For the first time in its storied history, The King Of Fighters XIV (KOF14) is ditching the series' trademark 2D animated look for more contemporary 3D visuals.
Although the 3D graphics in KOF14 do not exactly leverage on the full power of the PS4, they are serviceable. But, more importantly, the developers were able to get the game mechanics right and preserve the speedy, offence-oriented play unique to the KOF franchise.
As a result, the game is a lot of fun even if you dabble only in the single-player Story mode, in which you go up against nine teams of computer-controlled opponents, before taking on the big bad who - in true KOF fashion - cheats with overpowered attacks.
Rather than build upon the mechanics established in KOF13, the developers appear to have gone back to KOF2002 as a base, and explored what it would have been like to modernise the well-loved classic for a whole new generation of players.
Compared with KOF13, this new game requires much less technical skills to play well. Gone are a number of mechanics, such as the Hyper Drive mode that allowed players to perform devastating juggle combos that seemed to last an eternity on screen, if you are on the receiving end of it.
While juggle combos are still possible in KOF14, the length of each combo has been greatly reduced from that in the previous game. As a result, there is now a stronger focus on reading your opponent's behaviour correctly, and fishing for openings.
PRICE: $84.90 (PS4 only)
GENRE: 2D Fighting
The new game has also been made easier to play for new players. For instance, beginner players can now perform flashy "Rush" combos simply by mashing the Light Punch attack button repeatedly.
If you have never played a KOF game before, I highly recommend searching for "The Beginner's Incomplete Guide to KOF" on YouTube.
This set of tutorials covers all of the basics you need to know to start fully appreciating the game's myriad of nuances.
The most important aspect of these nuances is the fact that there are four types of jumps in the game - small, medium, normal and large.
Jumping in on your opponent is the easiest way to close the distance between you and the opponent, allowing you to start burying the other party under a flurry of blows.
However, closing in on your opponent with a normal or large jump is a risky proposition, as the move gives your opponent enough time to input the appropriate counter move.
And that's why you need to learn to pull off small and medium jumps, which are incredibly difficult to react to on sight.
To beat small and medium jumps, your opponent can throw out a Heavy Punch or Heavy Kick pre-emptively. If you happen to be jumping, this will stop you in your tracks.
However, if you choose to stay put instead of jumping in, your opponent's punch or kick will fail to connect, leaving him vulnerable to a counter-attack from your end.
Therein lies the battle of wits between you and your opponent. Whichever player can predict the other's moves better will have the upper hand.
KOF14 is truly a joy to play when you're matched up against an equally skilled player.
It is thus quite unfortunate that the online mode in this game is riddled with latency problems.
The matchmaking features are also inadequate in helping you find opponents with a good connection to play with.
And because the game's frame-rate slows down drastically - from 60 frames per second (fps) to as low as 20fps - if you're matched with a player with a bad connection, KOF14 becomes literally unplayable.
Developer SNK has announced that it is looking into the latency issues, so there is hope yet. For now, though, the game is best enjoyed offline, in the comfort of your home, and in the company of a few good friends who also grew up alongside The King Of Fighters.
•Verdict: The King of Fighters XIV is a love letter to fans and a return to the storied franchise's former glory - as long as you're willing to look past the dated visuals and lag-riddled online modes.
•Sim Cheng Kai is a freelance writer.