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King of Fighters EX: Neoblood

Developer: Marvelous | Publisher: Sammy Studios
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 05/15/02 | Genre: Fighting

If the legendary rivalry between Capcom and SNK for fighting games was a war, then the King of Fighters series was probably SNK's biggest gun. It collected together the many of the most famous characters from their other games. Featuring great graphics and character designs, unique fighting moves and systems, and its refreshing "team combat" mechanic, King of Fighters has always been a favorite other fighting game enthusiasts. Now that SNK lives on only in spirit, Marvelous Entertainment has decided to create an iteration of the series on the Game Boy Advance for the first time. What results is a mixed bag, but overall, it's a solid title.

King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood has been receiving a mixed reception from fans of the series, fans of SNK, and fans of fighting games in generally. Some think it's a great handheld fighting game, some think it's a decent title, and some were disappointed. Most of the complaints are about the graphics and sound, and it probably depends on whether or not you can forgive these shortcomings. There are also complaints about the gameplay, which, for the most part, is true to the KoF series, but there are a few snags. It really bothers some people, while other people seem to overlook it or not care. Let's just take one thing at a time, however.

The game's weakest point is probably the sound. The music is not annoying, but it's not great either. The disappointing thing is that the quality of the sound is not really up to par with what a GBA game should sound like. There's a good collection of sound effects, but the voices area a mixed bag. Of course, they sound a bit digitized; that's to be expected. The problem is that some of the voice samples are good and some seem less than sufficient, and there are too few of them. Overall though, the sound is acceptable. There's just nothing really in the sound to compliment Marvelous about.

I think that the graphics are probably what divide most people's thoughts on the game. Some fans will be disappointed, while others will not think it's a big deal. The character sprites are nice and large, and they have a sufficient amount of color. The animation is what really seems to be the divisive issue. Some seem to think that the animations are "just missing a few frames, no big deal." Others describe the animation as choppy, disappointing and unacceptable. In my experience, the animation is sufficient and I wouldn't really be bothered if no one else had complained, but I can see where the critics are coming from. The visual effects for the special attacks are pretty. The backgrounds however, are disappointing, especially compared with the lively backgrounds of past KoF games. In KoF EX, the backgrounds are static and this just removes a lot of the atmosphere that the previous games had. It's not like fighting games are really known for their atmosphere, but it's just something that KoF fans will be especially disappointed with. Some gamers will be able to easily overlook this though, because when you're fighting, you're not really paying too much attention to the backgrounds anyways. To its credit, the game showed no signs of slow-down, even when there were three or four characters on screen (the Strikers), or when the special effects animations were occurring.

Gameplay-wise, Neoblood definitely fits within the KoF franchise and it helps differentiate itself with the other fighters available on the handheld. One of the first concerns people will have is the controls. Thankfully, I can say that while the controls make take a little getting used to, they work surprisingly well on the handheld. There are two control options available, and most people will find them adequate. It's not perfect, but it's about as good as it can get on the GBA. Each character has a large variety of moves. Some of them can be quite tricky to pull off, but that's mostly due to the hardware, not the developer. One nice touch is that by pausing the game, you can see all of the moves for the character that you are currently using. This really helps while you're still learning. The fighting is team-based. You play as one team of fighters trying to defeat other teams of fighters. Before each match, you can choose the order that your team members will fight. There is only two opponents fight at once, but once an opponent is defeated, then the victor must fight the next team member form the opposing team until the whole team of four (three fighters and one designated Striker) is defeated.

For the most part, the actual fighting system is retains much of what you will see in KoF '99 and KoF 2000. There are all kinds of nuances to the game, which fighting fans should enjoy. You've got your regular moves, your basic special attacks, counter moves, a combo system, Desperation Moves (extra-special special attacks), and still more different types of attacks. One major system in the fighting engine is the Striker system. During each match, you may call upon one of your teammates (the Striker) to perform a special attack against your opponent. You can only do this a certain number of times each match. Used improperly, it won't affect the fight very much, but use it at the right time, and you could turn the tide in your favor. Also, whenever you give or receive damage, your Power Gauge increases. When it is full, you can activate either the Counter or Armor Mode. The Counter Mode gives your character increased offensive ability and will let you use unlimited Super Special attacks. Armor mode gives your character increased defensive ability. Your character can prevent damage from all attacks when blocking, and they will not be knocked off guard when attacked. There are also some additional things that you can do in each mode. It is a little confusing and complex at first, but you can learn with practice. There are many other different categories types of moves. As I said, there are several nuances to the fighting system, most of which will be recognized by fans of the previous games. I don't really have any complaints about the design of the fighting system. However, there are some problems with the execution of the fighting system. The collision detection is not as good as past KoF games. This will be especially noticeable by KoF fans. It will frustrate some gamers.

