"The King of the Fighters XII may have a new sheen, but it's missing a lot of what made some of those early titles so entertaining. At times it just feels incomplete. Some characters have regressed to their move sets from much earlier games, while others have been cut altogether."
The King of Fighters franchise has been around for a very long time and has been quite active the whole while. In fact, when comparing simply the main titles of the respective series, The King of Fighters actually has more releases than Street Fighter. Of course, where Capcom's series has innovated over the years, The King of Fighters from SNK has for ages remained stagnant and has even used the same sprites and general gameplay mechanics for the majority of its history. Now The King of Fighters XII has arrived to improve things... at least aesthetically.
The older titles, specifically The King of Fighters 95, were decent time killers in my early gaming days, thanks mostly to an uncle with too much money and a love of the Neo Geo. Naturally, I played the the likes of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter more, but for some reason the 3-vs-3 gameplay and the accurate arcade ports clicked with me. When I faced other gamers in those titles, I became something of a juggernaut. It also may have helped that nobody I knew really played the titles all that much, but still... I take my fighting game victories where I can get them.
The King of the Fighters XII may have a new sheen, but it's missing a lot of what made some of those early titles so entertaining. At times it just feels incomplete. Some characters have regressed to their move sets from much earlier games, while others have been cut altogether. The lack of Mai just perplexes me, as did the addition of two console-only characters that add very little to the mix. The King of Fighters XII offers one of the smallest rosters of characters the series has featured since its earliest days and, in a game where 3-vs-3 combat is the norm, that tends to limit your options rather quickly. At least those characters who are present have been balanced well; it's entirely possible to beat any combination with a different one entirely. This helps to ease KoF veterans into the newer gameplay mechanics no matter which group they assemble. Those new mechanics include increased emphasis on juggling, moves that send your opponents airborne. There's also a new critical counter system.
The critical counter system is an odd addition and it damages the flow of the game. You'll need to play much more cautiously, as taking or inflicting damage fills a fighter's critical counter gauge. If you use a counter while the gauge is filled, you can stun your opponent and unleash a fury of offensive destruction that makes recovery difficult. This means that the flow of the game changes when a rival's counter bar is activated. Suddenly you have to dial back your offense and just defend until your opponent's counter bar empties. Such gameplay additions were added to the mix at a cost: many of the small improvements to gameplay that the series has seen over the years have been removed from this newest release. You only have one level of special moves now, there are no more multiple jump levels, and the ability to roll forward and backward to dodge attacks has been taken away.
Also removed is anything but the most cursory of game modes. There's no story mode, no challenge mode continuation from KOFXI and there's not even a survivor mode. Instead, you have a simple time trial arcade mode and an offline versus mode. That's it.
You could attempt to add longevity by taking your battle online, but if you have an Xbox 360 that isn't really something that I would recommend. While the PS3 has apparently fixed this issue, you will be hard pressed to find a game on the 360 that doesn't suffer through absolutely damning lag. It feels like every character can teleport and that they find it more pleasurable than actually doing anything useful. The strategy of the new air juggle moves and the critical counter system are absolutely wasted because the broken online system makes it impossible to get the timing correct.
In the end, this is a decent experience if you are just looking for a fighting game to play against your friends, but if you're looking for anything other than that you should look elsewhere. I get the feeling that this is meant to be a sort of leaping point for the series, using the 15th anniversary of the series and the updated graphics as a way to introduce The King of Fighters to a next-gen audience. However, there are numerous other fighting games available for the 360 right--complete titles--and as a result The King of Fighters XII just doesn't offer enough to justify a purchase. With online issues, few game modes, a reduced roster and bizarre gameplay omissions, you are probably better off finding Street Fighter IV or BlazBlue at a better price. You'll get much more out of either of those titles.
Freelance review by Freelance Writer (August 14, 2009)
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