August 4, 2009

King of Fighters XII: My Review

KoF XII is available now, and if you've been waiting for it, you should be playing it by now. For those unfamiliar, King of Fighters XII is the latest release in a long running 2D hand-drawn fighter series that has spanned 15 years and at least 10 home console systems, 2 of which were added with this release - the Xbox 360 and the PS3. KoF is mainly known, however, as an arcade title - at least in Japan. KoF has even had spinoffs or collections on 6 handheld systems, including the N-Gage. There was even an RPG released for the PlayStation, but it was only in Japan, where the series enjoys far more popularity than it does here in the States. And there is a film in the works as well.

That being said, despite its decade and a half of history, plethora of spin-offs and availability on many consoles - this is my first real contact with the series.

For fans of the series - this is a must have. Other than a Virtual Console release of KoF '94 on the Wii last year, this is the first time the series has been brought to the next gen consoles. (Side note - when do we get to stop calling them "Next Gen Systems" - they are most definitely no longer "next" they are current and have been for years.) Available on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3, King of Fighters XII is a rebuild of the franchise. Having more than 15 years of games to deal with, the number of characters has grown quite large, on XII, only 22 fighters are available. Also, since this is the era of HDTVs and uber-powerful consoles, all the characters were redrawn and re-rendered for the series, and they look amazing. If you are a fan of the anime style, or 2D drawn fighting games, you'll love the way this game looks.

I can't really speak too knowledgably about the fighting mechanics. I've never been good at fighters and always end up just frantically button mashing until the other guy dies, or I do. But there are special moves, and meters, and combos... just like you would expect.

What I can talk about is the play modes. There are basically 3 ways to play, against other humans online*, against other humans on your same console, or against the computer. There is a bit of a challenge for a non-fighter like me, but even I win more than Il lose against the AI. There's also a Practice mode - but it's mostly unneeded.
*The online is screwed up at the moment, SNK Playmore is working on a patch to fix the problems, and has said that it's best to only play one on one with no spectators until the problem is fixed - see the press release below. these problems, and the stop-gap solution, render the much-hyped "clan" feature as well as the series' signature 3-on-3 fighting useless.
What's lacking is a story mode. I have no idea who these characters are, or why they are fighting. For a fan of the series, this may not be a mystery, but for newbies like me, I have no connection to any of these people, and this game doesn't offer me any way to get one. There are also no boss battles - like Goro or Shang Tsung from the Mortal Combat series. It just seems like there should be so much more to a game with 15 years of content to choose from.

I can't help but compare it to the recent release of Marvel vs Capcom 2 as downloadable content for both the Xbox 360 and the PS3. MvC2 is just a port of a Dreamcast game with a wider view of the battlefield for HDTV screens. But even this old title has more to offer than KoF XII. MvC2 has over 50 characters, more than twice as many as KoF XII. It also offers online play, which is working from what I read, and does 3 on 3 battles, just like KoF XII. MvC2 has the added benefit of most people being familiar with at least some of the characters. You may or may not recognize Mega Man's sister Roll - but you probably know Spiderman. This doesn't help explain why they are fighting each other, (at least DC vs. Mortal Kombat explained that), but it does help you have some idea what the character's strengths and weakeness are, and maybe even what their special moves would be. Another huge benefit of MvC2 over KoF XII is the price - the Downloadable content price is only $15, compared to KoF XII's full retail box price of $59.99.

Bottom line - if you are a fan of the series, you probably already have KoF XII or were planning on getting it before you read this, and my words wouldn't sway you one way or the other. If you are just a fan of 2D fighters and a 360 or PS3 owner, I'd suggest buying the cheaper, more robust, and more convenient CvM2 download. If you're hard drive is full or non-existant (360 Arcade owners), you already own CvM2, and/or you just really really love 2D fighters and can't get enough of them, add this one to your collection.

My score - as is, 2 out of 5, once they get the online problems fixed, 3 out of 5. There just wasn't enough here to get me excited about this game. I hope KoF 13 has more characters, a story mode, some boss battles, and more game play options.

================ Press Release ================

Dear King of Fighters XII fans,

This week’s launch of THE KING OF FIGHTERS XII represents the culmination of four years of hard work to deliver a rebirth for the KOF franchise, but several key issues have arisen since its release that must be addressed. Rest assured that SNK PLAYMORE is fully committed to supporting the King of Fighters XII community by working to further improve the gameplay experience.

We’re pleased to announce that the next software update will address the animation glitch that users have encountered in which Elisabeth’s character sprite becomes “frozen” for the duration of the round when the character Raiden performs a specific move on her.

While software update solutions are being devised, we can offer some tips to those users who are experiencing exceptionally poor online performance. First, we suggest limiting the number of players in a room to two, as the addition of a spectator with a slow connection can currently create latency for all users in the room. Also, if your Internet connection is configured behind a firewall using NAT Type 3, we recommend reconfiguring your setup to utilize NAT Type 1 (for PS3) or an “open” setting (for Xbox 360).

Also, we’d like to take this opportunity to explain one feature of the Xbox 360 version. When playing online with the Xbox 360 version of KOF XII, players who continually battle the same opponent in multiple Ranked Matches in the same lobby will not receive additional True Skill Rank Points. This is an intentional decision to keep players from abusing the system to reap massive rewards by preying on one player. If you want to earn True Skill Rank Points, you must make a new room or leave simply leave the room and come back.

-SNK Playmore

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