The structure of the main game is like most fighting games, except that in the main game, you fight in teams. There are over 20 characters to choose from. Defeat each opposing team in succession until you reach the "boss" character. Once you defeat him, you will be rewarded with a shallow ending to the shallow story that vaguely explains why a bunch of people are getting together with the purpose of beating each other senseless. It's good ol' 16-bit stuff.

The game offers up several modes of play. The main mode is the Team Play, but you can also try Single Play, which is just what it sounds like. You play as one character fighting one other character, not as teams. You can also see how many opponents you can defeat with just one life bar in the Survival modes. The Practice Mode lets you tweak the opponent's behavior (make your opponent stand still, defend, attack, etc.) via a pause menu so that you can hone your skills. Of course, what would a fighting game be if it didn't let you challenge a friend? You can play two-player in both Team and Single modes.

This has to be mentioned. Sammy Entertainment did a poor job with the instruction manual. It does not adequately describe each of these game modes. While it does list all of the characters and their moves, it does not at all describe all of the little nuances of the fighting system and it barely describes the Counter and Armor modes. The manual throws out terms like the "Guard Cancel Emergency Evasion" move without ever explaining what it is. Veterans of the KoF series shouldn't have a problem, but others will. Also, it does not describe how to set up a two-player game at all. Most GBA manuals give you detailed instructions on how to connect the systems together and how to select the right menu options to start a multiplayer game. This manual doesn't even tell you a very critical thing. It doesn't tell you if you need one cartridge per player or if the game is capable of single cartridge multiplayer. Unfortunately, I found out that you do need two cartridges to play two-player. This seems like laziness on the developer's part because I'm sure that data for a fighting match can fit into the GBA's RAM. There are several other games I can think of that seem to have similar or even higher technical demands than KoF, and yet they can pull of single cartridge multiplayer.

Like most fighting games, there's not much in the way of extras. There are three Striker-only characters to unlock, and two fully playable characters to unlock. The replay value comes in the two-player mode, the Survival modes, and increased difficulty levels. That's pretty standard for a KoF, or most fighting games for that matter. If you enjoy the fighting game, it's always fun to go back and try harder difficulty levels for a new challenge. You can always try to beat the game with each team/character too. Also, if you're new to the KoF series, the game will take you many hours to master. Knowing all of the moves inside-out will take some practice. However, if you're not that much into fighting games, then you could be done with this game in an hour or less if all you really want to do is beat it once.

Overall, King of Fighters EX: Neoblood is a mixed bag. I strongly recommend renting it. It's a decent fighting game, but it's a bit disappointing compared to past KoF games. Compared to other fighters available on the GBA, it's hard to say, because Neoblood has a uniqueness about it. It has a fighting system unlike any of the other fighters available. The problem is that it wasn't executed well. There is nothing wrong with the concept and design really. It's just that there are flaws in every category. The sound is not great, the graphics are not great, and the collision detection is a problem. However, many people will be able to overlook these flaws, because most of them are minor and can be forgiven, and some may not even notice. I think hardcore fighting fans and KoF fans will be disappointed. The game is good, but if a KoF fan is expecting the arcade game squished into the GBA, he will be a little disappointed because not everything was handled well. The thing is that it's not that the GBA isn't capable, because it is. KoF fans will feel let down because of what it could have been. Gamers that are not that much into fighting games or the KoF series may not even notice the problems with collision detection, or care about the static backgrounds or a few missing frames of animation. Neoblood was a good effort. There is a sequel on its way, and hopefully, a little more time and effort was spent on it. KoF on the GBA could be a really good fighting game. SNK fans should turn that 'B-' grade into a 'C'; you'll probably have higher expectations be kind of disappointed. SNK fanboys should turn that 'B-' grade into an 'A'; you love KoF games and will forgive all of the little flaws and think it's a really good game. For everyone else, take the 'B-' grade as it is: a good, but not a great fighting game.If the legendary rivalry between Capcom and SNK for fighting games was a war, then the King of Fighters series was probably SNK's biggest gun. It collected together the many of the most famous characters from their other games. Featuring great graphics and character designs, unique fighting moves and systems, and its refreshing "team combat" mechanic, King of Fighters has always been a favorite other fighting game enthusiasts. Now that SNK lives on only in spirit, Marvelous Entertainment has decided to create an iteration of the series on the Game Boy Advance for the first time. What results is a mixed bag, but overall, it's a solid title.

