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A true love letter to SNK fans — Why The King of Fighters All Star has been stealing my time and attention for the last few months

Cool characters, flashy special moves, jamming tunes and iconic voice lines — everything you'd expect and want from a King of Fighters game

Posted by Nicholas 'MajinTenshinhan' Taylor • February 24, 2020 at 9:48 a.m. PST • Comments: 46

The King of Fighters All Star is SNK's venture in to the mobile game market courtesy of developer Netmarble Games, and as the name would suggest it focuses on the King of Fighters series and its setting and characters, and as anyone who has played a King of Fighters game is aware, there are quite a few venues and fighters to choose from.

Although mobile games keep getting more and more advanced (long gone are the days when we all played Snake on our Nokia and Ericsson phones) they still tend to fall in to the same kind of limitations, and while King of Fighters All Star isn't exactly a revolution of mobile gaming, it pays so much love and attention to the source material and what makes King of Fighters great that it feels like an absolute must-try for any SNK fan.

It must be noted that the game has been out for about a year and a half in Japan, but it only just came out worldwide in English at the end of October of last year. This is when I decided to pick it up on a whim, while holding very low expectations since I tend to grow tired of mobile games very quickly... But even four months later, I'm still actively playing it every single day.

Of course, it has to be mentioned that I'm a massive fan of SNK's games and characters, so for me to get hooked on a game featuring a ton of love shown to the King of Fighters series isn't really that unexpected, but even for people that aren't that well-versed in the history of King of Fighters, this game could serve as a neat little introduction.

The gameplay content

First of all, let's make it clear that this isn't a fighting game but instead much more akin to a beat-'em-up like Final Fight of yore. You make a party of three King of Fighters characters and you battle your way through series of random thugs eventually leading to boss fights, some being made up generic characters for the game while some others are iconic bosses from the franchise, or even entirely new takes on old characters functioning as bosses.

Since it's a mobile game it's obviously controlled via the touch screen, with which you place your finger in the direction you want your character to go in. Then, you have buttons on your touch screen for various actions, the most basic ones being attack, block or dodge. Finally, you have techniques available to your character, more of which become available the higher you level them up, and these are all signature moves from the series tied to the iconic characters.

You also have two Super Moves at your disposal, one which costs 3 bars and the other 5 bars, if you've managed to kit out your character well enough with experience and a bonus card which unlocks their highest level Super. You build your gauge by simply attacking your enemies, so it'll fill up naturally as you fight along in levels.

The gameplay is fairly basic as many beat 'em ups even back in the day tended to be, but the more difficult missions you begin to tackle, the more you need to strategize to figure out your opponents patterns and when you actually get to attack them and, in some cases, the more you need to grind so you can get your fighters to an acceptable power level to have a chance at beating the mission to begin with.

While the actual game plays pretty much the same no matter what you're doing, with only slight variations like getting to have multiple characters on screen at once for some, there are a variety of different modes to try out and grind rubies (the in-game currency which allows you to draw for new characters) from, the most effective being Story Mode.

The Story Mode places you, the player, within the world of King of Fighters and lets you experience the events of King of Fighters '94 through '98 through a new lens, with a few brand new characters in the mix who are trying to make sure that everything happens as it was supposed to — and therefore trying to eliminate you, since you're an anomaly causing problems.

It isn't the most engaging narrative in the world, but there are some charming original characters and the novelty of getting to run through classic King of Fighters scenarios with some new twists to it is a pretty fun ride.

Outside of this there are a ton of different challenge modes which net you extra in-game rewards for leveling up your character and even the much more cruel "Epic Quest" after you've finished Story Mode which continues the story of the game without being bound to the events of the King of Fighters timeline.

Available characters

Given that the story focuses on King of Fighters '94 through '98, the majority of characters available through regular draw banners are fighters from those titles. Every few weeks, limited time offers will come out usually featuring boss characters such as Orochi or Mukai which you can obtain through special draws, or various themed events which can be anything from crossovers with other companies properties to seasonal events for Halloween or Christmas or even Alice in Wonderland-based takes on the King of Fighters cast.

If you're more of a fan of the later King of Fighters games, many of your favorite characters just aren't available yet, but there's no shortage of additional conent being added to the game on a regular basis. If you're lucky enough to have anyone from King of Fighters' early days as your favorite, you're in great luck since there'll likely be tons of different versions of them already in the game.

By multiple versions, what I mean is that if we for example look at Terry Bogard, there'll be one Terry for each of the games — King of Fighters '94, '95, '96, '97 and '98 — and in his case, they even had a limited time draw featuring his Garou: Mark of the Wolves design from King of Fighters 2003, so there's a lot of stuff to look for.

