Back in 2004, the world saw the first ever 3d King of Fighters game, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact on the Playstation 2. While the world generally shrugged their shoulders at the game and returned to playing King of Fighters 2002 (well…they SHOULD have), the title certainly did have potential. Now, the sequel to Maximum Impact is just over the horizon, renamed King of Fighters 2006 and featuring far more characters than the original and loads of unlockables.[p]The relatively non-existent, definitively non-canon, and ultimately unimportant story from Maximum Impact is continued in KOF2k6. During the events of Maximum Impact, Alba successfully stomped out Duke’s violent gang, Mephistopheles, ending the terror-based control over the kindly citizens of SNK’s fictitious city, South Town (the scene of many SNK games). KOF2k6 takes place shortly after. A new organization, Addes, believed to be the true head of dozens of gangs throughout the world, including Mephistopheles, has surfaced, and a new KOF tournament has been started in their name. And with the thrill of competition apparent, the heroes of KOF like Kyo, K’ and Iori all enter for a piece of the action.[p]The biggest problem with Maximum Impact’s gameplay was the imbalance brought about by some of the speedier characters with the right Super Attacks (Rock’s Raging Storm can be used on a downed opponent, and can be combo’d on their way down, for example). This could make for some seemingly impressive, though thoroughly over-powered, combos. Thankfully, KOF2k6 resolves this problem for the most part, cutting down on almost all of the over-the-top combos that made the original broken. This does make the game, as a whole, more appealing as a solid fighter. However, whether or not it is as good as its 2d counterparts is still up in the air. [p]One of Maximum Impact’s greatest problems was its slim cast of characters. It had most of the main KOF leads (like Ryo, Terry, Iori, Kyo and K’ ) but lacked many of KOF’s other recurring characters (like Yamazaki, Kensou, Vanessa and Mary) and ultimately had a disappointingly limited crew to select from. While in some ways, the cast is still lacking, the number of selectable characters has ballooned to an impressive number, and covers many characters never before included in a King of Fighters. The initial cast includes the entire Maximum Impact 1 cast, as well as Duke (the boss from the original), Kula Diamond (the ice-based foil of K’ ), Billy Kane (Geese’s staff-wielding henchman and a KOF regular), Luise Meyrink (a totally new character, mysterious but obviously important) and Nagase (an Addes operative…maybe, with a difficult to discern gender, but is in fact female). While two key KOF additions were nice, it isn’t the main up point of the expanded cast. There are nine unlockable characters added, featuring new characters, KOF staples and other SNK fighters (which you can read about here). To top it all off, alternate costumes are available to many characters which give some face time for other KOF characters who were left out (for example, Chae Lim has an outfit like May Lee, and Kula has an outfit representing Ash), while some have costumes representative of other fighting game stars (Terry has an outfit like Guilty Gear’s Sol Badguy). Because of this, there are loads of things that will catch the eyes of KOF fans, and this makes for many hours of extra play time.[p]The graphics have received an apparent upgrade over the original. While they are still not nearly as good as Dead or Alive Ultimate, it’s still one of the better-looking PS2 games. Sound-wise, the game (thankfully) includes the Japanese voice acting, and while this writer isn’t a subtitle elitist, the Japanese voices are a necessity in King of Fighters. [p]You can expect KOF 2k6 to come out shortly in September. Expect a full Mygamer review after release.