With The King of Fighters Extreme, Nokia is courting the more hardcore gamer crowd -- the kind of player that falls so hard for a franchise they will buy a system just to play that game. And SNK's 2D fighter certainly has a passionate fan base (myself included). The question is whether they're so fevered about the series that they can see past this portable edition's flaws enough to buy it.
The King of Fighters Extreme has several things going for it. For one thing, it's a port of The King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood for the Game Boy Advance -- and that was well received by fans (again myself included). And thanks to the multiple buttons on the N-Gage (re: the entire number pad), the control scheme is surprisingly complete. For example, the secondary character "striker attack" is mapped to the "2" key, so there is no need to jam multiple buttons (a feature that's impossible with most cellphones, anyway). With some simplified move commands now, setting up major combos actually proves to be a little easier.
But I might as well mention the problems right away, too. The graphics themselves are very crisp and colorful -- it's too bad they don't move with much fluidity. In fact, the frame rate is so iffy that it begins to affect the game play. Timing your attacks with the slower-paced animations takes a little bit of re-education. It's something that can be overcome with practice, but it's rather disappointing to see.
In addition to enjoying the new control scheme, I think the depth of The King of Fighters Extreme is quite a pleasant surprise. From the start, there are 21 playable characters -- and, naturally, all of the favorites are there, such as Terry, Kyo, and Iori. There is a Story mode for each character, a Survivor mode, and a convenient arena for Practice. The real star, though, is the two-player Bluetooth feature, allowing two N-Gage users to throw beatdowns over the air. All of this content will give fans a lot to numb their thumbs with.
If you look past the frame rate issues, The King of Fighters Extreme looks quite good on the N-Gage. The size and orientation of the screen required developer Hudson to shrink some character models, but they are very recognizable. Faces may lack the total detail you're used to in the arcade, but make no mistake, that's Terry in mid-grimace. The costumes are pretty much spot-on and all of the color schemes look good. Thanks to the portrait-orientation of the N-Gage's screen, though, levels scroll left and right. You get a full stage to fight on, but you'll have to walk from one extreme to the other to see it all.
The King of Fighters Extreme also has some nice audio. The N-Gage's speaker isn't all that great (worse with headphones) for playing the in-game music and speech, but it gets the job done. There are indeed moments where the sound will drop out for no discernable reason -- but as mentioned, that's more noticeable if you're playing with headphones, not the onboard speaker.
The King of Fighters Extreme may have its legion of hardcore fans, but thanks to the control mapping, this game is accessible to a wider audience. The completeness of the game is great, too, and all of the modes -- including the Bluetooth multiplayer -- give this package some real value. Naturally, I am sorry to see some of the animation and frame rate take a hit, but those problems are more likely to affect diehards rather than newcomers. There's no reason for those without an N Gage to seek out a deck just for this edition of King of Fighters, but it goes a long way toward rounding out the game library for the N Gage.