No Frills, But It's Got Heart.
If you're mocking th score I gave this game already, I completely understand. Hear me out, though will you? I believe I have an advantage when it comes to reviewing this game, and it is this: I have never played a King of FIghters game before. I am a complete and total noob. This means I have no basis of complaint for any changes to the characters, the roster itself, or the systems within the game. I am simply able to appreciate it for what it is. The core of it, if you will. And at its core it is fantastic.
Right off the bat, it's apparent to anyone with an appreciation for sprite-based graphics that this game is beautiful. You can nitpick about the rough edges all you want, but it just comes with the territory. It's old-school on steroids. It animates beautifully and with a fluidity and grace that you'll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. All of the effects have such a great sense of pop and flourish, and it all does so with a very steady frame rate. The character sprites are just a bit larger than in most fighting games, but that only allows you to appreciate the detail that much more. The designs for the characters themselves are all very striking, but with a sense of familiarity, in that everyone looks like they belong in a fighting game. Some of the effects, such as the fire or explosions, look kind of "dirty" in a way that's less polished than the rest of the game. Backgrounds are hilariously alive with detail, though their animations are mostly repetitive.
Just your average arcade soundtrack here. Nothing really memorable or special. The character voices are also pretty stock and what you'd expect to be in a game like this. The best sounds come from the hits and the sounds that cue some of the really amazing stuff that I'm about to get to. A saving grace here is that this is one of the few PS3 games where you can import your own soundtrack.
This is where the game just rocks. This is where I basically want to stop writing this review and pick this game up again. The action here is fast and brutal. There is a strong emphasis on the various jump techniques in the game, so you'll certainly be spending some time in the air, attacking from above, etc. There's the standard special moves and supers, depending on character, and the movesets are all so varied that you'll want to experiment relentlessly.
Various gameplay systems within a fighting game are what make it truly unique, and this game has a few great ones that I really wish more fighters would implement.
Critical Counter is a system wherein you fill your CC bar with currency of the game (the giving and recieving of some gorgeous violence). When the bar fills, you'll have a window of time before it drains to land a strong close punch or kick to interrupt your enemy's attack. Upon the landing of said attack, the screen zooms in and the other player is frozen and you are then allowed to mercilessly link attacks until the meter completely drains. What all this means is you create your own punishing combo, and it's just about the most satisfying thing I've ever pulled off in a fighter.
There's a clash system here, where if both players attacks of matching strength connect, they can cancel each other out and if nother player reacts, both are knocked back a little. However, if one or both players is quick enough to react, they can get the upperhand and deal some fast damage.
Guard Attack is great to use for players when they find themselves cornered. When attacked, the player will not only automatically counter-attack, but that attack will send the other player flying across the screen, creating some much-needed space.
Features and Presentation: C-
It goes almost without saying that the online here is borderline unplayable. Seriously, it's bad. Currently Ignition and SNK Playmore are working to correct this problem and I cannot wait until they do. Local multiplayer is where this really shines and where I've had the most fun so far. Sitting down with a buddy or your significant other and just playing the game is a whole lot of fun. The single-player arcade mode is a bit lacking, unfortunately. It's mostly a time trial with little or no story to be found and the AI isn't very challenging.
The menus are a bit on the boring side, and at their worst, confusing an unintuitive. For instance, why can't I back out of character select? Why isn't there an option to deselect a character I chose accidentally or changed my mind on? Adding to that bit of frustration is the fact that there are only 6 stages to be had and one of them is just a night-time version of another stage.
I know a lot of long-time fans are disappointed, and I really do not mean any disrespect to those people with this review. I am simply ignorant of the past entries. That said, the gameplay here really shines through all of its disappointments. SNK has promised DLC in the future, and hopefully it will address all of the games problems and not simply create a better annual sequel. At this point it is very hard for me to recommend buy this at full-price, which is why I'm sort of glad that I didn't. But look, if you like fighting games, or at least games that have some soilid, fast-paced action and some gorgeous visuals, then, at its very core, KOF XII will satisfy you.