When even the cornerstone franchises of the 2D beat-'em-up are trying to stay alive by making the unnecessary leap to polygonal combat, you have to wonder what the future holds for the ailing sub-genre. With a huge community surrounding many of the finest representatives of the oeuvre and services like Xbox Live Arcade rejuvenating faith in what has long been considered a dying genre, could it be that sprite based fighters are on the verge of making a timely comeback? Unfortunately, probably not. But as long as companies like SNK are committed to supporting advances in this extremely quiet field with excellent titles such as this, you have to say that there's always a chance that the simplicity and accuracy of the 2D fighting world could well win over a whole new audience.
One of the key strengths of KOF XI is its broad and extremely varied cast of selectable characters. Veterans like Kyo, Iori and Kim have all stuck around for one more outing but it's with some less predictable appearances that the roster impresses most. One team comes in to represent Garou, bringing a welcome grappler in the form of Tizoc, flashy pirate lass B Jenet and tech mix-up master Gato into the fray, not to mention the insanely tricky Hotaru popping up as an unlockable character. Some new faces join the cast too, the pick of which is undoubtedly Oswald, a card-flinging maniac reminiscent of Gambit from the Versus series.
You'll even see less familiar faces from SNK's past such as Duck King and Eiji get a new lease of life here. No matter what type of character you usually plump for in a fighter, you're covered with at least a couple of viable choices - even though popular choices like Joe and Leona are curiously absent. Once you've settled on a complementary trio of fighters, committed all of their moves to memory and tried out a few basic combos in practice mode, the real beatings can begin.