The rarity of the game's characters looks to be divided into three categories, but there are actually four. The weakest type of characters are labeled "Rare" with a silver banner and have 3 stars attached to their name. The next tier up is called "Super Rare" with a golden banner and four stars, while what you'd imagine to be the top level is called "Ultra Rare" with a platinum banner and 5 stars attached.

There is actually one even rarer type, though it still carries the name "Ultra Rare" and has 5 stars, meaning it isn't necessarily all that much stronger than a regular 5-star fighter — it's just more difficult to get. These fighters have a purple banner around them and are generally only limited time draws of very specific characters, such as bosses. Examples of characters I've managed to obtain who are equipped with this purple banner are '97 Orochi Shermie, '99 Krizalid and 2003 Terry Bogard.

Some of the additional characters added become mainstays that are always available to draw, such as the recent addition of Ramon and Vanessa from King of Fighters 2000, and while I can't say for sure yet, it seems likely that most previous draws might come back around again eventually for late adopters who may have missed them the first time around. I know this happened with Orochi Chris, Orochi Shermie and Orochi Yashiro, for example.

Great crossover and seasonal events

King of Fighters All Star has already had some killer crossover content, with one Tekken 7 event happening shortly after the international release back last fall in which you could get two different versions of Jin Kazama (Tekken 3 and Tekken 7) and Ling Xiaoyu (Tekken 7 and Schoolgirl) as well as regular Tekken 7 versions of Kazuya Mishima, Heihachi Mishima, Paul Phoenix and Armor King.

Another crossover which is actually starting up this week features SNK's very own Samurai Shodown series to coincide with the Switch release of the newest game in the series and will allow players the chance to obtain Haohmaru, Genjuro Kibagami, Ukyo Tachibana, Rimururu, Shiro Tokisada Amakusa and Charlotte Christine de Colde.

While crossovers don't happen all too often (though they're very cool when they do), something that does happen a lot is seasonal and surprise events. Seasonal events for Halloween, Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day featured King of Fighters favorites in special outfits and with extra effects if you managed to draw them (for example, Christmas Whip doles out presents every which way as she's whipping her opponent senseless), which can be very fun bonuses if your favorite characters are lucky enough to get one of these special versions.

Other events that have happened include the aforementioned Alice in Wonderland-themed "Athena in Wonderland" event in which Athena Asamiya takes the role of Alice with Yuri Sakazaki being the White Rabbit, Iori as the Mad Hatter and finally Vanessa as the Queen of Hearts, absolutely livid that someone has stolen from her beer storage. Another one was a gender-bending anniversary event (based on the Japanese release date) in which Billy Kane, Yashiro Nanakase and Chang Koehan got female versions of themselves as playable characters (that last one is as creepy as you're imagining, but for entirely different reasons).

In short, there's never really a dull moment with the game as far as content goes and if you enjoy having new things to look at and try to obtain, the game will always keep delivering.

Can I have fun with it without paying money?

Whether you can have fun with this game absolutely for free depends entirely on your expectations going in. It is a mobile game where you gather fighters through a gacha-based system, meaning that you're never going to be getting all the characters in the game within their limited time windows for free — take it from me as a completionist addict, it's just not possible.

However, the game can be very generous with giving you free draws during events and special quests which allow you to unlock resources through which to draw with and every time you decide to try for a character, you can find the percentage chance of successfully obtaining them from a draw clearly and honestly listed before you spend any in-game resources at all.

If you're okay with just playing around with a few characters you like from the King of Fighters series and knowing full well that the more extravagant additions may be out of reach or at least unlikely to be obtainable, you'll definitely be able to have a good time with the game without spending a single dime.

However, if you're the type of players who wants to have everything unlocked and can't stand seeing a roster without all characters you happen to like even a little bit on it, it might be better for your economy to avoid this (and really, all mobile games).

As far as the mobile games I've experienced or discussed with my friends, King of Fighters All Star is exceedingly generous in giving you in-game rewards that can help you get the characters you're looking for. But like with any mobil game, there are very few free rides and they obviously want you to go for the microtransactions to get all the special content they're putting out. If you want to try it out, just make sure to manage your expectations and I'm sure you won't burn your life savings trying to get that King of Fighters 14 version of Geese Howard.

Before wrapping up, I'd like to give a gigantic shoutout to Gunsmith over at Orochinagi and his extremely helpful guide for making the most out of your in-game rewards. If you're wanting to give this game a shot, I highly recommend checking that link out if you have any questions, since it'll help you make the most of your time with the game.

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