtown gangs rule the world so it's up to you to fight all comers and reclaim the streets. The storyline is not as fleshed out as it could have been but each character does have their own storyline which is a nice change from recent fighting titles which have only focused on a single storyline. In fact it's actually a stroke of genius to include individual stories, due to the fact the main story is just a guy telling you the next event which does become repetitive and almost makes you wonder why the developers decided load time for a 3D engine scene was needed.
The game itself is very much like the KOF of old, just in three dimensions. It's fast paced like the old games and doesn't seem all that change from before, other than the fact the characters are in 3D. To a degree it feels like the games of old as well as the camera angle remains the same, unlike games such as DOA which move the camera around during fights with its 3D environment. There are also numerous game modes to play other than the storyline which make it one of the better fighting games around due to its replay value. You can practice your moves, play a survival style game, play against other people and complete a mission based game.
The missions are what add the most replay value to the game despite its basic premise. Basically you move through a number of challenges such as having to hit people four times, win in under thirty seconds etc. Successfully finish these and you'll unlock new clothing etc for the characters in the game which may not seem much and it's not but that's not what the mode is for. It teaches you how to fight properly, how to break counters etc. Each of the characters have their own unique moves as expected but in comparison to a lot of other fighting games there is a great deal more of them, over thirty five. Some of the characters obviously return from previous games and seeing them in 3D for the first time could be enough to sell this game to the most ardent KOF fan, but those casual gamers will still get a kick out of the higher detailed characters.
The visuals of the game are quite well done although could be a bit better given the technology of the PS2, but once again for a first effort they do the job. The animations are a bit iffy sometimes especially with the combination moves from older games but overall the characters are detailed are look decent in their new 3D form. The levels the fights take place in are very oldschool with crowds cheering and car parks etc; none of this official tournament business which makes up most of today's fighting games. Sound effects could have been better with some of the voice acting extremely annoying to listen to and the way some characters act (like little girls for instance) really detracts from the game.
King of Fighters Maximum Impact is a moderate effort in bringing the game to 3D. The developers have to be given some credit for trying, something which Capcom is yet to do with SF II and probably won't ever do. It may not be the best KOF game around, but it's the most technically efficient and offers a decent fighting game for those who want the latest graphics and technology applied to a classic proven series.