Review: King of Fighters XII

Just the other day I reviewed Garou: Mark of the Wolves here at Spawn Kill, a solid 2D fighter that’s well worth your Microsoft points via the Xbox Live Marketplace. Now, I’m bringing you my thoughts on the latest entry into the venerable King of Fighters series, King of Fighters XII. The most current contender along with games such as Fatal Fury and Samurai Shodown has no use for button mashers. Only the serious fighting game enthusiasts need apply. How does this fighter fare in the ring? You need only read further.

The King of Fighters franchise has slyly combined the best of all of the SNK worlds into one mashup containing some of your favorite characters, locations, and moves over the years, finally culminating into the twelfth edition in a long-running series. While it is admittedly simply a port of an arcade fighter to a console, this entry does pack quite a punch though its presentation as a full-fledged fighter for a home system is a bit misleading.

KOF XII serves up a choice between only 22 fighters, which is quite a paltry sum when you take the previous entries into consideration that offered many more contenders to hop into the ring with. While that may seem like a lot compared to other games, that really isn’t a whole lot considering what games like Marvel vs Capcom 2 have to offer for half the price. After doing some poking around I unraveled that this is actually the lowest count of fighters in the KOF back catalogue, which is rather strange to me.

What we have here is a standard but very solid fighting game, with few bells and whistles tossed in to complicate things. While nowhere near as frantic as games such as Guilty Gear or or BlazBlue, gameplay is quite balanced considering the small amount of characters and fighting styles to alternate between. Combat pacing is a bit slow, relying mainly on the proper execution and timing of special moves rather than flashy theatrical specials that you might be used to from other games. Because of this matches are quite methodical and paced much differently than the norm. Unless you happen to be a highly skilled player, chances are you won’t be seeing or taking part in any explosive matches that are easy on the eyes, but there is quite a bit of potential when you pit experienced players against each other. You just have to play around with the fighters a bit to find where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Don’t be expecting excessive and over-the-top specials, though, because you will be disappointed. If you likened BlazBlue to a wild teenager, KOF XII would be its conservative 20-something older sister.

There is a bit of slowdown that should not exist on a system boasting such hardware and 11 other titles along the line over the years, but it’s still there, along with some strange glitches involving throws. It’s hard to judge throw perception between characters ranging between so many different sizes, but in the midst of battle the action seems to chug a bit and I found that to be a bit of a distraction. While this is only a minor complaint, it should have quite been taken care of after all of these years. You’ll also note that even though you may choose characters who look completely different from one another, you’ll find that they all handle quite the same with the exception of a few, and  I want just a little bit more variety than that. If you’re looking for very traditional gameplay then you will appreciate this type of play.

The graphics are gorgeous, consisting of obviously hand-drawn character models and a “retro” pixelated feel is intact perhaps to entice classic hardcore fighting gamers to pick this game up as an impulse buy. You’ll meet several familiar faces from SNK’s lineup, including the likes of Terry Bogard, which I appreciated immensely. You’re guaranteed to chuckle at a few of the locales, including a world apparently populated by pig women who laugh, point, and scarf noodles while watching matches unfold in front of them. Strange.

Online play is very laggy as well, and will likely frustrate the heck out of you rather than facilitate several heated matches. It seems to get better in patches and works better on certain days than others, so hopefully more patches in the future will put the kibosh on lag and connection issues, because what good is a fighter that you can’t take to the streets of Xbox Live?

Overall, this is quite the acceptable package for a standard fighter, but it just doesn’t have that oomph that games such as BlazBlue or Street Fighter IV have made standard these days. For $40 I would rather pay off one of those giants than a mundane experience such as KOF XII, and it’s unfortunate that I feel that way but if you’re a hardcore fighter fan you’ll get hours of enjoyment out of this title regardless of the price that you pay. I suppose it’s just not flamboyant enough for my extravagant tastes.

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