The King of Fighters ’94 (Neo Geo) Review

King of Fighters 94

My first Neo Geo review! … of very few, to be fair, not having owned one. Still, it was easier to get a collection of NEO-GEO games on the PS2 / Wii than it was SNK Arcade game collections. To be fair though, I wanted to start at the start and eventually cover the whole KOF franchise down the road, but I could’ve sworn I played this on the PS1. Looking into it, it must have been KOF 95 I played on that console… Oh well! I got them all in the various PS2 collections of the franchise, so let’s just crack on, after covering a CG anime series, a crossover fighter and a manga (not to mention a live action film alongside this!), it’s about time I actually covered one of the games!

Background:

King of Fighters 94 6

Takuma side-steps the attack of the new mysterious whipper-snapper.

The King of Fighters ’94 was released in Arcades across the world on August 25th 1994, with a Neo Geo port a few months later on October 1st 1994 in both Japan and the US (not Europe, we never got the Neo Geo, as far as I’m aware…) and to the Neo Geo CD in November 94 in Japan, with a US NG CD release in 96. A remake with new sprites and the works was released on Playstation 2 under the title “The King of Fighters 94 Re-Bout”, though it was only released in Japan.

The two main selling points were the team combat idea, and it being a crossover with various SNK franchises. Not just their other fighting games of Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, but also the top-down gunner Ikari Warriors, and the side-scrolling shooter Psycho Soldier.

For the original incarnation of the series the teams were based on countries, even if they had very little connection to the country in question (which is why it was dropped from 95 onwards). Team Japan was comprised of new characters Kyo Kusanagi (the poster boy of the series), Benimaru Nikaido (cool and cocky) and Goro Daimon (stern and serious), all of them actually from Japan. Team Italy features American brother duo of Terry and Andy Bogard teaming with Japanese star Joe Higashi, and all three are from Fatal Fury. Team Mexico features Japanese father-son duo of Ryo and Takuma Sakazaki teaming up with Italian Robert Garcia, so… wha?, they all come from Art of Fighting. Team Brazil is comprised of American soldier duo Ralf Jones and Clark Still teaming with their commander from places unknown Heidern, the first duo being from Ikari Warriors, and Heidern being created for this game. Their base is, I believe, said to be in Brazil, so there is a sort of connection there… I think.

The Chinese duo of Sie Kensou and his master Chin Gentsai team with Japanese Idol Athena Asamiya to form Team China, Sie and Athena coming from Psycho Soldier, and Chin being created for KOF. Team England is made up of English King and Japanese Mai Shiranui and Yuri Sakazaki, with King and Yuri coming from Art of Fighting, and Mai from Fatal Fury. Team Korea is entirely Korean and features Kim Kaphwan from Fatal Fury and two original characters in convicts Chang Koehan and Choi Bounge. Finally, we has Team USA, which is comprised of new characters Heavy-D! (Boxer), Lucky Glauber (Basketball) and Brian Battler (American Football). *Phew!* I have a feeling I’m going to regret setting that up for later entries…

Gameplay:

King of Fighters 94 5

Out of all the potential attacks, a kick to the shin in the most deadly of all…

While they obviously share a lot of similarities, the biggest difference you’ll find between KOF 94 and Street Fighter is that KOF uses only four attack buttons: Light Punch, Heavy Punch, Light Kick, Heavy Kick. Beyond that though, the basic combat is very similar, like special moves that require quarter turns and a punch button or any other number of joystick / d-pad movements followed by button presses, plus throws, crouching and jumping attacks using each of the four strikes available.

The meter at the bottom works differently. Named the “Power Gauge” it increases as you block, attack and take damage, plus you can increase it by charging it up by holding three attack buttons down, though this leaves you open to attack, obviously. Activating it means your attacks do more damage, plus you can do your Super Move, though it has to be said that unlike SF you can also do your Super Move if you have less than 75% health, a system carried across from Fatal Fury, so I read (I’ve never played Fatal Fury or Art of Fighting, for that record…)

It goes without saying at this point, but the other major difference is that King of Fighters is a team-based game, where you select your team of three and fight another team of three, picking the order of which fighter goes first and then it becomes an elimination battle: the first to lose all three fighters loses overall. This means there aren’t rounds as such, though I guess you could say it’s best of six rounds rather than three, just you switch to another character when you lose a round. The one problem with 94 though is you are forced into selecting the predetermined teams, you can’t create your own trio like you can in all future games.

As you may or may not know, the Neo Geo games were pretty much exact ports from the Arcade, and as such there isn’t any real bonus modes on offer here, you just pick your team and run through the arcade mode.

Graphics and Sound:

King of Fighters 94 4

Hang on, I’m pretty sure the Ikari Warriors were just Rambo with different headbands on…

The graphics are fine, the backgrounds are nice and detailed with moving sprites and everything, but there was always something about the thinner sprites from these early SNK games that don’t appeal as much as a chunkier ones from CAPCOM games. I assume this was due to cost (the roster being a lot bigger than most CAPCOM games, especially ones needing new sprites created for them!) but in the end, it doesn’t affect things too much.

Sound is that really nice, full of catchy background music and those all too familiar SNK arcade striking and energy warping sounds. Voice samples are clear too.

Story:

King of Fighters 94 1

… I don’t get it.

A mysterious man called Rugal has brought back the King of Fighters Tournament (originally seen in the Fatal Fury series), but now teams of three will compete, with the winning trio getting to fight him in a 3 on 1 match. Is Rugal that arrogant, or can he back it up?

Well… canon-wise he doesn’t, and he’s beaten by Team Japan, more specifically Kyo Kusangi. The actual arcing plots that spread across multiple games start to take shape in the next game, making this somewhat stand-alone…

Thoughts Then:

King of Fighters 94 3

Yikes, that’s… quite the depiction of 90s New York you’ve got there…

So as it turns out I rented out KOF 95, but hey-ho. After playing CAPCOM vs. SNK 2 to death I brought the various PS2 bundle releases of KOF games (“Orochi Saga” and “NESTS Saga”) and I’ll admit to not playing this an awful lot. Reduced modes, can’t change the teams… it was more for “seeing how it began” rather than enjoyment.

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Thoughts Now:

King of Fighters 94 2

Kim watches his “rehabilitated” convict choke the blood out of a little girl and knows he’s done a good job…

I quite enjoyed myself with KOF 94 this time. I guess before I was in a hurry to “get it out of the way” so I could start experiencing the Orochi plotline, but now just playing this one only, it was fun. Now, obviously, it’s lacking in a lot of areas, so beyond completing it with one or two teams, I turned off, satisfied I’d played enough to review it. So in the end I can’t see myself playing it again… Which is what I said last time, but I probably mean it now!

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