King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood has been receiving a mixed reception from fans of the series, fans of SNK, and fans of fighting games in generally. Some think it's a great handheld fighting game, some think it's a decent title, and some were disappointed. Most of the complaints are about the graphics and sound, and it probably depends on whether or not you can forgive these shortcomings. There are also complaints about the gameplay, which, for the most part, is true to the KoF series, but there are a few snags. It really bothers some people, while other people seem to overlook it or not care. Let's just take one thing at a time, however.

The game's weakest point is probably the sound. The music is not annoying, but it's not great either. The disappointing thing is that the quality of the sound is not really up to par with what a GBA game should sound like. There's a good collection of sound effects, but the voices area a mixed bag. Of course, they sound a bit digitized; that's to be expected. The problem is that some of the voice samples are good and some seem less than sufficient, and there are too few of them. Overall though, the sound is acceptable. There's just nothing really in the sound to compliment Marvelous about.

I think that the graphics are probably what divide most people's thoughts on the game. Some fans will be disappointed, while others will not think it's a big deal. The character sprites are nice and large, and they have a sufficient amount of color. The animation is what really seems to be the divisive issue. Some seem to think that the animations are "just missing a few frames, no big deal." Others describe the animation as choppy, disappointing and unacceptable. In my experience, the animation is sufficient and I wouldn't really be bothered if no one else had complained, but I can see where the critics are coming from. The visual effects for the special attacks are pretty. The backgrounds however, are disappointing, especially compared with the lively backgrounds of past KoF games. In KoF EX, the backgrounds are static and this just removes a lot of the atmosphere that the previous games had. It's not like fighting games are really known for their atmosphere, but it's just something that KoF fans will be especially disappointed with. Some gamers will be able to easily overlook this though, because when you're fighting, you're not really paying too much attention to the backgrounds anyways. To its credit, the game showed no signs of slow-down, even when there were three or four characters on screen (the Strikers), or when the special effects animations were occurring.

Gameplay-wise, Neoblood definitely fits within the KoF franchise and it helps differentiate itself with the other fighters available on the handheld. One of the first concerns people will have is the controls. Thankfully, I can say that while the controls make take a little getting used to, they work surprisingly well on the handheld. There are two control options available, and most people will find them adequate. It's not perfect, but it's about as good as it can get on the GBA. Each character has a large variety of moves. Some of them can be quite tricky to pull off, but that's mostly due to the hardware, not the developer. One nice touch is that by pausing the game, you can see all of the moves for the character that you are currently using. This really helps while you're still learning. The fighting is team-based. You play as one team of fighters trying to defeat other teams of fighters. Before each match, you can choose the order that your team members will fight. There is only two opponents fight at once, but once an opponent is defeated, then the victor must fight the next team member form the opposing team until the whole team of four (three fighters and one designated Striker) is defeated.

For the most part, the actual fighting system is retains much of what you will see in KoF '99 and KoF 2000. There are all kinds of nuances to the game, which fighting fans should enjoy. You've got your regular moves, your basic special attacks, counter moves, a combo system, Desperation Moves (extra-special special attacks), and still more different types of attacks. One major system in the fighting engine is the Striker system. During each match, you may call upon one of your teammates (the Striker) to perform a special attack against your opponent. You can only do this a certain number of times each match. Used improperly, it won't affect the fight very much, but use it at the right time, and you could turn the tide in your favor. Also, whenever you give or receive damage, your Power Gauge increases. When it is full, you can activate either the Counter or Armor Mode. The Counter Mode gives your character increased offensive ability and will let you use unlimited Super Special attacks. Armor mode gives your character increased defensive ability. Your character can prevent damage from all attacks when blocking, and they will not be knocked off guard when attacked. There are also some additional things that you can do in each mode. It is a little confusing and complex at first, but you can learn with practice. There are many other different categories types of moves. As I said, there are several nuances to the fighting system, most of which will be recognized by fans of the previous games. I don't really have any complaints about the design of the fighting system. However, there are some problems with the execution of the fighting system. The collision detection is not as good as past KoF games. This will be especially noticeable by KoF fans. It will frustrate some gamers.

