When The King of Fighters Allstar was announced, the press release blurb felt somewhat vague and misleading. It mentioned something about recruiting fighters and upgrading them, creating a dream team of hard hitters from the history of SNK’s acclaimed series. In theory, the game sounded like a run-of-the-mill hero collector that was trying to cash in on The King of Fighters history, appealing to fans in the shameless way that most free-to-play mobile games tend to do – focusing on your wallet.
While initial impressions aren’t entirely off target, The King of Fighters Allstar is so much more than that. It’s a real game that respects you, the player, and tries to offer as much as it possibly can before asking for something in return. There is so much content and care through all its game modes that it feels overtly generous, and the amount of fan service is second to none. Even if you don’t know your Terry Bogard from your Ken Masters, this is a game that every action fan is bound to enjoy.
The King of Fighters Allstar Review | The Gang’s All Here
The King of Fighters Allstar is a free-to-play side-scrolling fighting game with RPG lite elements. Against all odds, most of the time you won’t be playing one-on-one as it happens in the franchise that it is based upon; instead, you move from left to right through three areas where bad guys show up to be inexorably punched in the face. A boss is waiting for you at the end of the level, and as you beat him to oblivion, the next stage is unlocked. It feels more Final Fight or Double Dragon than The King of Fighters, but developer Netmarble mixes things up a bit in very clever ways.
Some stages are true homages to fighting video game history. I have no knowledge if any The King of Fighters game ever featured a stage where you had to destroy a car via frantic punching and kicking, but Street Fighter 2 did, and so does The King of Fighters Allstar. There is another bonus stage where you destroy huge boulders within a time limit, and several one-on-one stages that play out just like the main games from the series. Clearly, there was an effort to make this game as diverse as possible, and it’s impossible to deny that this goal was achieved.
There are over 200 fighters to discover, coming from The King of Fighters ‘94 on up to The King of Fighters XIV. It’s a jaw-dropping cast and you’re going to have some trouble choosing the three fighters that you want to focus on, upgrade, and evolve. Naturally, the higher tier characters will make your choice easier, but if you’re in it for the long run, you can always evolve your favorites.
The story is as goofy as they come, but the stunning 2D artwork and large roster will make it somewhat bearable. You just woke up in a virtual world without any memories, and this girl Noah suddenly appears to help you. Conveniently, you have the power to channel the personalities of the King of Fighters series and choose to fight your way to solving this mystery. Suddenly, you are drawing attention left and right, and the creators of this virtual environment see you as a threat, a “bug” that must be squashed through any means possible, mostly by vicious smacks to the face.
It’s a silly pretext for you to control dozens of characters, and this is where the gacha system comes in. Mobile games nowadays either have gacha or a battle pass system (or both), and in this case it’s the former. When you get to see how it works, the gacha in this game doesn’t seem overly aggressive or out of context – it’s a reasonable way to unlock new fighters, but the amount of rubies that you earn as you play will easily earn you a few dozens of fighters without much sweat. If you want the full collection, then that is an entirely different story. However, I can see players falling for the gacha when the limited crossover events arrive, and Japan already saw a few of them with Tekken and Samurai Shodown, among others.
Your team is comprised of three fighters, each one with a striker character that you can summon for a brief stint. Furthermore, you can use a support character for some additional fighting power. You can swap between your three fighters as you wish, and there is an affinity system giving you interesting boosts – for instance, a team comprised of three female brawlers gets a unique boost, or a team featuring three warriors from the same KoF game also gets a boost. There is an elemental system in place as well, a common feature where some fighters have an advantage over others, so you’re required to juggle it a bit. In the heat of the battle, however, it’s unlikely that you’ll pay much attention to it.
While it may lack the depth of a fully-fledged PC or console brawler, gameplay is absurdly fun and addictive. The sight of an auto-battle button is always depressing, but do your best to ignore it if you are in no rush to grind your way through the game. Manually engaging into punches, blocks, dodges and special moves is incredibly satisfying – it all seems to connect in a nearly flawless way, offering no shortage of meaty battles. It’s a robust mix of old-school gameplay and new technology, a clash of generations that shouldn’t in any way be fouled by an auto-play option.
