Welcome to your own personal time machine – you can pick any year you like, as long as it’s... 1995. Bizarrely, we mean this in the best possible way; the mid-nineties were a golden age for 2D fighters and everything that made them – and SNK – great is right here. Massive sprites, baseball stadiums to fight in… and just when you think it can’t get any more retro-tastic, a cheesy guitar solo in the vein of Sega’s Victory Goal plays over the end credits. Marvelous.
Matches are three-on-three bouts and the winner stays on with a slight health boost until one team is completely eliminated. After each win, you get the option of one replay so you can try to do it again with a better clear time. Clear all six stages and register your time online. And that’s it. Either you’ll see that as too basic or as SNK genius whittling the game down to the purest essence of challenge. Beat the world, then beat yourself. What more do you need? Well...
...for most gamers, the answer is a lot. But for hardcore fans, it’s nothing. Silky-smooth and perfectly weighted, the game plays like a dream. There’s a Street Fighter-style focus move, the equivalent of Ultra attacks and a delicious assortment of intuitive and deep offensive and counter moves, which are as finely balanced as Capcom’s masterpiece.
However, the problem here is the competition. There’s no way we can recommend this over SFIV by a very long chalk, seeing as Capcom equals or betters it in every department before KoF has even thrown a punch. The number of characters, stages, modes… this really does feel like a shell in comparison. It doesn’t matter how many extra characters and stages are coming as DLC, the fact remains that even Street Fighter II Turbo HD is preferable, being cheaper than this, more accessible to newbies and with higher resolution character sprites.
Playing King of Fighters XII is like having one last go on that wonder-machine in the corner of the arcade from your childhood. And it’s sad in a way that it’s still fighting for things the rest of the world has long forgotten – scaling sprites, smoother animation. No matter how proud this latest installment stands or how loud it roars, it’s still a dinosaur.
Jul 27, 2009