canuckeh's The King of Fighters XII (Xbox 360) review

Some very powerful hair

 

Call the King of Fighters a precursor to emo culture if you will. A bunch of pale, teenage, sometimes-effeminate male fighters (and masculine-female fighters that are at least a bit more gender-obvious, if just because of their big boobs) flinging fire, ice, crystal or blood-attacks with either the greatest of ease or angst. In a way, the King of Fighters series is like the many “underground” emo bands my friend frequently indulges me in, whom use their “underground-ness” (aka, their lack of success) as a credibility shield against my remarks that these guys sound a lot like the mainstream acts. With that analogy in mind, does that make Street Fighter the Good Charlotte of video games?

Let me try to reel back in every SNK fan I’ve just alienated. Condescending remarks aside, King of Fighters games are often either really good or really damned great in regards to their status in the 2D fighting arena. So it does put a smile on my face to see that SNK (or whatever company calls themselves “SNK” in 2009) has kicked the Neo Geo to the curb and designed a fighting game for today’s consoles and today’s Tweeting generation.

King of Fighters 12 is vintage sprite-based, semi-androgynous fighting game action, but with all of the artwork redrawn for the high definition era. Those old character sprites that have been used, abused, stripped apart and posted as animated GIFs on fan pages have been replaced by newer, more organic morsels of art that will dance and dazzle your television screen. There are 22 characters, small by SNK standards but more than enough compared to other games on the market. Odds are, at least one of your personal favorite characters wound up not making the leap into this game (it’s probably the one with the heftiest cleavage. You know her.) You’ll also feel that several characters simply don’t have as many offensive attacks at their disposal as before. So despite the artistic revamping, the game does feel a bit lightweight in comparison to its predecessors, let alone newer games like Blazblue.

In fact, a recurring sensation you’ll encounter throughout King of Fighters 12 is that the game as a whole feels barren. There are only five background stages, so you’ll get plenty acquainted with the jumping fat ladies or the giant stadium. There’s also the game’s Arcade Mode, which rather shocked me.

Longtime players of this series will know how far-fetched the storylines of these games tend to be. It seems that each year, a mysterious sponsor sends questionable invitations to the world’s best fighters to enter a KOF tournament. And each year, the “sponsor” turns out to be an evil supervillain bent on using the tournament for world domination or some other twisted measure. It boggles my mind how these fighters keep falling for this exact same trap year after year. Stay at home, enter actual fighting tournaments, use your fireball attack in the UFC Octagon, do SOMETHING more productive than play cannon fodder for the tyrant of the month.

But oh no, King of Fighters 12 is different! This tourney has gone legit! The arcade mode of this game consists of an actual tournament, with reporters, office workers, secretaries, the works! This could very well be the first legitimate athletic competition in SNK history. Now, the downfall to this healthy competition is a throwaway Arcade Mode; your team of three fighters fights 5 other teams, your combined time is tabulated, and therein decides a winner. Yes, the Single Player mode in King of Fighters 12 is a Time Trial! Jesus! It’s enough of a crock to make me use the Lord’s name in vain.

So to really appreciate this game, you’re going to need to play it with other people. Those people…are just going to have to come from your immediate social group. The online play can best be described as “inconsistent” and, at worst, “as smooth as Iori’s hair is considered fashionable.” Some games will run smoothly, most will have crippling lag. And with the game having been available for about two months as of this writing, the odds seem to be in favor of the developers ceasing to care about the user experience.

Which is a shame, because a good online mode would give this game some legs. The character roster, so far as I can tell, feels balanced. Slight tweaks like the Critical Counter (a super-counter that, if timed right, stuns your opponent and opens up the hurt) tweak the game enough to not feel like a complete clone of its predecessors. And I feel as though if you had a network of fellow KOFfers, that you waste away many a long weekend with Terry, Kyo and all your old, unageable friends.

But if you don’t have that network of Neo Geonites, then there is little of value waiting for you within this game, let alone to justify the $70 price tag. But if anything else, the King of Fighters 12 represents a building block of which future games in the franchise could stack themselves on, laying brick upon brick upon cleavage-laced brick until the foundation of a great fighting game can stand firm against the winds of destitution and suffering. The less pretentious version of that statement; wait for sequels.

3 stars

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