King of Fighters XII Review (Xbox360)

The fighting genre has seen a renaissance in 2009. With the likes of Street Fighter IV, and BlazBlue Ė and not to mention the digital arcade releases of Garuo: Mark of the Wolves, The King of Fighters í98 and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Ė the genre hasnít seen the reinvigoration of this level in quite some time. One only has to look at this fallís line-up of fighters that include: Dragon Ball Z: Raging Blast, Samurai Shodown: Edge of Destiny, and Tekken 6 to see how much effort publishers are putting forth in the genre.

Having said that, fanatics of fighting games should be in hysteria with the recent release of The King of Fighters XII, but sadly, the game doesnít live up to the hype. Having been around for the last 15 years, the series has seen better days. Hardcore fans that have played the title in the arcades wonít have many reasons to pick up the console versions since thereís a lack of new game modes, unlockable characters, and any semblance of a storyline included such as there was in The King of Fighters í98 Ė Ultimate Match. KoF XII is a barebones port that only introduces online multiplayer, a couple of new characters and a few filters for the pixilated characters.

Raiden takes a legal kick to the groin.
I came to get down, so get out of your seat and jump around!

Pixilated to a fault, the character models are in need of sprucing up on the next-generation consoles. This lack of polish is evident as every character looks distinctly out of place when the 2D backgrounds are so gorgeous. Although, itís an afterthought when you consider the low pixel count, the art style for the characters is at least up to SNK Playmore standards. Sad thing is that there are only 22 fighters included in the game Ė the lowest amount ever for the series. At least the console version receives two exclusive characters in the form of Mature and Elizabeth Blanchtorche, two additional female fighters that are distinctly different than one another. In addition, there are only six stages to select from, so once again, the content level proves to be minimal when compared to previous iterations.

KoF XIIís gameplay is on par with the graphics Ė decent in some areas, disappointing in others. With a four-button command scheme, players are still able to perform difficult maneuvers to gain the advantage over their opposition, but itís just not the same as it used to be. Using the 3 vs. 3 system, players are able to choose the order of their fighters before each match. Once a fighter is defeated, the playerís next fighter will jump into battle while the opponentís remaining fighter gains some health back. If you are wondering if you can switch on the fly Ė ala Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Ė the answer is no. Thereís also the addition of 1 vs. 1 fighting in versus mode; so if you donít favor the 3 vs. 3 gameplay, you can always opt for singleís play. Overall though, the gameplay is on the slow side of things where its pacing is much more realistic than its competitorís style of play.

Even with the lack of visual appeal or an ďit factorĒ, KoF XII should be able to hold the attention of its fans until the next SNK Playmore release. Players must focus on timing of their attacks and ranges rather than button-smashing to perform a blockbuster combo. The hit detection is outstanding and the Critical Counter system is tremendously useful in mid-combat. The main problem with KoF XII ultimately lies with how often the game slows down. There were too many times where I would fail to grab my opponent to initiate a throw. Itís odd to see the self-proclaimed king of the fighting genre wane in the limelight of gameplay hiccups.

Aren't fireworks nifty?
Punching with your head down is always the best tactic.

If you arenít wary about purchasing KoF XII then perhaps a warning needs to be delivered about the online features and functionality. While the developers have already issued a statement that a patch is on its way, the Xbox 360 iteration still suffers with sluggish gameplay to the point where it doesnít take skill to become the victor of a match. Even with a 10 mega-byte connection, the majority of my matches were riddled with lag and occasions where it froze up. Itís a shame too, since as I mentioned earlier, interest in the fighting genre is returning to a high that hasnít been seen since the death of the arcades in the United States.

So when itís all said and done, The King of Fighters XII isnít going to be placed on a mantle above all other fighting games. It lacks proper net code and not everyone is going to enjoy the pixilated graphics. At the price point of £40, KoF XII is a hard sell to anyone outside of the fanbase. Hardcore fans will enjoy it for what it is Ė a game that tries to stay true to its roots Ė but everyone else will be scratching their heads wondering why they should convert over from their current fighting series of choice.

Top Game Moment: Teaming up Ralf Jones with Raiden and Shen Woo for a misfit cast of fighters in the arcade (a.k.a. time trials) mode.

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