Hit me with your best shot
I remember playing Street Fighter in the arcades and pushing coin after coin into that game, then I remember the first King of Fighters game and it all comes flooding back under the weight of gaming years. Now we're onto the 12th instalment of the game and whilst it has some new gameplay mechanics it feels in some ways a bit of a step back from previous KoF as well as a step forwards.
There's no story mode or lavish cut scenes here, there's a feeling that it's been stripped out to provide a return to the Good Old Days of simplicity. There are new game mechanics that have been added, borrowing somewhat from Street Fighter. You have a Super Meter that builds from you taking damage, once it's full you can let rip with your Super Move. There's no Desperation this time around though, that's gone, so you can't just whack out a Super Move when you're low on health, ad-infinitum.
There's a Deadlock feature now where both characters get shoved away if they connect at the same time with a blow. There's the guard attack from Street Fighter, where your attack absorbs damage before it triggers and something called Critical Counter. Once you get a Crit Counter bar at full you get the chance to do a hard or fierce counter at the right time, get it right and you'll drop your opponent into a Stun Status where you're free to punish them with a customised combination of attacks.
The new features work pretty well and there are no real glitches. The CC system gives you a damaging set of combos that might seem way too powerful at first, but like UFC's flash knockouts, this means you can turn a fight around in an instant. Guard attacks can be used to defend against other moves, sucking the damage down to nothing and getting the hit to land regardless. Deadlock is useful to dash in and punish your opponent as they reel from the knockback.
The way that the hunter can turn into the hunted in the game adds a nice psychology to the battles, always making the player aware that the tide can change at any time putting you on the defensive in an instant or allowing you to cripple your opponent's defences and make you the victor. The game's controls do have a bit of a steep learning curve to them and they can punish mistakes early on, once you've mastered the moves though you'll be free to dominate the arenas without too much trouble.
There's a sense of speed to the KoF XII game that isn't quite as frenetic as some of the other games, but it's still lightning fast and pretty smooth. There are only 22 characters to play with compared to other KoF games and some of these are cut-down from their earlier incarnations, lacking in Super Moves or offensive options. The balance seems a bit skewed in some places but it's nothing that you can't work around.
As stated before previously, there's no Story Mode, just an Arcade Mode that pits a team of 3 fighters (no tag ins are in this game) to fight in the order you choose on 5 stages against other teams of fighters, no boss battles are present and there's some slight narration from news reporters and so on that serves as a bit of story (very thin on the ground). The Arcade Mode really feels like a time trial though.
There's versus mode and of course online, but we'll come to that a little later.
There are no 3D graphics here, just high resolution 2D hand-drawn characters and settings. The arenas are quite nice and the overall design, drawing, animation and feel of the graphics add a retro 80's atmosphere to the game. This is by far the best animated and drawn iteration of the long running brawler and whilst the characters can become slightly pixilated when they get up close, it is still a nice looking and well drawn game. These new sprites have a great colour palette and they are gorgeous to look at, especially when in motion since the animation is fluid and much better than previous games of the series. All the stages are typical of this kind of game, whilst lacking in variety, fighting in front of a crowd and so on, they are well done and well drawn.
It does what it has to in Arcade Mode, offers a reasonable challenge and has no badass boss characters to challenge you. All in all, that's quite disappointing in a way.
Good quality audio in terms of battle sounds are combined with some typical spot effects, it works and there's not much more we can say about that.
The music to the game lacks the frenetic J-Pop feel of many other games but the score is decent and it sounds Ok. It's certainly better than some of the other fighting games; Street Fighter IV's menu music comes immediately to mind.
Bad, as typically bad voice acting as one can get. The dialogue is also poorly written, but we don't often play brawlers for Oscar winning performances or scripts, so they can be forgiven.
The online portion of the game is a bit of a mess with laggy matches and a few other issues; it's annoying that you can't search for a game based on the latency of the players. There's an arcade lobby, custom matches and of course ranked matches. With the co-op Clan Battle you and two other friends can battle other Clans, a nice way to showcase the game's 3 on 3 play style, or it would be if there was less lag in the game. There have been patches but even for us, there was a noticeable amount of lag on certain games. One in ten games in fact.
If you're a fan of the series or you want another fighter to add to your collection, you could do worse than this one. KoF XII feels decent but it also seems to be a bit of a throwback in a way, the lack of a story mode doesn't really bother us but it could potentially put players off. The speed is decent but the butchered online play actually damages the game and since most of the value comes from this feature, it's a pretty hefty blow in that respect. We can recommend the game, as long as you're willing to work around the shortcomings and faults.