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King of Fighters has been the main competitor to the world famous Street Fighter series among fighting fanatics for years. With both series over their fling with each other during the beginning of the decade, it’s come time to see if King of Fighters can live up to its name with the 12th installment.

KOF has always prided itself on being a technical fighter.  While it is possible to pick up a character and pull off what looks to be a decent set of moves – only with real dedication can players deal sustainable damage to their opponents. Newcomers to the series may look at KOF as a Street Fighter clone, but under the bonnet people will find a game in a league of its own.

While the game may sport 2D, characters and stages the graphics are anything but simple. Upon entering the first match players will be wowed by the gorgeous hand drawn spectacle and due to this every animation looks fluid and smooth. Hardcore fighting fans will know that 2D fighters on a technical level are superior to their 3D counterparts due to frames of animation that makes contact with hit boxes(the areas on a character that can be hit) millisecond perfect and a fairer more balanced fighter can be created. Unfortunately for KOF12 the hit boxes do seem a little off from time to time, but are infinitely better than SF4’s attempt. Also for reasons unexplained the beautifully presented characters have been sullied by pixilation around the edges, the only possible reason for this to be there is if the developers intentionally added them to give it a more old school feel, with the characters being so nicely presented all this really achieves is spoiling a lot of hard work by the artist.

Beautifully redesigned character animation in 'The King of Fighters XII

In Classic for KOFXII asks for you to select 3 characters which will all fight until they or the other team are down, so with the high learning curve already in place newcomers will have to find 3 characters to master before even attempting the online mode, and believe me when I say master. For the single player mode your options are rather limited with only Arcade mode and Practice being available. Arcade mode consists of 5 battles in which you have to defeat the opposing teams as quickly as possible, no bosses and no story is present with only a brief explanation of the tournament shown. It’s a pretty barren offering with little to do to learn your characters before venturing into the online mode which is full of KOF masters from my experience. Offline multiplayer is present allowing you to play against a friend at home which is pretty much the way most people have encountered the series thus far, but SNK missed a beat not doing more.

A couple of new editions to the fighting system are present this time around, Critical Counter, Guard Attack and Clash. Critical Counter occurs when a player counters with a strong punch, putting the opponent into a stunned mode allowing for a follow up of attacks best topped off with a special move. Guard Attack is somewhat similar to ‘Focus Attacks’ in SF4 (or one parry for the SF3 fans) where-in a player can absorb one attack by the opponent free of damage so that they can follow up with a counter with quick reactions. Clash is when fighters hit each other’s hit boxes at the same time, both characters with enter a clash animation and step back returning to a standing position essentially having nullified each other’s assault.

kofxii Character Select

While new tweaks to the system have been added a large number of characters are missing from the roster. With 22 players available fans will find half the list from the previous game MIA, even some huge fan favourites are strangely absent. Possibly a smaller selection appears due to each character being hand drawn and time ran short, but no matter the reason it feels like a step backwards. It’s not just fighters that are in short supply either, it was earlier mentioned that the single player takes you through 5 rounds, well complete this and you have seen every stage in the game! Much like the fighters, every stage is stunning to look upon, however 5 stages is a poor show with one of the stages being a night time version of a previous level.

On the whole KOFXII feels like a half package, everything is in place for a great fighting game, yet the variety to keep players interested is absent. While players like myself will enjoy sporadic play with friends over the year due to the great mechanics the average player will see this one quickly traded back in. It’s hard to tell if even fans of the series will go for this one with the cast devoid of many fighters that seem inherent to the series, it definitely will be a hard task to interest newcomers and even make them look twice at any future titles. With SF4 being under par to me, I was looking forward to KOFXII to bring the fighting genre back into my playlist, unfortunately SNK have not capitalised on this.

No ladies and gentlemen of Europe KOFXII is not the fighter you are looking for, that title is hopefully coming our way before the year is out. I have had the joy of playing an imported copy of this and our American review can be found here.