Friday, 16 October 2009

[247] King of Fighters XII: Coulda Been a Contender

I feel a little sorry for SNK (SNK Playmore, really). They have a couple of very solid, recognisable, cult franchises in their catalogue, yet they seem unable to use them effectively on contemporary platforms. This time last year came Metal Slug 7, a short DS game that showed little innovation, and few thrills for any but the blindly obsessive. More recently, they released King of Fighters XII, the latest in the long-running 2D fighter series. It is not a triumph, for a number of reasons. I've had a chance to kick back with the game a little over the last week or two, so will spill some thoughts from my brain.

One of King of Fighters XII's most immediate design choices is its incredibly stripped back single player mode. The primary mode is a 5 stage 'Time Trial' set-up, with none of the story modes, survival modes or other variants that can be found in other fighting games. The game's central mechanic involves the player picking a team of three characters (not unlike Marvel vs. Capcom 2), and the matches are played out in rounds until the either team of three fighters are defeated. It is certainly a nice spin on the fighting formula, especially from a tactical point of view - and creates some wonderfully triumphant moments, where the one player comes back from the brink of defeat, using their last fighter.

However, there is very little incentive to play. The Time Trial mode can be easily completed in just over 10 minutes, with no unlockable characters or other game-enhancing rewards. Even though it is a cheap design ploy in other games, having unlockables hidden behind 'completing' a story mode with multiple characters invites the player to try different members of the roster. Here, the 22 character strong cast is more overwhelming than inviting.

Which leads me on to my main issue with fighting games (and I count myself as a mild fan of the genre): they're not very accessible. Of course, you can pick up the controller, blindly choose some characters, and button mash to your heart's content - you might actually beat your opponent! - but if you want to get even a small understanding of the intricacies and subtleties of the gameplay, you have to be ready for hours of hard graft, trial and error, and pedantic obsessiveness.

Even with the decades of development and evolution of the genre, fighting games still haven't found a good way to introduce new players other than, well, playing until your fingers bleed. However, King of Fighters XII does itself no favours by lazily printing basic technique instructions in the manual, or by hiding movelists in a pause menu screen (which takes a painstaking number of seconds to load). Street Fighter IV made a bold step by giving new and returning players a helping hand with its Challenge Mode - which taught special attacks and simple combos with on-screen instructions - but even that was somewhat flawed.

If strategy games are computerised board games, then fighters are computerised sports. They cannot be taught by reading books or looking at lists of icons - they need hands-on tutorials. Even then, however, the serious player needs to develop their own instincts, and an on-the-ball familiarity with the mechanics of the game - when to use certain combos, when to block, when to throw, and so on.

Certain games, like Street Fighter, have become so mainstream that their move sets have become part of pop culture knowledge; that 'quarter circle forward + punch', the input for a hadouken fireball, is seen on t-shirts is a fine example. But it's not that King of Fighters XII is a complicated game - in fact, it has less active buttons than Street Fighter IV - it's just that the quirks of its system aren't communicated effectively. The 2D fighting genre, like to a certain extent the platforming genre, is so overshadowed by one franchise, that different games need to telegraph their distinctive aspects to new gamers.

That's where King of Fighters XII slips up. It doesn't invite deep gameplay, unless you're willing to venture online, which is a whole different story. The online space for KOFXII is underpopulated, and prone to obscene bouts of lag. The implementation is flexible, however, with options for winner-stays-on or loser-stays-on tournaments in a room-based set-up, where up to 8 players can hang out, take turns, and spectate. Unfortunately, the lag makes both playing and sitting through games a horrendous chore. So, until I convince someone with patience to spend time with me on the sofa, King of Fighters will most likely gather dust.

It's a shame, because there is a good game in there. It is a much faster game than Street Fighter IV, especially where jumps and dashes are concerned. Quick jumps mean that even the larger characters can cover most of the arena area in a good amount of time, making the fights more dynamic and speedy.

The aspect that the games flaunts the most though, is its HD (meaning both high-def and hand-drawn) 2D graphics. While the character designs and animations are nice, there is a strange, pixellated jaggedness to them, which stands out against the smooth, expressionistic lushness of fighting games like BlazBlue or Battle Fantasia. Also, in comparison with those games, King of Fighters' art style looks a bit generic, even outdated. This is especially seen in other areas of the presentation, from the lazy title screens, to the underwhelming arenas (only 6, one of which is a duplicate), that feature non-sensical, incongruous backgrounds with a few frames of repeated animation.

This makes King of Fighters XII look buggy, incomplete, and clunkily old-fashioned when laid alongside its peers - heck, it doesn't even look that good alongside the fighters now available on Xbox Live Arcade, such as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Apart from a minor spit and polish, it does little to reinvent itself, let alone reinvent its genre.

King of Fighters XII is out now.

- For more details about King of Fighters XII, visit
- To purchase the Quarter Circle Forward + Punch t-shirt, visit Zazzle.


Emmi said...

Good post! The reason why I don't like fighters that much is exactly what you said. I'm not obsessive or patient enough to properly learn all the moves and prefer button bashing and lets face it, it's never going to get me anywhere apart from maybe against another basher. So in the end I get frustrated and give up. It's a bit annoying, I think, because in I'd really like to enjoy them more. But then, I don't know, maybe this is more a problem with me than with the genre. Nevermind. Anyway, I liked your article.

DrKeithCurrie said...
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viagra online said...

well as a player since KOF 94, this announce take me for surprise, a new KOF to take my opponents and make my job, crush them all, as in my old time.