The structure of the main game is like most fighting games, except that in the main game, you fight in teams. There are over 20 characters to choose from. Defeat each opposing team in succession until you reach the "boss" character. Once you defeat him, you will be rewarded with a shallow ending to the shallow story that vaguely explains why a bunch of people are getting together with the purpose of beating each other senseless. It's good ol' 16-bit stuff.

The game offers up several modes of play. The main mode is the Team Play, but you can also try Single Play, which is just what it sounds like. You play as one character fighting one other character, not as teams. You can also see how many opponents you can defeat with just one life bar in the Survival modes. The Practice Mode lets you tweak the opponent's behavior (make your opponent stand still, defend, attack, etc.) via a pause menu so that you can hone your skills. Of course, what would a fighting game be if it didn't let you challenge a friend? You can play two-player in both Team and Single modes.

This has to be mentioned. Sammy Entertainment did a poor job with the instruction manual. It does not adequately describe each of these game modes. While it does list all of the characters and their moves, it does not at all describe all of the little nuances of the fighting system and it barely describes the Counter and Armor modes. The manual throws out terms like the "Guard Cancel Emergency Evasion" move without ever explaining what it is. Veterans of the KoF series shouldn't have a problem, but others will. Also, it does not describe how to set up a two-player game at all. Most GBA manuals give you detailed instructions on how to connect the systems together and how to select the right menu options to start a multiplayer game. This manual doesn't even tell you a very critical thing. It doesn't tell you if you need one cartridge per player or if the game is capable of single cartridge multiplayer. Unfortunately, I found out that you do need two cartridges to play two-player. This seems like laziness on the developer's part because I'm sure that data for a fighting match can fit into the GBA's RAM. There are several other games I can think of that seem to have similar or even higher technical demands than KoF, and yet they can pull of single cartridge multiplayer.

Like most fighting games, there's not much in the way of extras. There are three Striker-only characters to unlock, and two fully playable characters to unlock. The replay value comes in the two-player mode, the Survival modes, and increased difficulty levels. That's pretty standard for a KoF, or most fighting games for that matter. If you enjoy the fighting game, it's always fun to go back and try harder difficulty levels for a new challenge. You can always try to beat the game with each team/character too. Also, if you're new to the KoF series, the game will take you many hours to master. Knowing all of the moves inside-out will take some practice. However, if you're not that much into fighting games, then you could be done with this game in an hour or less if all you really want to do is beat it once.

Overall, King of Fighters EX: Neoblood is a mixed bag. I strongly recommend renting it. It's a decent fighting game, but it's a bit disappointing compared to past KoF games. Compared to other fighters available on the GBA, it's hard to say, because Neoblood has a uniqueness about it. It has a fighting system unlike any of the other fighters available. The problem is that it wasn't executed well. There is nothing wrong with the concept and design really. It's just that there are flaws in every category. The sound is not great, the graphics are not great, and the collision detection is a problem. However, many people will be able to overlook these flaws, because most of them are minor and can be forgiven, and some may not even notice. I think hardcore fighting fans and KoF fans will be disappointed. The game is good, but if a KoF fan is expecting the arcade game squished into the GBA, he will be a little disappointed because not everything was handled well. The thing is that it's not that the GBA isn't capable, because it is. KoF fans will feel let down because of what it could have been. Gamers that are not that much into fighting games or the KoF series may not even notice the problems with collision detection, or care about the static backgrounds or a few missing frames of animation. Neoblood was a good effort. There is a sequel on its way, and hopefully, a little more time and effort was spent on it. KoF on the GBA could be a really good fighting game. SNK fans should turn that 'B-' grade into a 'C'; you'll probably have higher expectations be kind of disappointed. SNK fanboys should turn that 'B-' grade into an 'A'; you love KoF games and will forgive all of the little flaws and think it's a really good game. For everyone else, take the 'B-' grade as it is: a good, but not a great fighting game.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 02/13/03
ESRB Details: King of Fighters EX: Neoblood
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Screenshots for King of Fighters EX: Neoblood

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