SNK/Playmore returns for even more intense fighting action on iOS devices with the second installment of their fighting franchise, The King of Fighters-i 2012. While it still shares many of the same problems that plagued the first installment, namely static backgrounds and the lack of iPad support, new features like online multiplayer and twelve new characters help to make this one of the best portable fighting games available. True, that may not be a crowded market, but there are worse things than having a highly-playable version of one of the most respected fighting franchises in the palm of your hands.
Following up on last year’s The King of Fighters-i, KOF-i 2012 follows in the same vein as Capcom’s Street Fighter IV: Volt in that it feels more like an upgrade than an entirely new game. Nearly everything is pretty much the same except that 12 new characters have been added to the original 20 to bring the roster up to 32, with the new characters making up the “Art of Fighting, “Psycho Soldier”, “Kim” and “Ikari” teams. There’s also an all-new Time Attack mode in which you play 10 matches to get your best clear time possible, and lastly the big daddy feature we’ve all been waiting for – online multiplayer!
As with its predecessor the gameplay works well with touchscreen-only controls, with the game’s complex moves and combo system are pre-mapped to virtual buttons for Punch, Kick, Escape, HD (Hyper-Drive), and even pulling off a Neo Max Super Special move by tapping your character’s portrait. Super Moves are performed either by pulling them off with normal directional-button combos, or quickly using the Special Button + pressing the stick in a given direction. Thankfully, there’s a nice tutorial that offers hands-on training when you start and a training mode that tries to help you get used to the mechanics; it’s not perfect by any means but can be a blast once you find your own rhythm.
While these few additions are nice, the game still has its share of disappointments. For starters, there still isn’t a native iPad version, meaning the controls can feel a little cramped after playing on the smaller iPhone and iPod Touch. Likewise, the graphics remain unchanged from the previous installment, meaning they’re incredibly detailed and have fluid animation, but are compressed to the point of being a bit blurry. Sadly, this means the static backgrounds also return, although it’s not too bad since you’ll be too busy looking at the frantic fighting to notice them.
But let’s get down to what this entry is all about – online multiplayer. KOF fans can finally get their multiplayer fix either online (Wi-Fi) through Game Center or locally through Bluetooth. Online lets you compete against the world in both “Rank Versus”, which pits you against foes using 3-man team matches in your skill level with your win/loss record reflecting your status, or in the more safe “Friend Versus”, which lets you pummel buddies without fear of your rank suffering. The interface is decent enough and there are plenty of options to save replay data, add rivals, and even mini-chat bubbles to help matches (and rematches) flow once opponents are found.
Of course, finding opponents may be the biggest challenge of all. My experience online was a bit sluggish all-around, from actually matching me with opponents, connecting, with dropped matches rounding out a shaky package. To be fair, the experience isn’t unlike Capcom’s Street Fighter IV: Volt in these critical areas, many of which were eventually fixed in post-release updates. Here’s hoping SNK-Playmore follow suit with some necessary patches soon, as the game desperately needs them to be even remotely playable.
Oh, and for those looking for a little more excitement after wearing out all of the single player and multiplayer modes here, there’s an option to purchase 2 additional characters, “NESTS-Style Kyo” and “Iori with the Power of Flames” (yes, that’s actually his name) to add to the already ridiculously large roster of 30+ characters.
Despite its disappointingly sluggish online play and a lack of native iPad support, The King of Fighters-i 2012 is a solid follow-up to last year’s iOS debut and easily one of the best mobile fighting games out there. Fans of the original game or even Capcom’s Street Fighter IV mobile series will love SNK Playmore’s miniaturized King of Fighters, which jams over 32 of the series’ most popular characters into an action-packed frenzy that looks great and plays surprisingly well on the button-less platform. Here’s hoping future updates fix the online play and sharpen the visuals (Retina Display, please), but if you’re looking for a quick fighting fix that seldom compromises, you’ll probably enjoy this one. Just don’t expect it to be arcade or console perfect.
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