Three on three, time trial based fisticuffs returns in SNK’s twelfth instalment of the King of Fighters series. KOF has been going on 15 years now and like any other fighting game very little has changed in the core mechanic of this almost annual title. The series originally started by lifting characters from SNK’s Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury franchises and pitting them against each other, with the goal to defeat your opponent in the quickest time possible.
There are a lot of fighting games on the market these days and in order to set it self apart from the Street Fighters, the Tekken’s and Mortal Kombats (insert your preferred fighter here) the KOF series was created with a different brief. Yes, you still beat the hell out of your opponent with your bare hands (and your feet and your standard Newton defying projectiles) but to give it that extra edge, the challenge is to do it as quickly as possible.
With each victory you are given the opportunity to replay the fight with the sole purpose of beating your first time. This opens up potential dilemmas of “what if” to combatants, do you replay your last match with hopes of beating your time or do you progress to the nest stage? You are given just one chance per round to beat your completion time, if you decline and move to the next round you can’t replay it later. If you accept the replay, you run the risk of messing it up and performing worse and wiping your better time.
As mentioned, the essence of the game hasn’t changed a great deal over the years, there has however, been a few enhancements to the formula this time around. The most obvious being a complete graphical over haul, along with tweaking the game play and removing all story elements, or progression seen in the previous titles. What you are left with is a no-nonsense beat ‘em up that’s heavy on style and focus but lacking in other areas like content and variety.
The biggest game play shift is the inclusion of Critical Counter, which is a small bar that activates when you counter an attack with a heavy punch or kick. This then gives you a brief opportunity to retaliate with a powerful combo of moves. Another, slightly move subtly addition the clash system that works only when both fighters attack with the same strength and creates a unique animation for each fighter to separate the two. Aside from this, the gameplay is still fundamentally the same as in previous KOF games, the game still requires less buttons than, say Street Fighter IV but still manages to produce a rich and deep fighting mechanic.
From a graphical perspective, it was decided early on that the game should be built from scratch. As a result both the stages and the characters benefit from a botox injection of crisp, hand drawn sprites and each stage has been given a canvas worthy of the renaissance period. Eschewing the current 3D aesthetic used by SFIV, Tekken 6, and Soul Calibur in fighting games, SNK have favoured the more traditional 2 dimension appearance with flat sprites and expansive backgrounds.
The resulting effect gives the game a pseudo 90′s arcade feel, with each stage brimming with life in the 2D plane and a whole slew of supporting sprites spectating the fight. Each one given the same care and attention as the controllable fighters and their own routine of rudimentary animation. The fighters too, who, while have been given the hand drawn high def treatment have been painstakingly recreated, with all their moves fluidly realised to a level of animation never seen before.
Right from the get go KOF XII offers a roster of 22 characters to choose from, each one from a previous KOF game, or SNK’s back catalogue of games. Of the 22 characters, SNK has decided not to include any new faces included but have given the console version two exclusive additions, they are Mature and Elizabeth.
The unusually large stating rooster of 22 characters may prove quite a daunting prospect for the indecisive gamer, one that will probably see a Darwin esque natural selection manifestation. With so many characters to choose from you will be inclined to try to play as each character at least once to get a feel for how they play. But the likely hood is that the one’s that with perform the best results will undoubtedly get chosen again and anyone else will fall by the way side.
This you could argue can happen with any fighter but the problem presents itself when it becomes apparent that 22 is the magic number and there are no secret characters to unlock. Usually you would have a smaller number of starting characters, giving you a chance to better associate with each fighter and learn their strength and weaknesses. You are then rewarded with more characters after you progress further through the game, not only is this very satisfying you will then be more inclined to learn a new character’s moves.
This brings me to nicely to the carrot and stick philosophy used so heavy in games and which is something KOF XII lacks a great deal of. Sure, you could argue that fighting games don’t really need a story mode, but by removing the previous title’s story arc and not including any story elements makes the game feel cold. There is no connection with the characters and it gives the impression of an unfinished product. Also there are no bonuses for completing the game, nor are there any game play modes out side of single, Vs or online Vs.
With a title so light on features you might expect the online component to be its one saving grace since more and more titles are moving to online multiplayer and both Sony and Microsoft practically building their empires around online gaming. Sadly this isn’t the case, what initially promises to be a continuation of the in depth game play quickly dissolves into lag induced slow-motion matches.