The King of Fighters XII Xbox 360
Published by: Ignition Entertainment
Developed by: SNK Playmore
The fighting game genre is one that has stagnated for quite a few years. The move from 2D to 3D was seen by many as being an awkward one, mostly due to camera issues, and some series in the genre didn't even bother making the move at all. 2009 has seen something of a dramatic change in the fortunes of the genre thanks mainly to Capcom's Street Fighter IV (which deservedly scored full marks). Now it's up to other series in the genre to see if they can keep the momentum going.
The modes on offer in The King of Fighters XII are Arcade, Versus, Practice and Online. In addition to these modes you can also view any movies you may have saved in the Versus mode in Replay mode and there is also a Gallery mode which allows you to look at an assortment of artwork which you'll unlock in the game's Arcade mode. None of the modes here are anything you won't have seen before if you're a fan of the genre and in many respects that's a disappointment. Arcade allows you to play through five consecutive fights. You'll pick your three fighters, decide on their order and then play through the different stages. The basic idea is to clear each stage as quickly as possible. Versus mode allows you to play either 3-on-3 or 1-on-1 battles against a friend or AI opponent. Practice mode allows you to either practice against a lifeless dummy or a configured AI opponent.
In truth the single-player modes lack substance and it's only a matter of time before you'll grow tired of it. Eventually you're going to want to play against human opposition and when there are no friends around to challenge it's good to know you can jump online and take on the hardcore fans of the series. You can take part in either an Arcade match, Ranked Match or Player Match which doesn't affect your rankings on the online leaderboards. Online matches are not without occasional lag problems however which is unfortunate as the ability to play online is definitely one of the game's better features.
There are 22 SNK characters available to play as. Unfortunately, there are some absentees, with the most notable being Mai Shiranui. At least the combat system in the game is a pretty solid one. One of the main new additions this time around is the critical counter. When you land attacks, guard or receive damage your critical counter gauge will begin to fill. Once it's completely filled, a critical counter can occur if you counter attack with a strong kick or punch when in close proximity to your opponent. The left analogue stick or the directional pad must not be moved however for a critical counter to be performed. The critical counter temporarily immobilises your opponent allowing you to land a barrage of attacks doing quite a lot of damage. On the whole there's little to complain about with the combat system and it's of the quality you'd expect from the series.
One of the main attractions of The King of Fighters XII is the artwork. Character sprites have been redrawn in high-definition and they really help to give the game a visual edge over previous titles in the series. There is a lot to be said for the character animations too, which really do look good. This is still a 2D fighter however and the characters do have a slightly aliased look to them (which was probably intentional). The animated background visuals for each of the stages, which include rather bizarre cartoon depictions of locations such as China, Russia, France and Egypt, look great and really add to the game's atmosphere. If there's a criticism to be made, it has to be about the lack of stages available. There are only around a half dozen or so and that's really poor. Whether we'll see more available as downloadable content remains to be seen but more should have been included on the disk. The game's frame rate is absolutely fine but it's disappointing to see minor load times between each round during a fight.
The King of Fighters is quite a decent experience for deaf gamers with the cutscenes in the Arcade mode being subtitled but there is some speech that you're going to miss out on. The comments made by the characters during the course of a battle are not subtitled. However the omission of these comments is far from being a disaster but it does mean you're going to miss out on some of the game's ambience. Voice communications are supported for online play but the creator of an online battle can choose to disable voice communications.
It's difficult not to think that The King of Fighters XII should have been better. As a fighting game it's a solid experience and it should satisfy longstanding fans of the series. However, there are a lack of stages, the modes aren't anything exciting and there a few technical issues such as the minor loading times between rounds and performance issues during online play. The single-player game is shallow and should have contained at least a few interesting modes. As an online brawler it gets the job done but it's far from being anything innovative which is a little bit disappointing. Make no mistake, this is a solid fighting game but it's far from being spectacular and it won't lure anybody other than fans of The King of Fighters series.