Summary [ 5.5 out of 10]
King of Fighters XII brings the long running mash up series into current gen but developer Ignition apparently didn’t notice as there is very little upgrading or innovation going on here. This ‘effort,’ if you can call it that, looks and plays last gen and charging $60 for this should get you 10 to 20 and count as at least two strikes.
It can be an amusing distraction if you are playing against someone sitting next to you but mostly just makes you think of other fighting games you’d rather be playing and maybe that you should go and see about cleaning the toilet.
I’ve at least dabbled in just about all of the major fighting game franchises since I was in high school. I always found the SNK fighters fun and interesting if not particularly original. The King of Fighters series is something of a best of collection of those games although it disregards Samurai Shodown and World Heroes. The series has seen iteration after iteration over the years and this one was meant to revitalize the series.
I haven’t played King of Fighters in years so I am not sure how much the most recent installments have flagged in quality but if this is a step-forward then I am surprised those games actually booted up when you pressed the power button. The game retains the three-on-three format in which you choose three characters and fight against your opponent’s three. If one of your fighters loses, the next one steps up while your opponent’s health bar refills a bit for the next brawl. There is no ‘tag-team’ option to swap characters but you do get to set the order in which to use them. And that is pretty much all there is to the game.
- Other Fighting Games: Seriously, spend an hour with this one and it doesn’t matter how burnt out on Soul Calibur 4 or Street Fighter 4 you are, they play like a dream.
- The Engine: The fighting engine is pretty solid. It isn’t the best or most exciting gameplay you will find but there is nothing really wrong with the basic mechanics of the engine. There are combos and strategies that work well and the character balancing is generally okay. Some of the special moves and attacks have strange trajectories and ranges but when used properly they fit well with the stylized characters. At its most basic level, the fighting system works with no major hiccups.
- Animation: All of the actions and movements are fluid and have just the right amount of style. The dynamic camera is used to good effect zooming in and out during the action and the movement looks really good.
- Character Design: The character design here is interesting and quirky. Some of the characters are fairly standard, but the majority of them are stylized and different. The hair in particular is noteworthy.
- Local Multiplayer: Playing with someone in the room with you is pretty fun. Because the engine is solid and hopefully your friend isn’t brain dead you can have some decent fights this way. You are given the option to do a straight one-on-one fight or the full three-on-three brawl. The special moves are flashy and using a pink haired school girl with sparkly magic to knock Terry Bogard on his ass is pretty funny and great for trash talking.
- Controls: The controls are pretty responsive even with the 360′s garbage d-pad. An option for Simple special moves helps level the playing field if you don’t have a fight stick or a decent fighting game controller.
- Graphics: While the animation is top-notch the same cannot be said for the graphics. The game looks so pixelated that it would be at home on the SNES. Maybe I am spoiled at this point but the characters and backgrounds have more blocks on them than a 10-round game of Tetris. The lighting is really weird too. I think it was meant to suggest shadows but mostly it just looks like you are playing at an arcade where the monitor is about to go out. Things look intermittently fuzzy and the pretty animation gets buried in murkiness. One would think that putting a game out for the first time on current gen consoles would mean the hand drawn animation style would be sharp and detailed but one would be wrong. I think that there is a distinct possibility that I could produce smoother and more detailed characters with the basic art program on my lap top. Don’t let the screen shots fool you, when you start playing the game you will wonder if it is the same one.
- Presentation: Everything about the presentation is lack luster. The goofy anime scenes in the beginning, middle and end of the game look and sound terrible and add absolutely nothing to the proceedings aside from irritation and they take away precious seconds of your life that you will never get back. The menus are bland and difficult to navigate. This seems like a small thing but if you choose the wrong character, which happens easily as there is lag when you highlight a portrait to display the character name and model, you are unable to back out of the selection. You have to quit to the main screen and start again.Finding options is annoying and reconfiguring the controls for a fighting stick takes far longer than it should. The stage backgrounds look really bad and make no sense at all. One stage is set in Paris and features a crowd of fat women eating at tables and having epileptic fits while watching the action. At the end of the fight, a killer whale breeches and arcs behind the crowd. I have no idea why. The voice work is bad too but that is going to get its own bullet point.
