Directly porting the Game Boy Advance title King of Fighters EX 2: Howling Blood, Hudson has taken a great game and nearly ruined it on the N-Gage. The benefits over Nintendo's handheld are wonderful, including wireless multi-player and plenty of buttons. Sadly, it runs at barely half the speed, and for veterans of this series (anyone who would even give this a second look), that's unacceptable.
There's little here that's actually new for this edition. Given the long, storied history of this franchise, you're not used to additions, but accustomed to the fighting. The Striker system, added in 1999, is the only standout inclusion, and to fans, it's nothing they're not already familiar with.
Strangely, where previous entries with the Striker included relied on four chosen characters for each match, only three go into battle on the N-Gage. After selecting a roster from a starting group of 21, you'll head into a fight. The third character picked will act as a striker, jumping in for a quick attack and setting up a combo.
Animation has been drastically reduced, though most of the win/lose animations remain. The sprites occupy a significant portion of the screen, and while detail is lost (the game is presented in a letterboxed mode to compensate for the shape of the screen), colors shine on the handheld. Cutting animation is a problem for a deep fighting game, especially one that has been steadily pushed out each year. Timing is easily thrown off due to the cuts.
The controls are nicely mapped out. The four key attack buttons lie in the center of the pad, while other moves that used to rely on combination presses are assigned to their own key (throws, rolls). Given the relative impossibility of hitting the proper two buttons on a keypad, this is a wonderful and necessary addition. It's a far better scheme than the one on the Game Boy Advance where part of the challenge was trying to figure out what to map the face buttons with. Even the d-pad smoothly pulls off special moves.
None of this will matter when the game begins moving. All those years of practice are for naught if you plan of digging deep into this portable conversion. This brawler moves even slower than the original Street Fighter II did, and that's unacceptable. The hectic action is barely even recognizable, and it leads to other issues like unresponsive controls. There are times when you'll repeatedly slam on a button and have nothing happen. At the very least, it stays consistent at this speed so the adjustment can be made, but why bother?
It's such a shame this didn't work out for Nokia's misunderstood mobile phone. King of Fighters Extreme is a completely missed opportunity as the sole 2-D fighter on the handheld. Since it's so sluggish, it alienates the fan base for the franchise, and will turn off newcomers giving it a go for the first time.