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If you're a fighting game fan, then these past twelve months have been like heaven for you. Since last November, no less than six 2D fighting games have been released, with a few more on the horizon. For somebody who doesn't play fighting games, they all look pretty much the same, but to fans of the genre there are plenty of differences both large and small.
For a series that normally releases every year, the almost four year break between King of Fighters XI and King of Fighters XII should mean big changes. While I am usually a proponent of taking a game on its own merits, it'd be a foolish decision not to compare it to Street Fighter 4, another high-profile fighting game that has long laid dormant until this year.
First off, the basics: the biggest difference between King of Fighters games and average fighting games is that in King of Fighters, the fights pit two teams of 3 characters against each other, one at a time, instead of the normal one-on-one. Previous installments featured 40+ characters, so the range of possible team dynamics was pretty large. King of Fighters XII, on the other hand, features only 20 characters, and before long, you'll get tired of seeing the same cast.
The King of Fighters XII package is also rather lacking and bland. There's just not a lot to do. The game features an arcade mode that lasts five fights, a bland practice mode, a standard versus mode, and an absolutely horrible online experience, which I'll get to later. Compare these options to Street Fighter 4's choices, a decent length story mode with an end boss, unlockable and extra characters, an objective based training mode, time attack fights, survival mode, versus matches, and a really decent online mode with plenty of options.
Perhaps the biggest issue with King of Fighters XII is the previously mentioned horrible online experience. Fighting games are supposed to be played with friends, and if you don't have a local friend who is into fighting games, the internet is the next best option. In my experience, Street Fighter IV's online ranges from "pretty flawless" to "not too bad" with tiny spurts of noticeable lag. With King of Fighters XII you start to notice lag the moment you get to the character select screen. This is, of course, after you navigate several menus and lobbies and attempt to connect about fifteen times. Back to the character select screen, there's usually a second or so lag between when you press the direction and when it actually registers. After selecting your characters, you're thrown into the match, and instantly, the framerate drops and the game moves like it's in slow motion. Matches take about three times as long as they should because of the random freezing and lag issues, and this is after the first patch to make things faster. I was trying to wait until the new patch released before I submitted this review, but there's no word on when that will be, other than "as soon as we can get it out."
King of Fighters XII's biggest problem is just how bland the game is. The single player's fairly forgettable and ridiculously easy, and the online is completely useless. Combine this with the fact that there are two other terrific fighting games out there for the same platforms, and you get a game that's really hard to recommend to anybody. I guess it's back to Street Fighter IV for me.
Platform(s):Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
ESRB:T for Teen