Even many of the fighters seem like SF2 clones. Only the freaky "Clown" and that "Ryoko" kid (both rather unlikable) stand out as original characters. Jean looks like an effeminate version of Guile, decked out in suspenders and holding a rose. Despite its derivative nature, Karnov's gameplay is extremely engaging, with well-balanced characters and intuitive controls. The animation rivals SF2 and the nicely-rendered backgrounds feature interesting animations and breakable props.
A wide range of exotic locations are represented, including an Asian temple, a tranquil waterfall, the stage of a rock concert, and an African savannah with animal spectators. The scenery changes slightly between rounds, often reflecting day turning into night. My personal favorite is the magnificent city night skyline - it has a real Streets of Rage vibe.
Karnov's audio is also high quality, offering numerous voice samples and well-composed background music that increases in tempo as a round nears conclusion. One original aspect of the game is how parts of fighter's outfits can break off, like a chest protector or mask. This triggers a cheesy "boing" sound effect, indicating your foe is dazed. There aren't many surprises, but if you appreciate one-on-one fighters, the overall quality of Karnov's Revenge is hard to deny. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
First, there's the concept of three-man teams. You select the fighting order, and when one member is defeated, the next one steps in (as your opponent recovers some health). There are eight pre-configured teams including the Fatal Fury team (Joe Higashi, Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard) representing Italy. England features three females including Mai Shiranui who is positively babelicious.
The Korean team has a mini Freddy Krueger named Choi and the massive ball and chain-swinging Chang. The American team is stereotypical, featuring an oversized football player and a tall black guy armed with a basketball attack. There's a flamboyant dude (Benimaru), a lesbian (King), and an old Asian guy (Chin) who serves as the comic relief with his drunken boxing antics. You can still play one-on-one, but the team battles are far more interesting.
The controller's four buttons map to two kicks and two punches, with combinations allowing you to dodge and charge. Each character has three special moves, and those familiar with Street Fighter 2 will pick up on the controller movements needed to execute these right away. The battles are nicely paced and ideal in length, but the character balance is suspect. The bad-ass Brazilian team is led by a military guy with an eye patch named Heidern who deals an exorbitant amount of damage.
Despite some mild pixelation, the colorful, layered stages are the ultimate in 2D eye candy, and each is introduced with a brief animated sequence. You'll battle in front of a helicopter crash in the Brazilian jungle, clash in a sunny park with London Bridge looming in the background, and witness a gorgeous orange sunset in New York City. Your fighting partners linger in the background, and under certain conditions can be called in for "assist attacks".
The game's voice samples are hard to make out, but the background music is a nice blend of guitar and electronic beats. Brazil's edgy soundtrack has a brooding undercurrent, but China's playful melody is a little cheesy. There's a high score screen, but the scores are not saved, and you'll need 188K just to rank in, which is pretty excessive. Overall, King of Fighters 94 is a top-notch fighter that established a franchise that would endure even after the Neo Geo system had faded from the scene. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
When the main menu is finally displayed, you select your mode, and then sit through another load screen. After selecting your fighters, there's another load screen. By this time you've already sat through three load screens, and haven't even thrown a punch yet.
There are no loads during the match, but once a match is decided, you'll sit through one final load screen as the victory (or defeat) animation is loaded. When a game makes you wait 30 seconds just to see your character collapse in defeat, it's like rubbing salt in the wound. If you don't mind the exorbitant waits, the game itself is outstanding (see Neo Geo cartridge review for full details).
The only way this CD differs from the cartridge is the soundtrack, which is slightly higher in fidelity than the cartridge version. Some of the background music has changed for the better (China) but some has also changed for the worse (Brazil). King of Fighters 94 is an amazing fighter, but this CD version might as well be called King of Monkey Juggling 94. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
There are still 24 fighters to select from, but it's a different group than KoF94. There's a lot less diversity, with no black guys and only a handful of women. Most of these characters are so generic it's hard to tell them apart, and names like Kyo Kusanagi and Takuma Sakazaki don't help matters. Unlike KoF94, you can now build your own teams out of any of the available characters, which is great. The special move list is greatly expanded, with some characters sporting as many as eight.
And if you thought the backdrops in KoF94 were an eyeful, wait until you feast your eyes on the imaginative stages of KoF95. The smoky jazz bar looks phenomenal, the waterfall stage is breathtaking, and even the industrial plant looks beautiful. The Greek pier features inviting blue water and nifty splashing effects. Your teammates watch from the background, and I like how they react appropriately to your performance.
