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King of Fighters XII

 

King of Fighters XII

ESRB: Teen - T
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Fighting
 
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Developer: SNK Playmore USA
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment

Features

1-2 players/ 2-8 online
10MB game save
HDTV 720p/1080i/1080p
Voice support
Arcade Stick Compatible
Leader boards

It’s nice and refreshing to see some of the great fighting games of old come into their own so many years later. To be honest 2009 is looking to be a hell of a good year for fighting games. With the likes of Street Fighter IV, BlazBlue, and even Tekken 6 slated to release this year; it's almost a fighting renaissance. The 90's are back, at least for fighting fans.

One franchise that really stood out in the 90's was SNK's King of Fighters. The KOF series was born from the ridiculously expensive and memory heavy Neo-Geo arcade machines. The game sat alongside the Street Fighter II cabinets and always had huge line-ups of gamers clamouring to reign fighting champion. I remember the cabinets being littered with used chewing gum and cigarette burns, as they saw hot and heavy use 24-7. The King of Fighters series has always been rather cliché but it has a hardcore following. It doesn't hurt that pretty much every King of Fighters has delivered beautiful 2D action with 3-on-3 fighting. Before Tekken Tag, or even the Capcom versus series of games, SNK was the first to bring multi-fighter matches to the home console and arcade. It is this tradition of ass kicking that fighting fans have been waiting for in SNK's newest entry in the series: King of Fighters XII.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the KOF series SNK has released a brand new entry onto next-generation systems. Covered in 100% hand drawn art and using brand new fighting mechanics, the new/old entry is dubbed as ambitious in the fighting genre as most fighting maniacs are still lining up for the rival SFII. These games are always fun for me, so I eagerly jumped in to see how the once mighty series fares in this era.

Graphics

One of the tag lines for KOF is the new hand drawn art. Being that I am a bit of retro-art loving fellow I absolutely fell in love with the new game’s look. Right off the hop gamers will see gorgeous, colourful, and extremely vibrant graphics. I must admit it took me by surprise as the game is almost intoxicating as you take in the rich visuals. The characters have an absurd amount of detail in their movements, whether they are shifting into a crouch or punching and kicking out of a scrum and hammering another character. You can tell that there is a staggering amount of work put into each and every character and background (all hand drawn too as well).

With all this praise, I have to say that the beautiful art style does come at a price. On numerous occasions, whenever the camera zooms in close, the fighters become a little more pixelated than what the next-gen gamers are used too. The stills laud the game as being one of the smoothest looking games, and in the animation department it is, but the characters have more jagged edges than most of the newer and even remastered fighters (e.g. SFIIHD). While this is a by-product of the beautiful dot pixel art, it may turn off some newer and more fickle gamers. Overall, even though the characters don’t have the same polygonal polish as a SFIV, or even BlazBlue, I think most gamers can and should look past the pixels and realize the amazing amount of work that went into the movement that the characters accomplish.

Technically, with all this animation you would think the framerate would take a header off the deep end, but the fact of the matter is that it does dip here and there, but amazingly enough it’s never too noticeable, and when it does happen it does not hinder gameplay. I did see the sign of pop-in but I really had to search for it, otherwise it was almost non-existent. The graphics engine took a very hard hit while online though, as the game chugged almost to a halt in some of the matches I played. I do think it was to do with the lag online and nothing to do with the graphics engine itself.

One other thing of note is the levels and stages in the game. SNK is known for some far out stages and the legacy continues with KOF XII. My personal favourite has to be the Egypt inspired temple. There are literally tons of mummies filling the screens foreground, it’s quite impressive. I think a lot of fans of the genre will appreciate the various levels designed for the game as they all add to the visual flair.

Sound

Gamers can look at the sounds of KOF XII in one of two ways. The first way is that some may feel as if the development team spent a bit too much time on how the game looks and moves while only lightly going over the game sound work. Everything is clearly audible, but it does lack some oomph. The music is somewhat forgettable and can really get on your nerves after some solid gameplay. The voice work is interesting, but it only serves as filler during matches and you could really do away with any or all of it. Other people, particularly those older gamers of yesteryear, will love the re-done re-mixed tracks of old. I felt the sounds instantly took me back to the old arcade days, and it left me feeling pretty good, even with all its cheese factored in I liked it.

I realize since this is an older series and the game feels re-done while the old soundtrack and sound effects are going to sound a bit funny and even perhaps a bit tinny by today’s standards. I think that is part of the allure for the game and it works very well. The game has an interesting feature in that you can switch the vocals for the characters from English to Japanese or vice versa. Each character is given their own personality, more so than one liners and intro speeches, because they are given more room to exhibit flair. It is a small reminder that the amount of work put into each character is obvious from the start.

Gameplay

For a fighting game to be good, and experience the kind of longevity that any games in the Street Fighter series have, they have to have a balance of entertaining controls and depth. KOF XII has easy and polished control in spades, but the game feels like someone mastered the yellow belt and stopped there. The drawback here is that there is not enough to keep players interested and there are so many borrowed elements that the KOF XII can feel like an endless game of been there, done that before. Unfortunately the overall combat feels completely average, and it is most obvious when compared to the stellar SFIV and or BlazBlue titles already on the market.

