I'll try get through this hands-on preview of The King of Fighters XII without mentioning Street Fighter IV. Oh crap....
My bad. Oh well, on the upside, it's out of the way, freeing me up to talk about this next-gen-powered reinvention of one of the most-loved fighting game series ever without reference to that other fighting game... ah to hell with it. The unavoidable fact is that most fighting game fans will be punch drunk on Street Fighter IV's intoxicating cocktail. It might have only come out four months ago, but it's still the only thing keeping many going on Xbox LIVE and PSN. So, the question is: why should you care, let alone be interested in SNK Playmore's fighter?
Playing a preview build that feels about as finished as any preview build I've ever played, I'm struggling to answer that question myself. At first glance it's remarkably similar to Capcom's classic. There's an arcade mode, a versus mode, training, online play and a replay mode. Special moves are based on half circles, quarter circles and dragon punch motions. You can dash back and forward. Blocking is directional, not an input command. Throwing is two buttons and back or forward. Moves can be cancelled. There's even a Focus Attack-style move, wonderfully named the Blow Back Attack. Holding down hard punch and hard kick charges up a strong attack. Releasing will crumple your opponent to the floor. If you then dash in before they hit the floor you're able to execute a combo. If you hold back while doing the Blow Back you'll trigger your character's parry animation. This absorbs a hit before smacking your opponent halfway across the 2D arena. Any Street Fighter IV player who's got a hang of the Focus Attack will be able to pull off the Blow Back Attack with ease.
But dig a little deeper and KOFXII reveals some interesting features that suggest it's got enough to make it worth keeping tabs on. The Critical Counter is one of them. Under your life bar is a smaller bar that fills as you land hard punch and hard kick attacks. When it's full you're able to trigger a Critical Counter. If you pull it off it opens up your opponent to an unblockable custom combo. The camera zooms in and the action goes mental – this is KOFXII at its best.
Oh, and another interesting difference: there are no individual character stories. Plot isn't the point here. Instead, every character will share a common ending. For me, this isn't a problem at all. I couldn't give a fireball about fighting game plots – it's all about the multiplayer. Street Fighter IV would have been better off without its awful anime cut scenes, and no doubt KOFXII will be too.