King of Fighters XII Review - October 21st 2009

King of Fighters XII is a chance for SNK to get their iconic fighting series into the next-generation and back into the minds of console fighting fans. Does it match up to its past?

It is the fifteenth anniversary of SNK's chief fighting series now, and countless PS2 releases have not tarnished the series undying reputation for gorgeous artwork, quirky stages and a robust combat engine. At this early stage it is worth confessing that I am not the most travelled gamer in terms of fighting games, but coming into KOF XII there was something that just felt right about it. The character list is disappointing for fans of the previous games, with high profile omissions such as Yuri Sakazaki and Mai Shiranui. There are also only a small handful of six stages, which to many gamers will feel cheeky for a full price release. Despite these facets, the artwork, audio and ethos of the game is absolutely spot-on. It feels like a game that has its history fifteen years in the past, but it has been completely reworked for the twenty-first century. Thankfully, it retains the gorgeous sprite artwork of the previous games, but redrawn completely for high definition. As such it looks a little odd at first (after playing games steeped in motion-blur and fancy effects that is). Once you land your first Heavy Punch however, you may well think that you've found your home.

The graphics suit the series heritage brilliantly.

The main game in KOF XII is the Arcade mode. As the game offers achievements and trophies for completing this in a certain amount of time (the highest being 10 minutes, the lowest a lean 3.5) it doesn't take long to realise there may not be that much life in it. As is traditional in the series, you select three fighters from the assortment of 22, and then fight off in a series of rounds against other tripartite teams. Each of the rounds is timed, and the idea, rather than merely aiming to reach the last stage, is to complete the mode as quickly as possible. You will need to change the difficulty first, in the game's complex menu structure, as KOF XII starts on a ridiculously easy setting. Nice for achievements, but not that much fun. As someone not incredibly adept or travelled with fighting games, the King of Fighters pick up and play style suits me fine. After spending half an hour in the game's training mode (and being very impressed with the slender set of moves instead of pages and pages to learn), it began to come naturally to me. The game features a counter-attack system which, when activated after you've taken, dealt or protected yourself from damage, temporarily stuns your opponent with each hit (Critical Counters). It's barely noticeable at first, but allows much greater combos to be strung out and adds an entire new layer to the gameplay. There is a power gauge, which, when full up, allows Super Special Moves to take place. These are tough to pull of for a newcomer, featuring a bevy of directional presses before they can be unleashed, but are absolutely insane when they land. You won't kill anyone with them unless you've got a combo going beforehand, but they are tremendously satisfying. Chaining together the Critical Counters and ending with a Super Special Move is the pinnacle of KOF XII. SNK have included a simple mode which reduces the complexity of the Special Moves, but it reduces the satisfaction of achieving them quite significantly.

The stages, while low on number, are mostly excellent. The zany backgrounds featuring various cartoon-esque characters who go bananas for your improving performances tie-in perfectly with the art style of the characters battling it our for their acclaim. The music is also spot-on, though again, in short supply. It is this feeling of a dearth of content that really hurts KOF XII. The combat and controls are great, and it certainly has a niche of its own nailed down in the fighting genre. There are cut-scenes (they repeat at the same stage in Arcade mode each time, so don't get your hopes up), which you'll either find embarrassing, or hilarious, and the level of polish and refinement to the game as a package is poor. Despite this, it features leaderboards and an online versus mode (with spectator support), which, although blighted by varying levels of lag on both formats, is a statement of intent from a previously technologically retrogressive series. In single-player, once you get past the dated navigation, you can play Arcade, Versus, Practice and Replay modes (the latter being recordings of Versus and Online matches you can save). Just make sure you read the instructions if you are new to the series (it presents the controls in a much better way than deep into Practice mode's menus), and check out the options menu regardless of your knowledge of the series, as it contains many small tweaks that you can make to enhance your experience.

The combat is cracking.

There is most assuredly still a place for the likes of King of Fighters in today's market, and the series has finally received an upgrade worthy of this generation of hardware. SNK are not stupid, they know what they are good at and the tight controls and beautiful artwork are still hallmarks of their franchise. It is just a shame that after nailing the basics, the level of content falls a way short of what you would expect from a full price game, and indeed, the level of its competitors. A must-buy for fans of the series, a good introduction to the fighting genre, but will very quickly run out of life for those seeking an extensive single-player experience.

- Mike Hazleton

A welcome return for the series
Art direction is masterful
No story and a short Arcade mode disappoints
Missing characters will anger the hardcore
Too few stages


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