The basic fighting mechanics of the game are like any other standard fighter. It utilizes a four button set up instead of six button. Players execute combos and special attacks while fighting in 3 on 3 matches. This however isn’t a normal tag title like Tekken Tag tournament or Marvel vs. Capcom; players pick a team of three characters and then arrange them in the order that they want to use them. It adds a small amount of depth, but the ability to switch between characters on the fly will always generate better strategies in the heat of battle.

A new element added to the game is the Critical Counter System. This component sets a gauge beneath each player’s health that fills as they take or block damage. Once the gauge reaches a certain critical mass players can execute a counter by attacking with a hard punch or kick while the other player is attacking. If you happen to connect there is a bright green flash and your opponent becomes stunned. You can then execute a free style combo on your opponent for a few seconds and inflict great amounts of damage. It is a nifty and visually appealing feature that goes a long way to turn the tide of any match, and it can be extremely rewarding. Anyone using crouching attacks can avoid being countered by a standing hard punch or kick since players cannot be moving when attempting to use it, or they can just jump around and avoid you while the meter drains, so stay loose!

The real crux of the gameplay relies heavily on the games counter system. Any attack or special that connects with another attack of the same strength is canceled with little to no damage, similar to two likenesses cancelling each other out. Certain attacks still have priority over others, but it is possible for fighters to bounce off each other two or three times before connecting with a punch or special. It produces a feeling that players are actually sparring rather than blocking and counter-attacking.

Players can also utilize a guard attack. Similar to the focus attack from SFIV, this attack puts your fighter into a charged state that will absorb attacks from another fighter. Once an attack is absorbed the defending player can use the moment to create a neutral area between the fighters or unleash an attack on the pressing player. It is a little more dynamic and lively then a standard focus attack because the impact from the absorption pushes both characters back.

Most gamers will be able to grasp the games control after only a few rounds while some other others may take up to an hour or so before feeling comfortable with it. I really cannot recommend the 360’s standard controller as it does not respond well to quick attacks and you will feel like you can never pull off the major moves when you need them. I would use some of the fighting sticks out there, or even a fighting pad. Both should allow you to get a good feel of the games flow.

Sadly I found the game contained no hint of a story mode. Some may think this is a good thing, but yet in fact one of the game’s pitfalls. The absence of the story makes the arcade mode a repetitive time trial, which can feel like a somewhat worthless affair. After such a long time it would have been nice to see or hear of some of the fighters’ background or fighting history. Understandably, the convoluted and strange stories with the big bad bosses at the end are purely fluff, but it would have bridged the gap between the older and newer fans of the series, along with adding a bit of realism or incentive to unlock certain fighters. This way seems a very bare, dry, and empty if you will run through.

Of course this omission would almost be acceptable if the online modes were of any quality, unfortunately this is not the case. To call the games online offerings broken would be too kind. I found the game guilty of multiple freezes and time outs while connecting with just the lobby. If you are lucky enough to finally connect with an opponent you will not only enjoy the nostalgic 90's 2D sprite goodness of yester-year in HD, but also the awesome framerate of playing on a connection likened to a 56K modem, just like the old days. In fact one match was so bad it reminded me of playing NFL2K on Sega’s ill-fated Dreamcast. Online matches are lag-fests filled with stuttering and juddering which begin to resemble slow-motion highlight clips. It is really that bad and it only served to remind me just how much better games like Street Fighter IV's online play really is. Ignition has issued a press release saying that they are working on it, and that a new patch was released, but so far it really hasn't helped all that much. I was at least able to connect to a few more matches than before the patch was released, but online play was still severely hindered. It is nice to know that Ignition is currently looking into shaping up KOF XII's online performance issues I truly hope in time it may improve.

Regardless of the online issues the game is supposed to allow up to 8 in a room. Two fight while the others watch in a “winner stays playing” mode. I am glad to see more and more fighting games doing this in an effort to bring the 90's arcade feel back. The online multiplayer modes potentially offer the most bang for the buck in terms of fun factor. I found in while in the lobbies you could create the atmosphere of the arcade experience as two players battle it out while those spectating lay down smack talk the whole time over voice chat. Once the match is over, another player rotates in until everyone gets a chance. Sure, you can simply search for a random fight against another player and get right down to business, but I enjoyed the group dynamic. Team battles pit three players against three players on another team. The only possible downside is that if your first player is really awesome and takes down the three other players, you don’t really get a turn, but your side won anyway, so who cares?

KOF XII has around 22 characters, which to me doesn’t seem like a lot. If you look deeper at the roster you will find some staple KOF fighters missing. The most obvious one is Mai, the large breasted well rounded fighter which was a very popular character in the arcades. I wonder why that could be? Jesting aside, it seems like perhaps Ignition and SNK will make these missing characters show up as downloads, which is entirely plausible.

The 360 version of the also has a TruSkill ranking system, which allows players to record and share their matches online. Of course it remains to be seen if the online issues do clear up.


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