Back when Mark of the Wolves came out on Xbox Live, I started to get a little worried for SNK's future in the West. We've really had a genre boom lately, and people expected King of Fighters XII, SNK's reboot of its flagship KOF franchise, to ride the boom, the fan hype, and its unprecedented 2D graphics to at least moderate success. But MOTW had a big, big problem: terrible online play.
Good online play is extremely important for the genre, and particularly SNK, to get right: even after the post-Street Fighter 4 influx, the fighting game community is still extremely niche. Here in the West, SNK's games have never been even close to the popularity of Capcom's. Street Fighter and its relatives are a rather niche market themselves, so we're talking about a niche within a niche. If you play Garou, you're probably the only person you know (barring the Internet) that does.
But the online play was crap. You were better off playing it emulated online. This was worrying, and it put me on watch for the next XBLA release, which was King of Fighters 98 Ultimate Match. This game wasn't going to be available to play online any other way, so it was even more important that SNK get it right. They didn't, of course: if anything, the release of KOF98UM was even more embarassing, with the same terrible netcode and no English translation of any kind. All the character dialogue text, and even more embarassingly, certain ingame options, are left in the original Japanese. What do these options do? You're just going to have to guess. And no, they didn't patch it. Stuff like this is indicative of total apathy on the part of the developer, so my hopes for KOFXII sunk.
I hate to be right, but SNK kept up with my expectations and continued the streak of poor releases. On their flagship, save-the-company title. I'm not sure why a company would put so much into a game and then bomb the home release so hard. By all reports from the Japanese scene, and by my eyewitness investigation at Chinatown Fair, this game has already bombed in the arcade. It's a rushed product, unfortunately, and as enjoyable as the core engine is, you don't want to play a game and think to yourself "the next one of these will be really good". SNK was working on this game for four years. They needed this game to be really good.
Meanwhile, there are too many complaints about the home release to even count. The netplay was bad, so SNK patched it. After patching, the netplay was still bad. The patch actually introduced one of two game-breaking glitches (here is the other). SNK's US publisher, Ignition, is not pleased with the quality of this release and the resulting ill will and bad sales. They have pledged to press SNK to fix the product, but will SNK listen? I'm not holding my breath, and I certainly won't be buying this game until I hear absolutely everything is fixed. By the time this happens, KOFXII will probably be in the $20 bargain bin. SNK's already proven themselves completely apathetic, and I'm not sure if even solid evidence that this is murdering their bottom line will move them. It's like the company wants to be bankrupt again.