NPI is a curious title. Initially I had improperly recalled that the game was developed by Brezza, the re-absorbed SNK splinter group. But in fact itís the second major MVS effort from Noise since they...well I don't actually know where they came from. Anyone who has that information - email me. Quite obviously the whole thing is very confusing.
Itís something like Eolithís treatment of the KOF series once they first got their hands on it. As far as I know, no major staff from Noise has worked with Power Instinct prior to this, though the series has some 7 iterations across four consoles (and arcades). So they brought some new energy to the franchise, along with some of the character designs and system elements from their previous work; Rage of the Dragons. Note how RotD's Pepe and NPI's Reiji are nearly identical. Not in character art, but in terms of the actual sprites themselves.
The Rage of the Dragons character designs are a bit chunkier than Power Instinct tends to be. Not fatter, just more massive. Though Power Instinct characters do vary a fair bit. In spite of this, the various styles merged very well in this title, because in spite of the increased bulk, the characters are all able to animate into the gorgeous fluid combos that the series is known for. Check out MrWhitefolksí Groove on Fight video on his combos page for a slice of that action. Groove on Fight is sort of a Power Instinct Gaiden type of thing, but the action rings true (and hell, itís the only example I can find).
The learning curve is low for most characters, even though the actual available moves far outnumber whatís listed on the marquee. Itís not exactly a button-masher or anything, but the movements wonít exactly be unfamiliar, letís say. Take that as you will, but there are still several fellows in here who I just donít understand. Take the damned dog for instance, featured in the video to the right. Thatís me using him, thatís Henry Moriarty handing me my tail. I donít know what the hell to do with that guy. For a boxer whoís also a dogÖhe doesnít have a lot going for him move-wise as far as I can tell.
This is Noiseís biggest failing. Including a dog-boxer and not making him rock the house straight down to the @#$& ground.
I canít tell you what it is about this game. The character design, the bizarre denture-throwing super that the old lady has, the ridiculous juxtaposition of sleek&sexy characters with hideous beastsÖI just really enjoy it. And the easy, smooth flowing combo system makes such a potentially visually disjointed cast seem natural and unified. Itís high energy, it feels big budget (for an MVS title) and glitzy. Large sprites to warm the heart. I honestly donít mind that itís not as deep or demanding as a King of FightersÖitís a fun game. I would say that the King of Fighters series is a serious game. New Power Instinct is the flipside of the SNK coin, that humor that weíve not really seen for some time now, unless you count Metal Slug 4. Laughable is different from fun, of course.
I did not play Matrimelee in single player mode for very long, as I was there primarily to battle other humans. But what little I did play showed that this humor is in full force throughout the cut scenes, inter-match dialogue and match openings.
Hereís something. In one stage, the referee from the Samurai Showdown games shows up. This guy was actually taking the brunt of my attacks somehow. Iíve no idea what that was. But it was entertaining. It was as though I was fighting against two persons, one of whom was slow, and couldnít (?) die, the other a far deadlier foe. Goofiness with a smooth as silk, super-intuitive combo system spells WINNAR to me.
Hereís hoping for a console release. Itís a fun game, and will delight your skeptic friends, even though it lacks the traditional hardcore learning curve. So itís possible that someone who doesnít know the game could show up and hand you your rear using shoto motions. But in the end you wonít mind. Just look to the next round, and donít choose the damned dog.