Review by JIrish

"Just plain raw fun"

SNK was slowly catching up to Capcom with it's fighting games, thanks to hits like Fatal Fury Special and the burgeoning Samurai Shodown series. Then in 1994, they dropped a bombshell. It was King of Fighters 94, and it was unlike nearly any fighting game ever released. For the first time, characters from the various fighting series in SNK's growing library would come face to face and you the player wouldn't have to meet the insane standards to find them like you did if you wanted to face Ryo in FF Special or Geese in Art of Fighting 2.

In the preliminary stages of designing the game, apparently the Japan team was supposed to be Haohmaru, Nakoruru, and one other (I think Ukyo) to represent Japan, making it truly a crossover dream match. Somewhere along the way, that changed, and we instead got a team of entirely fresh faces in the flame-wielding Kyo Kusanagi, the arrogant electricity-wielding pseudo kick boxer Benimaru Nikaido, and the judo champion powerhouse Goro Daimon. This may have actually been for the best, because it not only grounds the game completely in the modern time, but provided the series with a team that would grow to be one of the most iconic trios in fighting game history. Though Kyo tends to suffer from ''Fighting Game Lead Character Complex'' at times (that is to say that he can be a little bland), he's at least more interesting than his counterpart Ryu has been. Benimaru and Daimon are fairly colorful characters in their own right.

Yet, however, these three fresh faces would wait until later games to truly take the spotlight, because the real show was the SNK showdown of Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. The lone wolves of Fatal Fury, Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi team up to represent Italy, Andy's FF2 and FF Special stomping grounds. The students of Kyokugen-Ryuu, Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia of Art of Fighting, as well as their teacher (and Ryo's dad) Takuma Sakazaki, are inexplicably representing Mexico. Even more puzzling are King and Yuri Sakazaki of AoF, and FF's Mai Shiranui (bouncier than we ever imagined at this point) unite as the Joshi Team to represent... England? King's French, Yuri is Japanese-American, and Mai's Japanese, and they represent England? The mind boggles at that, but then we remember it's just a game and we move on to...

... the other teams. Our last Fatal Fury rep is Korea's own Kim Kaphwan, representing his own country and leading two more characters who are completely new. And they're doozies: a miniature Freddy Krueger named Choi Bounge and a large, bald, OBESE man with a huge ball and chain named Chang Koehan. In a genre filled with oddballs, these two were pretty odd, but one other here beat them out in that category. The remaining three teams are practically mini-SNK history lessons. Athena Asaymia and Sie Kensou, of the side-scrolling shooter Psycho Soldiers, return with their mentor Chin Gentsai, who is a drunken master... okay, he's just drunk. And he's the weirdest character here, without question. These three are Team China. Also blasting out of SNK's past are the Ikari Warriors, Ralf Jones and Clark Steel, plus their commander, Heidern, to represent Brazil. Finally, the US of A is represented by folks from SNK's sports games: boxer Heavy D!, basketball player Lucky Glauber, and football player Brian Battler. To many, these were the worst characters in the game, and this would be their only appearance until KoF 1998.

Now, what's a fighting game without a boss? Rugal Bernstein, international crime lord, known deadly fighter, and the man who killed Heidern's family. He's a nice guy, really. He remembers to smile as your unconscious body is turned into a statue for his gallery, and his one eye will twinkle as he Genocide Cutters you down for the proverbial count. He's also cheep. Nasty cheep. Annoyingly cheep. Just-forget-all-about-beating-him cheep, sometimes! It's not impossible, but even on Level 1 difficulty, you'd better have a black-belt in fighting games to want to have at least a moderate time of it.

Now, then, for the meat and potatoes part of the review...

Graphics and sound

Having come into playing this game after playing KoFs 97 and 98, I was surprised how pixelated this was compared to future incarnations! But we all have to start somewhere, don't we? All things considered, this was one of the best looking games for the Neo Geo at the time. The backgrounds are quite active, with familiar faces in two of them. Italy hosts the five non-boss Fatal Fury cast members to not make the cut: Jubei Yamada, Big Bear, Cheng Sinzan, Tung Fu Rue and Duck King. In the Mexico background alone I can spot the Top Hunter cast, Ryuhaku Todoh, Eiji Kisarigi, Lee Pai Long, Temjin, Mickey Rogers (all from the Art of Fighting games), Richard Myer (from Fatal Fury 1), and even Lilly and the mayor from the first Fatal Fury anime appears! The music is really hit or miss, however. ''Esaka'' on the Japan stage, ''Slum No. 5'' for America, ''Ne!'' in England, and the remix of the old ''Psycho Soldier'' theme for China are the songs that hold up the best. The others I can take or leave. Voices are decent, but man do they ever get better as the series progresses.

Control and Gameplay

This game came out just as SNK was really starting to get the hand of it's fighting games. This is reflected here, as the moves are pretty responsive. Though some holdovers from the absolutely crazy moves found in the Fatal Fury series remains, you can even execute a lot of the supers with relative ease.

Anyhow, the teams are pre-set. This is probably the largest bummer with the whole game. Fortunately, SNK listened to fans complaints and let you make your own teams come 1995. The path is pretty basic: just go through the teams, including a mirror image of your team, and then fight Rugal twice. The second time, he really means it, breaking out Geese Howard's Reppuken, Wolfgang Krauser's Kaiser Wave, and of course, that ridiculous Genocide Cutter. I swear, the priority on that move makes it impossible to jump in on him. But I digress...

This game is actually a lot of fun. I was surprised when I picked it up for the first time. I didn't think I was in for much, especially with the fact that I can't have a team of all Sakazakis, for example. I just started playing, and something clicked with me. And from that day forward, I became a die-hard KoF fan. My one other complaint is that Ralf and Clark are pretty much head-swaps, but that, too, would change in time.

All in all, give the game a chance if you see it. You might be surprised as I was. It's no KoF 98, but it's still fun.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/22/02, Updated 09/22/02

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