King Of Fighters XII

At the ripe age of 15, the King Of Fighters series is having a midlife crisis. Instead of tying together 11 games’ worth of polish into one comprehensive, rejuvenating product, the brawler King Of Fighters XII randomly plucks 22 combatants from the franchise’s history (note: cleavage fans will be dumbfounded by the absence of ample-bosomed Mai Shiranui), improves the graphics somewhat, and calls it a day. In other words, this is a digitized, botched facelift that you can play alone or with friends!

While the revamped fighters are easy on the eye, they’re overshadowed by the meager handful of backgrounds, which are so vibrant, they distract from the action instead of complementing it. (Sometimes the arenas warrant even more attention, due to their Archie Bunker-like levels of suspicious stereotyping: the Egypt stage features countless “Egyptians” worshipping whatever pair of Caucasian combatants happens to be throwing elbows in front of them.) The rest of the game doesn’t benefit from that attention to detail. The controls are awkward and stiff, the menus are boring, some onscreen text requires a microscope to read, the overall package feels lazy and slapped-together, and nobody even bothered to check what English sounds like. (“Select your odor,” the announcer cheerfully intones. “Lound one, leady… go!”)

Even worse, if you aren’t into online play, there’s little comfort to be found in the game’s single-player campaign, a five-stage time-trial championship that can be beaten in 10 minutes, tops. The tournament is interspersed with up-to-the-minute action-news coverage that has the audacity to imply excitement, but is completely generic and unrelated to your gameplay.

To fully put KOFXII into perspective, an apt comparison would be Street Fighter, another long-running fighting-game series that earlier this year finally leapt onto current-generation consoles with a highly stylized reboot. But whereas Street Fighter IV (the franchise’s 13th installment) fully embraces and builds on what originally made those games such classics, KOFXII ultimately suffers from a heavy-handed dose of revisionist history. With 22 fighters, this stands as the worst-attended KOF game to date, and as the series still largely relies on team battles, the limited mix-and-match options are particularly annoying. Much like that souped-up Corvette in the neighbor’s driveway, the fancy graphics here are just compensating for deficiencies elsewhere.

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