Review: King of Fighters ’94 (Nintendo Wii)

King of Fighters 1994
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK
Genre: 2-D Fighter
Release Date 01/07/08 (Original Date: 08/25/1994)

With King of Fighters ’94 Rebout released in 2004 never hitting US shores, this will be the first time for an entire generation of gamers where they get to play the game that started it all.

Well, that’s not exactly true. This is the first KoF game (has it really been 13.5 years?). Street Fighter II, back in March of 1991 was the first fighting game (not to be confused with beat ’em ups), and eight months later came a game called Fatal Fury. Little known fact: Fatal Fury was in development first and Capcom rushed SF2 to hit arcades first – hence all the glitches in the original and why they keep doing slight remakes.

King of Fighters ’94 is the second longest running franchise (namewise) after the Electronic Art’s Madden. It’s where team battles that we all loved in Marvel vs. Capcom or Capcom vs. SNK originated. It’s the start of a series that has some of the most fanatical and embarrassing fans out of any franchise. This was the first time SNK would overshadow both Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat to claim the “preferred fighting game series by hardcore fans of the genre” and it would be by no means the last.

As soon as I knew Neo Geo games were coming to the Virtual Console, I knew KoF ’94 was a shoo-in. SNK fighters adapt far better to an SNES “Classic” controller than games like SF2 and Eternal Champions that NEED a six button straight line format for optimization. The question is, with all the advancement made to fighting games in the past 14 years, does KoF ’94 still hold up as a quality title? Has the genre advanced too far for this game to still be a worthy purchase ($9/900 points on the VC) due to simpler moves, a smaller roster and less options? Perhaps it’s because of all those niggling changes and added extras that KoF ’94 will shine brighter then ever, reminding us of a time when Fighting games were simple and addictive and playable by all, instead of being a small niche genre as it is today. There’s only one way to find out.

Let’s Review

1. Story

In 1994. Drug Czar and all-around bad ass Rugal Bernstein declares a new format for the King of Fighters Tournament. This year it will consist of team battles; specifically 3-on-3 elimination matches. There are eight teams from around the globe:
Team Italy aka Team Fatal Fury: Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, and Joe Higashi.
Team China aka Team Psycho Solider consisting of Chin, Kensou, and Athena.
Team Japan aka Team Hero consisting of Kyo Kusanagi, Benimaru and Goro.
Team USA aka Team Sports consisting of Lucky Glauber, Heavy D (not the rapper) and Brian Butler.
Team Korea aka the only team WITHOUT an aka consisting of Kim, Choi, and Chang. Team Brazil aka Team Ikari Warriors consisting of Heidem, Clark, and Ralf.
Team Mexico aka Team Art of Fighting consisting of Ryo, Mr. Karate and Robert Garcia.
Team England aka Team Lady Fighters consisting of King, Yuri, and Mai.

Sure the teams didn’t really correspond to their country (Pretty sure Fatal Fury didn’t take place in Italy for example) and the American team is appalling stereotype-wise in the same way we Americans tend to stereotype others, but the teams were fun, and this was the first time a major publisher put all of their characters from all their different franchises into a dream game. You can’t top that.

In the end, canon story wise, Team Japan wins the tourney and fights Rugal because it turns out Rugal has a fetish for killing really good fighters and dipping them in metal. In the end Kyo defeats Rugal after his teammates warmed them up and that’s the end of everything. I’ve always found Team Japan winning to be unsatisfying and a bit Mary Sue. Those of you who actually played SNK games back in 1994 will remember the majority of fans loathed Team Japan winning and people basically boiled it down to being Team Italy that should have won (due to Terry Bogard fanboyism) or Team Brazil (as Heidem had a big back story with Rugal and it would have made sense to give that closure).

All things considered, there was a ton of plot here, and things would get even crazier in 1995 with the introduction of Iori and the Orochi. The story wasn’t as deep as we’d see in later KoF or SF games, but it was still interesting to see who was teamed with who, why they were teamed up and the story behind the creepiness of Rugal running the tournament instead of Geese or Krauser.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

For a 1994 game, KoF ’94 was gorgeous. Even compared to other games on the Virtual Console, KoF is head and shoulders prettier than anything else available for it, save the N64 games.

Take a look at the backgrounds. It’s amazing the level of detail in this game. They are lush and colorful. There’re also so many hidden things in each background. Look at each level and you’ll see hidden characters from previous games watching the fights. Duck King in Italy for example. Yay Duck King.

Character sprites are well done for 1994. The character designs and movements were a great deal better than what we saw in SF2, but a month before KoF ’94 came out, Darkstalkers hit the arcade scene and it easily had the best graphics for a fighter up until that point. No, not because I heart the monsters, but because of the quality in the design and vibrant colors. Darkstalkers took a bit of the edge off of KoF ’94’s graphics, but it was still impressive visually – and it got more play on either side of the Pacific than Capcom’s monster fighting franchise – so take that for what you will.