However, this inevitable bit of free-to-play ludicrousness isn’t enough to hide the fact that The King of Fighters Allstar is a joy to play. There are tons of fighters to master and stages to enjoy, little touches that affect your playstyle – such as the armor mode that prevents you from dealing damage for a couple of seconds –, and the whole game feels feature rich even if you don’t spend a dime.
The RPG elements are mostly cloned from other hero collector games, with a relentless barrage of items, elements, skill upgrades, evolution, character affinity through gifts, and more for you to manage. You’ll have a tough time choosing who to be your main, but for now I’m sticking with Mature and I want her to be my sidekick for this adventure... until other cool fighters appear and change my mind, that is.
The King of Fighters Allstar borrows heavily from fighting games, hero collector games, and side-scrolling action games, but does it with flair. It’s not often that you get to play a top-quality brawler on mobile; furthermore, this game draws from such rich SNK history that it should be studied by other developers – I wouldn’t mind seeing a Street Fighter Allstar or a Mortal Kombat Allstar, as long as they come with a similarly compelling combat system.
There are a few multiplayer options in The King of Fighters Allstar, thankfully unfolding in real-time and not in the tired and fake asynchronous style that many mobile games go for. You can play both competitive and cooperative modes, choosing between Arena, League Match, and Tournament modes. Players can set up a match with a friend using a private code or let the game’s matchmaking system do the bulk of the work.
The one-on-one PvP mode is a blast, as you take on another player resorting to your skills and wise use of the block, roll, and skill buttons. In some modes such as the League Match, the tag system plays a huge role as well, with careful selection of the fighter’s order and regular switching making all the difference. A word of warning though – absolutely ignore the auto-battle option, if you don’t want to be humiliated.
Graphics / Sound: 9/10
The presentation in this game is utterly brilliant. The way that Netmarble combined the stunning Live2D-like character artwork with the detailed 3D models is worthy of praise, making this game a joy to behold. The visual novel presentation style used to drive the story forward is beautiful to look at, although the amount of dialogue will make you want to tap that skip button a lot. Most menus are neatly organized and occasionally display your fighters in that smooth and jiggly animation.
When you step into the constricted fighting arenas, it almost feels like a stunning remake of the classic Target Renegade. The fighters are so detailed and animated with such poise that it will make you want to tip your hat off to the development team. Besides, they went to the extent of adding amazing little cutscenes for the special abilities, so if you multiply those for every fighter, that should give you an idea of the crazy amount of work that went in this game.
The backgrounds deserve an honorable mention. Through the many chapters that the game’s campaign mode offers, the fighting stages were so diverse and visually attractive that I couldn’t wait to see where else the story was taking me: subways, parks, casinos, city streets, highways, and so much more, it’s quite frankly remarkable.
I wish that there was more to the fighter’s voices during the dialogue scenes apart from a few quips and remarks, but that would probably be asking too much. During the matches, there is so much shouting and screaming that you’ll feel dragged into the atmosphere of the game. The soundtrack is pungent but becomes annoying in the long run, nothing to write home about.
Value for Money: 9/10
The amount of content that you are getting for the once-in-a-lifetime price of free is astonishing. Without purchasing anything, in a few hours you’ll have access to a few dozen fighters, a sprawling story mode, great multiplayer, and as a bonus, a lesson in fighting video games history.
The King of Fighters Allstar is a wonderful celebration of the famous fighting series. It encompasses all the excitement of years and years of King of Fighters games into one bite-sized, focused package. Even though it plays significantly differently from the series’ one-on-one trademark fighting style, it brings its own appeal and qualities, but adapted to the mobile touchscreen demands. Fan of SNK or not, this is a challenge that you must accept.
Side-scrolling and 1 vs 1 brawler in one package
Tremendously large roster
Amazing fighter artwork and 3D models
Extremely playable and fun
PvP modes where skill truly matters
Auto-battle shouldn’t exist in this game
Continuously tapping punch is another form of auto-play