The King Of Fighters XII
For many of us a large part of our childhoods were spent huddled around a 16-bit console, fingers viciously battering away at three chunky face buttons as the tiny television danced in vibrant pixels. Old-school fighting games were serious business. Alongside your Premier League sticker collection and silky skills on the playground’s red ash, sat the mantle of ‘Master of Street Fighter’. Own that and you held the very world in your hands: money, women and sour Chewits.
So it almost goes without saying that the fighting genre has become a tradition for any gamer. From the early days of the SNES to the Xbox 360, you’ve been guaranteed at least half a dozen of them every year, with updates on classic button-bashers now seen by many publishers as legitimate competition for newer franchises. But can a re-mastered retro title really compete with their modern counter parts? The relative success of Street Fighter 2: HD Remix and Capcom vs Marvel 2 on PSN and Xbox LIVE seems to be the proof that they can.
While the recognized rite-of-passage for a generation of British kids was with Capcom’s baby, there is an equally proud and loyal fan base who were brought up on The King of Fighters – a critically acclaimed team-based 2D brawler rival from SNK, which made its name in arcades as well as on multiple console and handheld platforms. To celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the first KOF game – King of Fighters ‘94 – the SNK team have served up a new take on their original instalment, painstakingly re-drawing each individual frame, background and character in a process that was very long, very slow and far, far too horrible to imagine taking part in. So, it’s with a sullen, heavy heart that, despite these endless hours of thankless work, we must report that KOF XII doesn’t look all that pretty. Especially not on a far bigger television than the one you grew up with.
With many re-packaged fighters (the recent aforementioned Street Fighter 2: HD Remix being the best example) undergoing drastic visual revamps to play out at blistering speed through the intense scrutiny of HD set-ups, KOF XII looks and feels every bit a 15-year old game in comparison. 2009 has already seen us blown away by the gorgeous (and staggeringly deep) BlazBlue and the wonderfully rendered sprites of Street Fighter IV, so it’s of no real surprise that someone would drop a clanger somewhere along the line. While the backgrounds are bright and lavish, the lack of variety is jarring and the pixel-heavy characters are blocky and unwieldy, with the result so bad that it directly affects the gameplay, making characters slower and more limited in movement than in the original title. You can turn on a few different filters to blur the edges but the end result only manages to create a set of blurred fighters.
There’s also a distinct lack of single player options, with no story mode whatsoever. Instead players have to make do with a particularly bare-bones Arcade Mode that offers nothing unique in terms of characterisation, based as it is upon a time trial format. For the first time in KOF history there isn’t even an ‘end boss’ or a survival mode. Beyond that, offline and online Versus Mode are the only other options. It’s not just the match-types that suffer from a lack of variety; the series’ trademark of a bulked out roster has been chopped and shaved to a measly 22 fighters with no further unlockables. It may not sound like a big problem when compared to many other modern franchises, but it’s especially small since the original KOF itself involved 24 characters, making this the lightest roster in the game’s history.
In terms of fighter styles and combos, KOF XII sticks fairly close to previous conventions, adding a guard attack (a block-to-counter move that can turn the advantage your way if timed right) and the blow back attack, which is akin to SF IV’s focus attacks. Catch an opponent with this fully charged blow back attack and it’ll stun them, setting your fighter up for a critical strike. And if you deploy the critical counter system, you’ll unleash a volley of rapid attacks in one full swoop.
A lot has been said about the online matchmaking system in KOF XII, with SNK coming under heavy fire from the community, but even with the recent patch the experience is still close to unplayable. The fussy, clunky and poorly designed menus are lumbered with frustrating delays, making matchmaking a nightmare and even if you do knuckle-down and brave the constant pausing and disconnecting, you’re likely to find the actual bout is plagued with lag from the start. It’s a fair disclaimer to label the online side of things as practically broken and not something to look forward to.
At its core, and despite all these negative points, KOF XII is still a relatively good fighting game. But with competition fiercer than ever this latest release feels incredibly lightweight in comparison. There’s little here to recommend, even for the most loyal of fans. Instead, don your best shell-suit, hook up your mum’s old telly to the SNES in the loft and play out your childhood battles with the original. It’s far better.
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