SNK Playmore’s long-awaited sequel to its King of Fighter’s franchise released with such vigor that it received best game of E3. Fans of the series were excited. This would mark a first in the series that an SNK release would reach mainstream saturation. During its development, SNK Playmore promised redrawn HD sprites, smooth animation, and a new engine. Known as a rebirth of the series, SNK fans everywhere rejoiced as the title reached its July 2009 release.
Unlike the KOF games before it, KOF XII offers a linear selection of 20 fighters to choose from. Fan favorites like Mai, Yuri, and King were mysteriously omitted from the release. The team combination function is still present, but it is not possible to complete team favorites. For example, Iori and Mature are present, but Vice is nowhere to be found. It’s odd-ball variations like this that make you scratch your head in confusion.
The tournament is spread across 5 stages with one being at night. You read it right; there are only 5 selectable stages in this version. There is no story mode either. Once you have completed each stage (and have your best time) the game ends. There is no patented, cheap SNK boss waiting for you at the end. While the lack of a story, stages, fighters, and boss is a letdown, the beefy single player mechanics make up for it. Everything controls like a dream. It doesn’t matter if you’re countering your opponent’s move or executing a special attack; everything feels rock solid while you’re playing. Even beginners will find the game easy to pick up and play.
The AI in single player mode is where the game really lacks. Fighting games should be challenging in single player mode, but not in KOF XII’s case. Fighters will literally stand in one corner and kick and punch. Others will act like personal punching bags and never block. This will happen no matter what difficultly setting the game is on.
A new gameplay mechanic has been added called The Critical Counter. This system requires good timing on the player’s part and a close-range hard punch to activate. When this happens, the action zooms in on the fighters allowing the player to attack using a combination of kicks and punches. These can be chained together for a devastating combo. While gimmicky in some ways, it does add a certain element to the action. This system can be easily abused if you learn the timing involved so watch out when facing against seasoned opponents.
KOFXII also offers online play like most fighters. Problem is, the netcode suffers from major stability issues. It is difficult to find a decent yellow connection opponent that can host a game that isn’t like a slideshow (which is quote unfortunate). Publisher Ignition listened to its fans (which is rare for a game publisher) and approached SNK about writing a new patch to fix the issues plaguing online play. Unfortunately, since its release in July, the patch has not launched, making it a frustrating affair for all involved. KOFXII shines most as a versus fighter. If online play is hindered, there isn’t much left.
SNK Playmore promised gamers a rebirth with this title. While the graphics are astoundingly beautiful, high-definition they are not. Fighters like Terry Bogard are massive with bulky muscles, but when the action zooms in, everything begins to pixelate. It’s not painful to the eyes mind you, it’s just not high-definition as promised. Regardless of this fact, you can still tell that countless hours were spent on the graphics. The stage of rich fat women cheering on the fighters is a phenomenal piece of artwork. While they bounce around and cheer the fight on, large whales leap from the sea into the sky. This is a breath-taking experience that must be seen. Even the music is a good selection of rock-and-roll type beats that keep up with the pace and compliment the environments.
You can see where SNK Playmore was headed with this title; it’s a shame it fell short. Hampered by lame single player AI and horrible online play (with a patch fix sitting in limbo), it is difficult to recommend this title to anyone serious about fighting games. It shines brightly as a two-player experience, but if you don’t have someone to play with, you’re stuck with a terrible online system that hardly ever works. Maybe when the patch releases, KOF XII will rise above its faults as the great fighter it should have been. As a fan of the series since KOF ’94, I had high expectations going into KOF XII. Like many others in my place, I was disappointed. Here’s hoping that SNK Playmore can straighten things out and make things right for a change.
Mike ‘STGuy1040’ Pittaro
Score: 3 out of 10