King of Fighters (KOF) is my all-time favorite fighting game franchise. I have played them all, from King of Fighters ’94 to King of Fighters XIV. I will jump to review KOF games whenever I get the chance, with only a short sample seen here. When it comes to mobile, I even dabbled in all of the KOF to Android ports. While they were all fine and good, they existed simply as rehashes of games I already played and knew well. For about 3 to 4 years, Bleach Brave Souls was the mobile game where the majority of my on-the-go grinding gameplay resided. That is about to change in a big way thanks to King of Fighters AllStar, for Android and iOS.
The King of Fighters AllStar is a free-to-play mobile game that has elements of a classic side-scrolling beat-em-up brawler, a traditional 2D fighter, and an RPG. Customize your team of three fighters from the robust KOF roster and bash, special attack, and super enemies all over the place. The game sports a very robust collection of modes, featuring story stages, special event stages, replay-able character-grind stages, and co-op and PVP play. If the word “grinding” hurts your eyes, the game even houses an intuitive auto mode where you can leave your phone on the side as it replays the amount of stages that you determine. You can even set the grinding to stop, should your team lose somehow in auto mode, saving you plenty of aggravation and wasted resources.
At its launch on October 22, 2019, the game sported a roster of over 130 collectible characters. Each character can be equipped with cards for stat boosts and ability unlocks.
Each character also has a skill and perk tree that you can upgrade and complete to unlock their full potential. Characters are tier-based, but all can be upgraded to the top tier of 6-star, should you have the necessary resources. Much like other mobile multiplayer RPG’s, you can acquire characters via quests, special events, or through run-of-the-mill “gacha” rolls.
Now for the meat and potatoes, the fighting. The gameplay is both gorgeous and action-packed, giving you plenty of combo options across your team members. Fighters can do standard melee attacks, featuring animations and auto-combos, demonstrating movements from the KOF game that they represent. At their cores, each character has a base attack that you can mash as an auto combo, a Skill, block, and dodge. At their max, characters have three Skills and two Finish Skills.
Since this is KOF, I would prefer to describe these as three special moves, a super and a DM (or MAX) super. All of the skills have cooldown times, where the Finish Skills need power gauge to pull off. The standard Finish Skill requires 3 out of 5 bars to pull off while the “Max” finish skill uses the entire bar.
Depending on the game mode, a team can also feature Strikers, where a Striker is assigned to each of the 3 team members. Strikers also work on cool-downs, where they can be summoned to either throw in a quick attack or apply some sort of buff. Going even further, teams can at times also be set up with Support characters, which are guest characters from other live players that enter the fight once for a short time frame. The Support characters are controlled by the computer. They can either be assigned at random by the game, or manually from your Friends list, where their main team’s leader is the character in play. Summing this all up, this allows you to mix and match up to 7 characters in total for certain game modes.
Fighting in King of Fighters AllStar is very fun. Combos are both easy and fun to pull off, where you can call in team members and Strikers to continue the juggling of airborne enemies. Character animations and move sets are true to each character’s style and origins, based on the game version of the character you are using. While block is pretty standard and self-explanatory, the dodge, which has become a big component of KOF games from ’97 onward. That dodge mechanic further solidifies this as a KOF game. Dodging past or away from enemies that telegraph their attacks is as rewarding as it always has been in KOF.
Struggling and failing to push my own bias aside, King of Fighters AllStar’s presentation is an excellent homage to the King of Fighters franchise. Each character jumps into the scene with their team’s featured background music. Character animations are surprisingly detailed, with even character facial expressions being meticulously animated during Finish Skills, attacks and close ups.
Even the character voices remain true to the source material. I especially like being given the choice to play the game at its maximum frame rate, which plays both smoothly and gorgeously, or opt to save resources and battery life by playing it at half the frames. Visuals and audio are vivid and engaging, to say the least.
At launch, the story mode features a new angle of the KOF games, progressing from King of Fighters ’94 up to King of Fighters ’98. You play as a fighter who lost their memory, yet commands the abilities of a KOF team that you arrange yourself. You encounter a girl, Noah, who encourages you to enter the KOF tournaments with the goal of acquiring fame. Will that fame lead people that may know you to find you and reveal your past? Play through the iconic KOF tournaments to find out.
I especially like the sprinkling of arcade-y bonus stages between some of the story stages, which adds a nice and campy feel to the campaign.
Outside of story you have, you have a solid collection of other modes to dive into.
There is the Power Up Dungeon, which features stages that you can grind to gain money, EXP, or resources. The Event Quest mode features limited-time events and stages that you can play to gain one-of-kind items or characters. For example, since the game’s launch was so close to Halloween, there was even a set of Halloween-themed characters that you can fight and/or acquire.
The Match section features modes that you play against other players. Time Attack Challenge is a mode where you try to clear a stage at the fastest time, aiming for the best time on the leaderboards. League Match and Arena is where you fight against other player teams, choosing the order of characters before battle.
League Match allows you to hot-swap between teammates within battle, with cooldowns after swapping. Arena Match is closer to the traditional KOF standard of gamplay, where characters are knocked out, one by one, with no mid-match swapping. Friendly Match plays like Arena Match, but you can play with actual friends provided you have their match code. First to knockout all of the other team’s fighters, or whoever has the most health by the time limit, wins.
I absolutely love the PVP modes, whose detail go as far as to even have teammates cheering on in the background. This game stops at nothing to truly drive home that KOF flavor and feel.
Gameplay in all modes is very satisfying, where your combos and character links are up to you, your character collection, and your creativity. Story and event bosses have unique and varied attacks, where a careful eye and quick reflexes can help you avoid some serious punishes. Standard stage baddies can be corralled together to share the blows from your combos and special moves, just like in traditional side-scrolling beat-em-ups.
Some of the flashier bosses take up one-third of the screen where you have to time your DPS and dodges of area-of-effect attacks.
I particularly like the transition to a single 2D plane in the PVP modes, which does a nice job at establishing that traditional fighting game feel. This game truly has a lot of variety.
While the game’s character acquisition lives via the ever-common gacha system, it does a surprising good job at giving you avenues to acquire characters or rubies (the gacha currency) on a daily basis. Complete mid-stage challenges, side-quest, or simply sign on at times to collect currency and resources. I chuckle at how it even shamelessly nudges you with rewards for booting up the game when you haven’t played it for a while. I don’t knock it of course, especially since you have the option to turn off any notifications that bother you.
Outside of the game’s high level of fun and charm, what I particularly like is how welcoming it is to the layman player. The auto-play system is pretty intuitive, allowing you to manage the risks and resources of leaving your fighters battling automatically and unattended.
I know the screen is heavily populated with things to do, with the understanding that this is the game’s US launch. However, King of Fighters Allstar’s presentation, surplus of content, and best of all, gameplay, is easily going to solidify itself as my main mobile game.
Looking for the next engrossing mobile game or have a KOF itch that needs scratching? Check out King of Fighters AllStar for yourself here.
KOF ALLSTAR Google Play listing
KOF ALLSTAR Apple App Store listing