Few things are more likely to reduce a hardcore 2D fighting fan to a weeping, quivering mess than the suggestion that their favorite series is going 3D. Indeed, the history of 2D to 3D fighting game conversions is not exactly bursting with success stories. SNK Playmore's The King of Fighters 2006 (known in civilized countries as KoF: Maximum Impact 2) is the rare exception to this trend. In fact, it's such an all-around good game that it can stand apart from its esteemed 2D ancestors, offering its own unique and enjoyable brand of fast-moving fisticuffs.
For starters, the game has a ton of content. The formerly small cast is now large, with 38 fighters to choose from. Single-player options are robust, with character-specific story modes (featuring some great dialogue that should please fans), an extensive and often-difficult mission mode with over 200 separate challenges, and the niftiest survival mode yet seen in a fighter. Of course, lots of costumes and characters are locked at the outset, so you'll need to wade hip-deep into all of this stuff to bring out the hidden content. It's actually worthwhile, too: KoF 2006 features more amusing fan-service than just about any game on the market. It's a bonanza for long-time SNK aficionados.
That said, a fighting game's longevity comes from its multiplayer, and KoF 2006's revised gameplay engine is solid enough to sustain long-term interest. The action's been slowed down a tad from the previous game, which may be why the animations look more convincing and less janky. It's still very fast, though, and impressive, satisfying combos flow like water. Necessary and welcome refinements such as a parry button, the ability to cancel into super moves, and diminishing returns on combo damage all help elevate the action far above that of the original KoF: MI. Combined with the varied cast full of newcomers, this is one fun fighting game.
KoF 2006 is a decent-looking game, with colorful backdrops and handsome characters. The graphics don't reach the lofty heights of the big-budget Tekken 5, but it's pleasant on the eyes nonetheless. The music is similarly good, and even (did someone say fan service?) features 35 bonus tunes from past SNK fighters. Factor in the much-appreciated Japanese voiceover option and there's really nothing to complain about.
While it won't dethrone Soul Calibur or cause folks to renounce 2D, The King of Fighters 2006 is a solid fighting game with more than its share of fun characters and crazy combos. It's easily the most improved fighter in recent memory, and if you've got some local competition, it's a steal at 30 bucks.