Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: July 24, 2009
The last King of Fighters was a darn good deal for consumers, offering the 11th entry in the series for just $20 on the PS2. This time, the case seems to be the opposite, as King of Fighters XII contains very little value for its $60 retail price. At its core, the game is still the same well-balanced fighter that fans love, but there's a disturbing amount of features missing.
For those not familiar with the series (really, you've had 11 games to catch up), King of Fighters is a 2-D fighting game that revolves around two teams of three combatants duking it out. The two available offline modes include Arcade mode and Versus. Versus is what you'd expect: straight-up sparring with either the computer or another player. It's the Arcade mode that's going to disappoint gamers.
Since there is no story line in KoF XII, the Arcade mode is just a time attack challenge where players are scored on how quickly they progress through a series of fights. There are only a small number of fights to win, and the difficulty is fairly low. The presentation is also lackluster, with only a few shots of news crews covering the fights to set the stage. I've always thought of "time attack" as a smaller mode apart from the main arcade campaign, so I was let down by this.
The lack of story has given the developers the freedom to bring in some fighters from earlier in the series, but the selection is shockingly small. There are only 22 fighters in the game, two of whom are not found in the arcade version. The two bonus characters are Mature from KoF 96 and the new Elisabeth Blanctorche. Both are available for selection from the get-go.
Since the last game included 40 fighters, KoF XII's roster is very underwhelming because in a game with 3-on-3 combat, it's easy to burn through 22 characters.
Despite those glaring flaws, I am happy to say that the core gameplay is 2-D fighting at its best. The controls are easy to pick up, but thanks to the insanely complicated special moves, they're still a challenge to master. The blocking and counters feel good, and none of the fighters have an unfair edge over the others. Overall, the gameplay is definitely balanced, and so are the new features that have been put in place.
KoF XII introduces the critical counter system, where after taking so many hits, a fighter can counter a blow and unleash a barrage of lighting-fast combos. It's effective but difficult to pull off. First, the opportunity to use a critical counter only lasts about 10 seconds and cannot be done while moving. It's hard enough so that the outcome of a match never hinges on who's best at the move.
The tactical shift system, which was seen in earlier games and allowed players to swap between fighters on the fly, has been removed. This is because the developers saw KoF XII as an opportunity to get "back to basics" in terms of gameplay, but sadly, the game certainly isn't priced as a low-scale affair.
KoF XII's online multiplayer took a lot of heat for its poor quality when it first when live. Now, after a hefty 700 MB update, I'm sorry to say that things aren't much better. I played through many matches, and nearly all of them were full of lag. King of Fighters is all about fast and precise fighting, so when the gameplay starts slowing down, it feels like a waste of time.
It's too bad about the performance because the game has a lot of good features that would make a strong online community. The PS3 version supports a clan system, where new members can be easily added and kept informed about upcoming matches. Also, a replay of any match can be saved and uploaded online, where the top videos are available for instant viewing.
Just because a game is in 2-D doesn't mean that it can't look great, and KoF XII is solid proof; all of the character sprites have been redrawn by hand and possess very smooth animations. When special moves are activated, your eyes get treated to a fireworks display of colorful effects.
While the characters look superb, the stages are another matter. First there are only six, two of which are basically the same location with the only difference being the time of day. In the background of each stage are crowds of people filled with so much motion that it can get distracting. When a match ends, the crowds start going crazy with rapid animations that look like a bizarre acid trip.
The voices of the characters are all well-done, and they can be heard in either Japanese or English. The music varies depending on the different stages, which take place in locales like China, France and Russia. The music isn't bad, but the tracks are just as limited in number as the levels, so they do get repetitive.
I usually don't bring up a game's menus and interface, but in the case of KoF XII, I feel that I should because they're a pain in the neck. Getting into the options menu to change the difficulty or customize the controls is very cumbersome and not explained on-screen. It's just another dent in the game's overall presentation, and it brings down the quality level a notch.
It really is sad to see a game like King of Fighters XII turn out this way. It has a solid fighting mechanic and great graphics, but the surrounding features are so meager that they kill everything good about the game. There will be some appeal for the hardcore, but for a series that's run as long as KoF, fans should be demanding much more. As an arcade booth, KoF XII might be worth stopping for, but as a full retail game, it isn't worth taking home. If you are on the market for a 2-D fighting game, I'd recommend checking out BlazBlue instead.
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