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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


King of Fighters XII (Playstation 3)

There's been a pronounced resurgence in classic versus fighting games over the past few months and the latest combatant to enter the ring is the long-running King of Fighters series. The latest installment, KOF XII brings streamlined play mechanics and upgraded graphics to the table and delivers what players have come to expect from the franchise. It's 22 characters offer a mix of familiar and new characters, with many modes of play included as well. The move list and fighting system has been simplified to allow newer players to perform special attacks with much less effort. This makes for a more accessible title that delivers traditional 2D fighting, but the question is whether there's enough depth to keep players satisfied or is KOF XII more flash than substance. Look inside as we take a look inside the game and discover the answer.

The release of KOF XII is being promoted as a rebirth of the long-running franchise. SNK Playmore has retained many of the familiar elements and characters of the series, several new enhancements that make the game feel updated. The first thing players will probably notice is the smaller than usual character roster. Instead of the massive group of characters to choose from, there's a slim selection of about 20 characters. Many of these are returning favorites like Joe Higashi, Terry Bogard, Iori, Ryo, Ash Crimson and other fighters. There are also many new characters as well and this helps the game achieve a balance between familiar and unknown. Players can choose from several game modes though since KOF XII is aimed at beginners, the practice mode will probably get used first. Players can also look at artwork in gallery mode or choose to play against friends in versus or online. While fun, these are basically side quests and the main part of the game lies in arcade mode. Unlike the last few installments, the arcade mode in KOF XII looks back to the first few games and only allows you to play in 3-on-3 matches. You pick the three characters you want to use and the order in which you fight. Choosing a well balanced team with different strengths and weaknesses helps to keep the victories coming, but consistency is also important since you'll be jumping between the characters during each round. Once selected, you cannot swap out the characters during a match. Once you're fighting, you'll find many of the familiar moves have been replaced by the new Critical Counter system. Its a fairly straightforward system. You build up the Critical Counter gauge by performing attacks, blocking and other special moves. Once this has been filled up, it begins to flash and allows you to perform a critical counter move, which is a supercharged attack mode that allows you to chain combos much easier. These only require a simple press of the d-pad in the direction you want to attack, followed by single button presses. While your opponent can moderately block these attacks, they are still quite effective. These Critical Counters live up to their name, because If you perform these correctly, you can inflict huge amounts of damage on your opponent. However, they also tend to unbalance the game and make it a bit too simplistic in this regard. You can easily attack your opponent and drain enough of their life bar to make a victorious bout almost a forgone conclusion.

Beyond this, KOF XII's gameplay system has been further streamlined since most special attacks and complicated moved have been removed from play. This makes things even more watered down and simplified which means that veteran fighters won't have too much difficulty beating the game. This means it lacks the depth that previous KOF titles have been known for, and it feels shallow in the end. The other side is that this approach works and makes things more accessible for novice players. Its easier to perform combos makes the pacing different but also changes the strategy substantially because it makes you more reliant on performing the combos than the basic punching and kicking moves that made the older games so balanced. KOF XII's gameplay moves at a moderately fast pace against CPU opponents, and while they put up a fight at the harder levels, they are generally predictable and thus easily countered by experienced players. Another drawback to the single player experience is the fact that the arcade mode is really a time attack mode, and doesn't offer much else to do. You can choose to play against a friend in the Versus mode, which allows you to do battle with a single character or choose to go online and fight it out there. However, we found the online mode to be a little jerky and lagged a lot, which made the experience less exciting than we expected it to be. The online component is definitely the weakest aspect of KOF XII and can only be seen as a disappointment. With its limited roster of characters and stages, the game feels too short. The fact that each round uses 6 fighters between the two teams makes things feel even more monotonous, which doesn't help matters. There's a link to an online store where extra items might become available at a later date. This approach of offering downloadable content for a fee is annoying, but seems so prevalent these days that it's almost pointless to complain about.

What makes KOF XII look substantially different from the many recent releases is the new graphics engine, which presents the series with a much-needed upgrade. KOF XII retains the hand-drawn characters and backgrounds from previous titles, but gives them all a reworking for the HD era. Its character animations are smooth and vibrant with impressive frame-rates, and a smooth appearance that makes their movements fluid. Each of the returning characters retains their classic look and feel and the new renderings of familiar faces gives them a new, yet familiar look. The new sprites are a much-welcomed change and give KOF XII a more current feel. However, some of the backgrounds put the action in shadow, making it hard to differentiate between players which can be frustrating. There aren't that many stages to begin with but some repeat in arcade mode, making for a somewhat monotonous feel that sets in after a few games. The soundtrack is fairly standard SNK-style hard rock which fits the mood and lives up to expectations; however it doesn't exactly thrill with innovation. KOF XII's menu system is decent for what it offers, but the interface feels a little plain. SNK Playmore deserves credit for renovating the look of the franchise without losing the essence of the series and successfully transitioning their classic 2D approach to HD screens. From a control standpoint, the game plays about as well as can be expected. We reviewed King of Fighters XII on Playstation 3 using a standard dual shock controller which offered fairly decent performance and reaction time, and allowed the use of both analog an digital pads. This approach should work for causal players, but the hardcore will probably want to use something like Hori Fighting Stick 3, which offered better performance and a more accurate arcade-style feel. While the gameplay shouldn't change, fighting games are one of those genres where the controller can make a huge difference.

With KOF XII, most of what's made the series so appealing over the years has been retained an those elements that have become stale, such as the date character sprites, have been given an impressive makeover. While the simplified control scheme might be a turn-off for hard-core players, the added accessibility gives KOF XII a pick-up-and-play appeal that some of the most recent installments have lacked. Many of the earlier games have been recently reissued on a number of platforms as well, making comparisons and contrasts easy to make for most players. While KOF XII isn't quite as good as some of the earlier installments like KOF 97 or 98, it's still much better than the awkward 3D attempts seen in titles like KOF: Maximum Impact or the more recent KOF 2006. Its definitely a throwback to the initial games and in this sense it's successful at bringing the gameplay back to its core. Gamers used to the more elaborate and complex combo and special systems used in more recent games will probably be disappointed that these moves aren't here, but the more casual fighting fans might enjoy the streamlined controls, updated graphics and tight controls. While some players will find much to fault in this latest edition and focus on what's missing. However, if you take the opposite approach and focus on what's there, you'll find a satisfying fighter that delivers an engaging 2D fighting engine.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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