Even though in 2007 SNK has a bit of a reputation for putting out some fugly games, KoF ’94 reminds us that at one time, they were consider quite good in the graphics department. It’s funny to put KoF ’94 up against KoF XI and see just how little has changed. Indeed in someways (okay, in MOST ways) KoF ’94 remains superior and graphics is just one of them.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Classic background tracks and attempts at voice acting here. I think everyone is a fan of the weird stuff that comes out of Terry Bogard’s mouth or Team China’s background track. In this regard, this was the best fighting game I’d played up to this point and it still stands up today. I can’t think of a bad music track on here, and you’ll still see some remixed in SNK games a decade later.

There’s nothing really here I can describe as less than good. Whether you look at KoF ’94 by what was capable fourteen years ago, or compare it to other VC games, the audio aspect of KoF ’94 are still catchy, amusing, and fun. They probably won’t be appreciated by first time KoF players, but there’s a huge nostalgia rush for the rest of us.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

I love this game. I’m spending more time with KoF ’94 now than I should be considering there are other games on my plate I know I’m going to need to review. Who cares though?

For the first time ever you’d battle 3-5 rounds of fast and furious fighting action before moving on, instead of 2. Yes this was the beginning of SNK appealing only to hardcore fighting fans, but this was also at the peak of fighting game popularity, and people loved the innovation.

There were no air throws or air blows or alpha cancels or guard crushes or quick shifts or dream cancels or strikers or any of that crap that bogs down potentially good fighting games these days into a matter of who can memorize the most options. This is just fast and furious joystick cranking, button combination smashing, in your face smashmouth gaming. Rock on.

Characters are performing wonderfully with the classic controller. Controls are sharp and responsive and everyone plays like I remember, although I do admit I’ve forgotten some characters move sets after all this time.

Here’s what you get control wise. You have a straight fighter where each character has special moves and different styles of gameplay. There’s no Super Moves ala Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo though. Instead you have what are called desperation moves. You can only get your desperation meter filled by holding down buttons, but this leaves you ripe for the picking. As well, desperation moves can be used when you’re down to 1/4 of your max health, but at this point, they probably won’t make a difference. This makes these moves rarely used, but when they are (and they connect), they can be a difference maker. I loved how balanced this was back in the day, and compared to a lot of what fighters are doing now, I wish we’d return to something this simple.

There’re no collision detection issues. There are no bouts of profanity when you know you did a characters trademark move yet they just do a standard punch of kick on the screen. Just solid gameplay any gamer, regardless of their skill level can get behind.

Control and Gameplay rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

There are only 8 playable choices in KoF ’94, but each choice forces you to master 3 characters. That’s going to keep you coming back for more. As well, you’ll have to relearn the controls now that most fighting game fans are used to literally dozen of options other than doing moves.

KoF wouldn’t allow team editing until KoF ’95. This would dramatically increase the replayability of the series. It makes me wonder how much bigger ’94 would have been if this option was put in.

There is also a lack of single character mode. Most gamers by 1994 were used to only doing one on one battles, and so to suddenly jump to six man tag elimination battles was a cultural shock many couldn’t get over.

KoF ’94 did as much to increase its replayability as it did to detract it. Six man tag battles made people come back, but it also caused others to shy away due to the game being so damn long compared to other fighters. People played more as a single team to better learn all the moves each character had, but it also drove other gamers away who only wanted to stick to one-two characters like in SF or MK. Rugal himself would cause as many people to throw up their hands in frustration and walk away as it did make people obsessed with the idea of beating him.

Thumbs in the middle here.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

This is a KoF game. Are you kidding? More often than not, these things are wildly unbalanced. KoF ’94 being the first is no exception to the rule. I will say that the teams are a bit balanced due to everyone having a decent character, a mediocre character, and a craptacular character…but even this is not clean cut. Team Mexico has probably the most dominant lineup. Some characters, like Kyo and Terry are far more powerful than others. There’s a particular character that I will not name so as not to ruin the game for you that is about as unbalanced and overpowered ala Sub-Zero in the first MK.

Then there is Rugal. Welcome to SNK Boss Syndrome. You’ll fight Rugal twice. The first battle is fairly cut and dry. The third is insane. Yes. Insane. Not only does Rugal have his Genocide wave, but he has Geese Howard AND Wolfgang Krauser’s special moves. Rugal is a beast. A dreadful, malicious, cruel beast. Especially since at least one member of your team is guaranteed to suck.

This being said, after characters like Nightmare Rugal (95), Ignitz (01) and Magaki (XI) Rugal is pretty tame for a KoF end boss. There are certain characters (Benimaru and King for example) that will be destroyed by him, no matter what your skill level is, but for the most part, he’s beatable by non hardcore fighting fans.

