SNK Playmore's King of Fighters series is a long-running and fairly well known series of fighting games that prides itself on huge and ever-changing character rosters. Now the game itself has changed genre in the new spin-off The Rhythm of Fighters for Android.
ROF is a rhythm game featuring music from a variety of classic SNK games. As you tap along to the music, your character will slug it out with an opponent in a unique combination of the fighting and rhythm genres. With a lengthy arcade mode and 14 songs, plus extra song packs available via In-App Purchase, this game will keep SNK fans a-tapping for some time to come.
ROF closely resembles King of Fighters visually, utilizing sprites and (sadly non-animated) backgrounds from the KOF series and other SNK games from which it borrows songs. But it plays much more like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (not available on Android) and of course, SNK's own Cool Cool Toon for the Sega Dreamcast.
A large blue oval hovers in the middle of the screen, just in front of the fighters. As a song/battle starts, various types of notes appear as circles along the oval. The goal is to perform the matching tap or motion for each note at just the right time, and then continue clockwise to the next one. You can actually tap anywhere on the screen, as long as you get the timing right. You needn't tap the circles themselves.
Most notes are red circles called "Tap Notes." These simply have to be tapped, but the game has other types of inputs too. Blue circles with an arrow on them are "Flick Notes." You swipe in the direction of the arrow to hit a Flick Note. When several flick notes arrive in quick succession, you can swipe back and forth to hit them without lifting your finger.
Long Notes consist of two circles joined by a green line. To hit these correctly, you tap and hold at the start of the long note and then release at the end of it. Sometimes long notes end with a flick, adding to the challenge.
The more notes you hit accurately, the higher your combo builds. This increases both score and damage. Doing well basically makes your character pound on the opponent for a while. Miss or near-miss too much and the enemy will get some hits in. Run out of life and you fail the song.
Sometimes a series of gold "Special Move Notes" comes along during a song. Hit most of them to perform a special move like a fireball. Get the whole set right and your character will whip out a Super Special Move, dealing massive damage to the enemy.
In true King of Fighters fashion, depleting the first opponent's life during a battle won't win you the match. The enemy team consists of three characters, so knocking one out just makes another one jump in. I'm not sure if you can knock all three out before a song ends; I've never done it. The real objective is to reach the end of the song without running out of life.
Rhythm of Fighters includes a scant three playable characters by default: Kyo Kusanagi (KOF series), Athena Asamiya (Athena and KOF series), and Ryo Sakazaki (Art of Fighting and KOF series). Each character has different stats and a unique Super Special Move (of course), allowing you to choose between stronger offense and defense, basically.
SNK also sells three more characters via in-app purchase: Iori Yagami (KOF series), Terry Bogard (Fatal Fury and KOF series), and Nakoruru (Samurai Shodown). These guys cost $2.99 apiece, which is really steep considering they're just re-used sprites from previous SNK games.
That said, they all really excel at something: Iori has his combos, Terry rocks at offense and special moves, and Nakoruru boasts the best defense. Nakoruru's Super Special Move refills some of her health, making her the best character for less skilled players like me. SNK Playmore just needs to cut the prices down a dollar or two and release more fighters like Mai and Blue Mary…
You also get to pick two support characters. Unlike the real KOF games, they don't do any actual fighting. They just provide various bonuses such as reviving your character after death or increasing the damage you deal.
The arsenal of support characters draws from tons of obscure SNK games like King of the Monsters and World Heroes. But they only show up as portraits and not during fights, severely diminishing their coolness.
Most support characters can be unlocked by clearing stages in Arcade Mode. The IAP store also sells five support teams, each with three characters. Four of the teams cost 99 cents, with the final set ringing up at $1.99. Most of the supporters in that last set can't be used in Arcade mode, greatly lowering the value of the pack.
Arcade and Free Modes
ROF has two modes: Arcade and Free. In order to unlock all of the songs and their three difficulty levels for play in Free Mode, you'll need to play through Arcade Mode.
Arcade consists of fifty stages broken into ten tiers. Each stage has a victory condition beyond just completing the song, such as reaching a certain number of Just Hits (Perfect notes) or beating a specific score. Those extra conditions can be a pain; it took me more than ten tries to hit the target score on 4-5.
If you struggle on a stage like I did, you can always grind for EXP by playing past stages or visiting Free Mode. The EXP gained from winning or losing songs contributes to overall player level. Each time you level up, the stats of all your characters increase slightly. Level up enough and you might be able to power your way through previously unwinnable situations. Some players lament the grinding, but I like that it ties everything together and rewards you simply for playing.
Free Mode simply lets players take on any song they have unlocked, choosing between easy, medium, and hard difficulties if those have been unlocked as well. This is also where you'll access any song packs you have purchased, as they don't show up in Arcade Mode (unfortunately).
For the game's purchase price of one dollar, you get 14 songs taken from a variety of SNK games such as the KOF, Art of Fighting, and Fatal Fury series. Metal Slug 2 and Samurai Shodown each provide a single track as well. Most of the songs are memorable and distinct. A few even have Japanese lyrics.
ROF currently offers seven premium song packs, with more promised for the future. Each pack costs $2.99 and includes four songs. Like the main game's songs, every track has a unique background taken from the game that originated it. You can preview the songs in a pack before buying, and even read notes from the composer.
The packs so far include:
- Fatal Fury 2
- Fatal Fury Special
- KOF '96
- KOF '97
- Metal Slug 2
- Metal Slug Defense
- Slot Machine Pack
I'm hoping that Athena's "Psycho Soldier" theme and more Samurai Shodown tracks get released eventually.
Cool cool fighters
The Rhythm of Fighters' fighting game mechanics and sprites will instantly appeal to anyone who has played a fighting game. The actual fights could be more interesting to watch – they play out more simply than a real KOF battle. But you'll be too busy circling your gaze across the note track and tapping away at the note circles to let the lulls get you down.
With a fair selection of songs and a long and tough Arcade Mode, ROF offers a lot of bang for the initial buck. SNK fans won't want to miss it.
The game is now entirely free to play. The gameplay and IAPs remain unchanged, making ROF an even better value than before.