[Editor's note: This review also features a video walkthrough.]
It's business as usual for King of Fighters XII. Those familiar with past iterations will immediately feel at home with the title, as most of the series' characters play exactly the same. The series' three-on-three elimination style gameplay also returns.
SNK did add a couple of small additions to the gameplay, however. Players can now pull off Critical Counters, which - given the meter is full - allows players to initiate quick, deadly combos. These are somewhat automated, as striking with the initial blow will trigger the event, then the player only needs to tap a few buttons to pull off a devastating combo. Don't get me wrong: one doesn't simply need to mash buttons for this to work, but its implementation didn't feel like it revolutionized the experience.
There are also cancels now. When an attacking opponent strikes with a certain move, the blocker can time an attack that, should it be of equal damage to the attacker's attack (stay with us), will send the attacker back into a stun animation. It helps turn the tables on more aggressive opponents and rewards patient, calculating players with an opportunity to attack. Thus, its implementation carried much more weight while I played.
I did have an issue with the roster, namely the lack of series staples. Okay, I get that King isn't the most beloved character, but I can't remember the last King of Fighters game she wasn't in. Toss Geese Howard, Billy Kane and Yuri Sakazaki into the pile of missing fighters and you have one game reviewer hyperventilating in his attic.
King of Fighters XII's online component felt like it was also lacking. For one, there's just too many damn menus to go through. I want to get into a room and fight, but I have to tackle menu after menu after menu. Poor design there. Then there's the issue with lag, which plagues King of Fighters' online component throughout.
In the end, this is the same King of Fighters game I've been playing for a majority of my life, without some of my favorite characters, and I just don't feel there's enough substance here to warrant a $60 price tag. This may be the most visually attractive King of Fighters game yet, but it's also one of the most shallow.