- The Voice Work: Alright so I get that they wanted to have the ring announcer sound Asian. I hated when Street Fighter went to an effeminate dude saying ‘Go for BROKE!’ in the Alpha series but even he would beat what is offered up here. At the very least they could have gotten someone who can pronounce English properly. As it stands the girl sounds like Alex Borstein’s Mrs Swan character from Mad TV. I understand that in Japanese the R sounds like an L but having the announcer say ‘LEADY? LO!’ really doesn’t cut it and might actually be offensive to Asians. It is offensive to my ears anyway and I think I am owed reparations.
- No Mai: This is criminal and cost the game a whole point. What were they thinking? She even showed up in a Samurai Shodown game for godsakes and that wasn’t even era appropriate. And yeah I know she wasn’t playable and just showed up during a character’s ending but her boobs were there and that is all that matters. Poor form.
- Variety: There is none. You have a six match arcade mode, a versus mode and a training mode. That is it. Nothing unlocks, there are no extras. When you can conceivably beat the game in under 6 and a half minutes (there’s an achievement for it) you can see that this will get old very quickly. The first time I sat down with it, I beat it four times and used the remaining 20 minutes in that hour to clean out the cat box and put a pizza in the oven. Every-time you come back to play it is the same thing over and over again. Sure fighting games tend to be repetitive but most of them at least try to give you a reason to come back. Given the broken presentation and aesthetics this game seems to be DARING you to come up with a reason to play. So far masochism is the only reason I can think of that stands up to scrutiny.
- Online Multiplayer: Wow. I can’t say enough bad things about the online component. One of the coolest things about the current gen for fighting games is the ability to play other people without having to have them over to your place or go out to an arcade. Given how bad this feature is on KOF XII I wish they hadn’t even included it. Now I have nightmares about Street Fighter IV behaving this way and it makes me cry. Playing against another person online in this game is sort of like watching one of those flickering shadow boxes that animates herky jerky characters on the wall by spinning while light shoots through only with less control. The laggiest NES game in history didn’t lag as much as online battles do here. It flickers so much that I was afraid I was going to get a migraine. In a game like this with few features, a solid multi-player could have really saved it. As it is, it just sank it further in a sea of regret and squandered potential.
- Control Assignments: This is an odd bullet point because the engine is generally good and the fighting is okay but some of the characters have odd control assignments. KOF XII follows the standard fight game conventions of quarter circles forward and back and charging either back or down and then forward or up. Nothing new here, but in certain cases it seems like the control assignments for the moves were counter to the moves’ intent and got in the way of proper usage. The best example of this is Leona Heidern who is an odd charge fighter. She has an air cancelling move and a sword slash to ward off an advancing opponent. The control assignments for this are backwards and counter intuitive. If someone is performing a jumping attack, it make sense to do a defensive crouch, which would charge the move, and then pop up to counter attack. In Leona’s case the move is a charge back and forward which tends to move your character out of range of the attack and renders the move useless. Likewise, charging down when someone is advancing on you spoils the flow of movement and makes this a hard move to hit with. Things like this take away from any sense of polish and hurt the over all experience.
- Lack of Story: In my Street Fighter IV review I suggested that I would prefer no story to a half assed one that made no sense. KOF XII has made me rethink this. If you aren’t up on the series you would have no idea at all who any of these people are and why they are fighting. Having no context for the characters is a drag and in the absence of ANY other substance in the game it hurts that much worse.
Conclusion [5.5 out of 10]
I am not sure what happened here. Maybe the game was in development before there were worthwhile fighters on the market and they thought they didn’t need to make any sort of effort but with Blazblue (which I haven’t played but hear wonderful things about) and Street Fighter IV out at retail and plenty of 2D arcade fighters available online this game looks that much worse.
The gameplay can be fun but you have to work to find that fun far harder than any game should require. If it weren’t for the solid local multiplayer, it would have scored a two or three. As it is, if you have to play every KOF XII game there is as some kind of psychosis then rent it. If you buy this thing at retail at any price then you make the baby Jesus cry as well as causing God to kill a kitten. Please, think of the kittens.