The King of Fighters is a long, long running series. This fighting game series has been running at the speed of Madden for a major length of time, until it stopped annual releases in 2003 and went to subseries like Neowave and Maximum Impact. Now we're back to the original series, with the Roman numerals translating to 12, with a nice set of HD updates that bring the series into the current generation.
The standards of The King of Fighters are in effect: Take many SNK fighting characters and a large Original Generation cast, toss them together, and have the player select three — or, in this case, just one. Pit him against teams of three until he takes on a ludicrously difficult final boss(es). The fighting comes from all of SNK's finest 2 traditions: an excellent air game, deceptive simplicity, and a sense of balance that had it rivaling Capcom for being, well, the king of fighters for a very long time indeed.
The HD updates involve a lot of drawing. According to Ignition's representative, each took a total of 18 months to draw and are redrawn with a very distinctive style, free of the traditional shaded edges, which is the norm for SNK with this series. In keeping with the series' tradition, as players move away, the camera zooms out, and as you reach fully closed in, just a hint of pixelation is revealed. This may not look as good as having the sprites always be at full smoothness, but it ends up feeling better because this is how KoF has always been.
The cast has been pared down to 22 characters, with a few high-profile characters rejected, such as Mai Shiranui, who is Japan's #1 and isn't back to bounce to a ludicrous extent. Two new characters, Elizabeth Blanctorche and Mature, are added specifically to the console versions; Elizabeth is from The King of Fighters XI, and Mature is from KoF '96.
In addition to these two playable characters, the console versions will also boast online play. A high bar is already here with Capcom's releases, but the representative seemed confident that this title would also do pretty well. The PlayStation 3 version will feature exclusive clan support to make up for the lack of TrueSkill algorithm support, which is present in the Xbox 360 iteration. Both versions will allow you to save replay files of your fights, though there's no word on whether sharing will be available, which was added to Street Fighter 4 as DLC.
Overall, King of Fighters XII is shaping up to be a solid release that's well worth the attention of series fans. Its pared-down cast avoids too much reinvention, offers a nice variety of play, and all of the hallmarks have neatly slipped into high-definition. With some final polish, SNK should have a hit on its hands with KoF XII.
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