I don’t know if The King of Fighters XI is my favorite, but it has my favorite character-selection screen. That’s because almost everyone there is grinning like an idiot.
Most of the characters on the roster wear big, goofy smiles in their portraits. Some of them look a little off, especially when the headshots are flipped for the two-player side, but that only adds to the impact. They’re not happy despite looking stupid, they’re happy because they look stupid.
The grins of The King of Fighters XI range from smug little expressions to big, toothy face-splitters that perch their wearers on the edge of laughter. It adds a good-natured aura to the game. Yes, you’ll find insidious plotting and brutally difficult boss fights once you actually play, but for now almost everyone is happy.
The characters who aren’t smiling contribute as well. They look resentful or confused about the majority of their fellow fighters beaming unabashed at everything. Kasumi seems to suspect that a circulating joke has skipped her.
Even those who grimace seem as close to happiness as they’ll ever get, like Gato there. As for Eiji, he’s putting in a rare appearance as a actual playable character, so we can assume he’s smiling under that mask.
The only strange exception is Kula, who’s normally cheerful even in the face of world-wrecking cataclysms and certain death. This can be explained by her being without the ice cream she constantly demands.
The King of Fighters XI is a memorable outing on other points. The backgrounds seem empty, but you'll find a large cast and a neat tag-team mechanic atop the sturdy gameplay the series normally fashions. SNK and Sony should put it on the PlayStation Network, because it still has a lot to offer.
It does not have Leona Heidern, however, and for that I unloaded on the game when I reviewed it many years ago. All was in jest, though I’m still a little resentful that The King of Fighters XI, in many ways the last celebration of the line before it recast itself with new artwork for the modern era, ignored a long-running character created specifically for the series.
Yet I now understand why Leona didn’t make the cut. She doesn’t smile much.