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KoF XIII Global Match Review: The Beautiful, Ugly Duckling

Elizbar Ramazashvili
5 min

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KoF XIII Global Match Review: The Beautiful, Ugly Duckling
An incomprehensible release of an old game

The King of Fighters XIII, developed by SNK Playmore, was first released back in 2010 on arcades before making its way to the home consoles a year later. It wasn’t received particularly well, as it had some controversial changes that removed several elements that were well-established in the series. Since then, there have been several updates, re-releases, and re-releases of the re-releases, and here we are now, with the King of Fighters XIII: Global Match, that came out on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. At the very end of 2023. Yeah.

For the fans of the King of Fighters Series, only four games exist at this point in time: ‘98, 2002, XIV, and XV. All of them have dedicated players, and all of them are beloved for their own reasons. XIII is this ugly duckling that no one particularly cares about, yet no one hates it outright.

But this duckling is ugly only in its reception, as what is perhaps the most visually stunning aspect of KoF XIII GM is its graphics. The hand-drawn sprites are a sight to behold, reminiscent of a time when pixels ruled the gaming world. Every character, from the iconic Kyo Kusanagi to the enigmatic Ash Crimson, is meticulously animated with fluidity and precision. The attention to detail in the character designs, backgrounds, and special move animations is nothing short of breathtaking.

The art style is a perfect blend of traditional 2D sprite work and modern visual effects,  Each stage is a vibrant tapestry of color and personality, transporting you to diverse locations around the globe. From the bustling streets of South Town to the serene backdrop of Japan, KoF XIII's art direction makes it a feast for your eyes. It’s a proper send-off, too, as KoF XIII is the last game to use sprites for its characters.

The traditional 3v3 team battle system returns, allowing you to assemble your dream teams from a roster of over 30 characters, each with their unique playstyles and move sets. The game's mechanics encourage strategic team composition and synergy, as unlike many other team-based fighters, you can’t swap out your characters at will.

The Drive Cancel and Hyper Drive Gauge systems are core features that allow you to cancel certain moves into other moves, enabling extended combos and flashy sequences. Mastering the art of Drive Cancels and Hyper Drive Gauge management is essential for maximizing damage output and turning the tide of battle in your favor. The inclusion of EX and NEO MAX attacks adds an extra layer of strategy to matches. Knowing when to unleash these powerful attacks can be the difference between victory and defeat. The balance between offense and defense is nicely tuned, but it could require some time to get used to.

But all of this is what the original KoF XIII already had, so what’s the deal? Well, the issue is Global Match has minimal differences from the original release. There still is the story mode that’s told in a visual novel manner, with its narrative that becomes incomprehensible at times. You still can play online matches, be it Ranked, Normal, or just some Lobbies with your friends.

The update that really matters is the inclusion of the rollback netcode. And while it’s very much welcome, and we wish every game developer made efforts to update all their games with online functionality to have rollback, the way Global Match was released is quite incomprehensible. The game’s been around for more than a decade, and it’s present on a plethora of platforms. Yet the updated version was released only for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

While writing this review, we played a couple dozen online matches, and the wait times varied from thirty seconds to upwards of seven or eight minutes. Had this been released on Steam, I’m completely sure it could have gathered a much bigger audience. Was this the issue of not wanting to release an update to an existing Steam version, or is this a problem of a completely different kind? We’ll probably never know, but as it is, the King of Fighters XIII Global Match is a fumbled attempt to give another life to a semi-forgotten game and a wasted opportunity to transform this ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.

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