The score here may be low, but compared to about half the KoF games, KoF 94 is one of the more balanced games of the bunch. Holy crap, I can’t believe I just said that.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

The first in the series, SNK’s King of Fighters 1994 introduced us to team fighting, desperation moves, extra long fighting games, and gives us a veritable Olympics for all of the SNK franchises. In 1994, this game turned the entire genre on its head. Of course the genre had only been a round for three or so years, so it wasn’t that hard to do.

I’d say this and ’95 are the peak of SNK’s creativity. Here we have the concept. In 1995, we’d see the concept grow by leaps and bounds in terms of plot depth, character growth and options for gameplay. 1994 isn’t the best KoF game, not by a long shot, but it’s certainly one of the best in terms of creativity and fan service.

Judging the game simply by its own merits, be it the year it came out or compared to other fighting games currently on the virtual console, KoF ’94 set the standard for high quality fighting gameplay and originality. I can’t give it a perfect here as there were a ton of fighting games already on the market ranging from Art of Fighting to Time Killers, but it was still highly impressive in this regard.

Originality Rating: 8/10

8. Addictiveness

This is one aspect of the game that hasn’t aged as well with time. It’s still a fun game, and arguably the best fighter on the VC (Eternal Champions WOULD be better if we weren’t saddled with a crappy SNES style controller), but it doesn’t have the same long term drawing power it did back in the arcades.

There’s a few reasons as to why this is so. The first is that KoF 94 is NOT compatible with high definition. There’s a trick you have to do to get the picture to show up if you’re using a hi definition connection. Check Nintendo.com for more details. That’s a minor annoyance, and as many people still aren’t using high definition, it’s not too troubling, but it’s still an issue that needs to be addressed.

The other issue is the fact you KNOW better KoF games are out there. 98, 02, and others are better games than this, the inaugural KoF. It’s in the back of your head no matter what.

Finally, not having this in the arcade loses something. I know, I have 50 games for my personal Neo*Geo, but KoF ’94 feels like it needs to be played in the arcade with people watching and cheering you on while you trash talk your opponent. I don’t get this feeling with the other KoF’s I have on multiple systems, but I do with this one. It’s begging for an audience. An audience that can appreciate and respect its 14 year legacy. Playing it alone in your entertainment room on the Wii? Something is missing. Maybe it’s the SNK fanboy in me, but it feels hollow.

If you’re new to SNK titles and downloaded this because you’ve heard about the series, you’ll probably be sucked in. Long time Neo geo fans are probably sitting here waitng for Mark of the Garou, Last Blade 2, or some of the older KoF’s to hit. After all, pretty much everything is out there for the taking on this system still.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

Here’s the honest truth. Don’t bother downloading the Street Fighter games on the virtual console. They are trash. Super Nintendo trash. You are getting crappy ass ports filled with slowdown and bad controls rather than the real thing. Eternal Champions is a bit better, but the Classic Controller sucks for six button fighting action and it makes certain once easy moves a bit more annoying to pull off due to the layout. With KoF ’94 though, you are getting an ARCADE PERFECT game. For nine dollars. Let me repeat that: ARCADE PERFECT. The game is also excellently matched with the Wii’s classic controller.

If you are feeling nostalgic for a fighting game, you might as well grab this one. Anything not Neo*Geo is currently second rate on the VC. If you’re going to spend your money on something, why not get the game that guarantees to play at home as it did in a stinky arcade fourteen years ago?

If you’re a fighting fan at all, you will have fun with this. SNK fans especially will be happy with the conversion to the Wii system. Capcom fans will be annoyed that once again KoF shows up the SF series – this time on the Wii.

Trust me people, I love Street Fighter. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo is probably my favorite fighting game ever, but there’s honestly no reason NOT to get this for the VC instead of Street Fighter if you have the Wii points. This is also an excellent game to learn the SNK style of play on. It’s hard, but not crazy hard ala latter KoF games. You also get an excellent range of characters and learn how to play as one of three teams.

Again, this is the best game to start with, the best fighting game on the virtual console currently, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. You’ll be hard pressed to find better.

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Arcade perfect? Check. Classic game that helped to mold the entire genre? Check. Excellent controls and fun gameplay? Check? Interesting characters and nice backgrounds/audio? Check. Nine dollar KoF awesomeness that you never have to worry about getting scratched or breaking down? Check. A nice simple easy to learn fighter than you can play with your friends and have a lot of fun with? Check. That’s all you need baby.

Simply put, this is easily in my top ten available games for the Virtual Console as of this writing, and this is coming from a guy who has filled up all of his available channel windows with retro games.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

The Scores
Story: 7
Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Control & Gameplay:8
Replayability: 5
Balance: 5
Originality: 8
Addictiveness: 6
Appeal Factor: 6
Miscellaneous: 10
Total Score 69/100
Final Score: 7.0 (GOOD)

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s the start of something wonderful. Download this puppy and see why so many fighting fans fell in love with SNK after this game was released. Welcome to South Town baby, Population: You.