The latest entry in this fighting franchise doesn't just walk the line of giving fans what they want and enticing newcomers; it uppercuts the competition out of the way. Thanks to the game's move from 2D sprites to full 3D models, the characters almost jump off the screen but still hold on to the unique style and personality that fans have loved for nearly 20 years. Fighter animations are fluid and responsive, with combos smoothly transitioning between moves. While The King of Fighters XIV definitely has a new look, it's the gameplay that's going to make or break the experience. SNK added some interesting tricks to the formula this time around, including a Rush feature for beginners. By tapping the light-punch button quickly, as well as rhythmically moving the analog sticks, players can string together specific combos. These combos are weaker than normal combos, though, so players are still motivated to learn the actual moves.
There's an interesting Party mode, where players fight in three-vs.-three team battles, with each player controlling one member of their team. Finally, the game comes with options for online spectating, full tutorials, challenges, and a single-player story mode. Admittedly, story mode feels somewhat convoluted, with the plot unfolding in sporadic cut scenes and through short interactions when specific character combinations face off. Unfortunately, no matter how many times you play, it always feels like you're missing something important. Despite this, it's hard to argue with how much pure content SNK packed into The King of Fighters XIV. The result is a surprisingly robust fighting experience and a well-deserved fresh start for a classic, if underrated, franchise.