Everyone’s playing fighting games these days.
As a dyed-in-the-wool Capcom aficionado, the hype emanating from SNK Playmore regarding the triumphant return of their King of Fighters franchise had me salivating. Eschewing 3D in favour of gloriously chunky hand-drawn sprites, King of Fighters XII looked gorgeous and had the gaming community anticipating a resurrection that promised to make at long last accessible, the fabled deep play mechanics that typifies the KoF series.
And it probably will be, when the developer finally gets around to finishing the game.
Even the most hardened SNK fanatic is going to feel hard done by here, there’s simply not enough for a full-price and until KoF props up the bargain bins, you’ll be expected to pay £39.99 for what is essentially half a game.
For the uninitiated, the King of Fighters is a beat’ em up series with a rich lineage and almost equally fearsome reputation that has gone largely under-appreciated by the masses. You play with teams of three fighters and in XII, you’ll only swap out when you’re beaten.
Unfortunately, the in-game AI is so poor that it’s entirely possible to fight your way through Arcade mode with just one character without the rest of your team even being troubled. Blink and you’ll miss the experience, there are only five matches before the Game Over screen. Don’t expect any distinctive finish either, it’s the same whoever you’ve picked in your team. Oh god, it hurts just writing this.
Because this was meant to be The Return, it’s abundantly clear that deep in the mists of time, there was every intention to produce a definitive KoF that could stand toe-to-toe with the seminal Street Fighter IV, or at least give it a run for its money. There are a few thin rays of sunshine, squint and you’ll clock them. It looks fantastic, the pixel-perfect art is a delight, with lush, rich backdrops (even though you’ll see all of them within about 10 minutes, there are only six and even then two of them are just day/night colour swaps). You’ll be left begging for more. Literally, if you paid money for this game because you’ll see everything there is to see within half an hour, there’s nothing that could be truly deemed as a bonus for console owners: just Arcade, Versus, Training and Online. And an Options screen. You can probably chalk up another five minutes playing with that, if you’re slow.
There’s also a meagre roster to choose from – don’t think you might wring some more value there. Twenty-two characters and there are only about five or six worth spending any time with. But hey, you might say, SFIV only
had 25 in total. Good point but then I wasn’t expected to form a team of three of them and play combinations of the rest. Sure, you can opt to play KoFXII as a one-on-one fighter but that’s not the point and only serves to highlight what else is missing from this quite bland package.
In fact, this doesn’t even really feel like the King of Fighters anymore, SNK have stripped back the game so far it’s in danger of losing its identity. A bit of continuity isn’t going to turn everyone away, an affectionate nod is necessary to acknowledge what has gone before. The two new key concepts, the Critical Counter and Guard Attack don’t really gel. It’ll need some heavy duty investment to get the most out of it and the reward is there, albeit heavily obfuscated by mediocre presentation and a gaming half-life that threatens to last minutes rather than days (yes, days). On a positive note, there’s something to build on here. Street Fighter wasn’t built in a day and each installment invariably had a further iteration correcting and balancing the game a step further. There’s a lot of work to do but the foundation is in place.
If you’ve got another die-hard beat ‘em up freak in the house, there’s more mileage to be had from this game but another human opponent doesn’t come in the box. It’s hard not see this as a sub-par effort from a company that really should know better.
KoFXII screams “rebirth” from the top of its attract sequence. Still birth is more like it.