The electronic music is engaging and helps emphasize the uptempo pace of the battles. Eight skill levels are available, and you can "rank in" to the high score screen with a mere 20K, making it easy to record your high scores. It's not a huge step forward, but King of Fighters 95' does a brilliant job of tweaking an already winning formula. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
If you thought the number of load screens in KoF94 was excessive, rest assured this edition is far worse! Now you have to wait for each character to load between rounds in a match! Considering there are six players in the default "team" battles, that's a lot of loading, and it really disrupts the flow of the action. The load screen features small black and white illustrations of the fighters - as if that will ease the pain!
This CD does offer one feature not found in the cartridge version, and that's the ability to save your place and continue later at the same stage. That really doesn't seem very useful to me - I would have much preferred it to save high scores instead. I love Kings of Fighters 95, but if there were any truth in advertising, SNK would have named this "King of Fighters 95 Now Loading". © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
The roster has been bumped up to 27 fighters this time, and while I'd love to tell you who was added and subtracted, these guys all look alike! Okay, one new character is an older woman named "Mature". Wow, where does SNK come up with such imaginative names? KoF96 offers a few subtle refinements to the basic gameplay, incorporating "bridge" moves, escapes, dashes, and not-so-devastating "diss" moves. KoF veterans will eat it all up, but beginners will get by on a steady diet of button mashing.
Some attacks are devastating that ever in this game, with some dealing half-a-life-meter worth of damage! Once again, the stage backgrounds do not disappoint. Two of favorites are the rotating restaurant and the dock, both of which feature dazzling city skylines at night. Some stages even boast changing weather conditions.
It's easy to rank into the high score screen, but after entering your initials you'll have to wait for the screens to cycle before seeing your final score. Another minor annoyance is only having a mere 20 seconds to assemble your team. The "survival mode" is an interesting new addition, letting you face 29 opponents in rapid succession (with the option to save in progress). No question about it, KoF96 is yet another superb entry in a continuing line of amazing 2D fighters. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Since the moves in this edition deal substantial damage, the rounds tend to be shorter, effectively making the load times feel longer. The music was redone for this CD version, and it sounds too much like "real" music. Personally, I prefer my tunes with an electronic, synthesized old-school flavor. As with KoF95, you can save your game in progress, but who gives a [expletive]? King of Fighters 96 is a perfectly good fighter, but life's too short to waste time on this excruciating CD edition. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Regardless of which you choose, KoF97 features the same enjoyable, rapid-fire 2D fighting action fans would expect. Five moves are listed in the manual for each of the 29 characters, and while most are straightforward, a few are so complex you're more likely to perform them by accident. One interesting new character is Ryuji Yamazaki, a suave gentleman who fights with one hand in his pocket!
I've always been intrigued by the background graphics in KoF games, but KoF97 is not spectacular in this regard. The Disney-style theme park, tropical Bali resort, and bright Monaco stages are probably the most eye-catching of the bunch. I do like how the look of certain stage changes between rounds, with day turning to night in some outdoor venues. Each round is now introduced by a slender, attractive babe.
If there's one area where KoF97 clearly falters, it's the audio. Apparently the developers were trying to have the music reflect the culture of the stage, but the tunes sound muffled and lack energy. Some stages have no music at all - just crowd noise. When the high-tech club stage has no music, that just sucks. The character select screen doesn't give you nearly enough time (20 seconds), and the victory screens are incredibly lame ("Announcing the victors. Here they are.")
When Mai Shiranui appears on these screens she has the shoulders of a linebacker and a head the size of a peanut! I do like how the high score screen appears immediately after you enter your initials. King of Fighters 97 tries to rock the boat, but it's not entirely successful. But even a mediocre King of Fighters game can kick the ass of most other 2D fighters. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
The game even requires a load if you're about to play as the same character you're already fighting. Hello - isn't that guy already in memory?? Does changing the color of his outfit really require a load?! Throw me a bone, SNK!
Another drawback of this CD version is that the backgrounds don't tend to change between rounds. As with the cartridge, the soundtrack is generally forgettable and occasionally irritating. Reviewing these King of Fighters CDs is draining my will to live. When will the hurting stop?? © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
The roster has jumped from 29 fighters to a whopping 38, mainly due to a bunch of returning characters. Some of these guys have not been seen since KoF94, including my homeboys Lucky Glauber and Heavy D. In terms of backgrounds, the scenery exudes a "back to basics" quality, and there are no longer chicks introducing each round. You'll ride a floating raft in China, brawl in an open-air market, and crack skulls in a train station. There's nothing spectacular really, and the graphics are actually more pixelated than previous KoF games. Even so, they exude a certain old-school charm that harkens back to Street Fighter 2.
Likewise, the synthesized music is terrific and adds a layer of tension to the fast-paced fighting mayhem. It's a major improvement over the audio-challenged KoF97. The three-on-three team gameplay is basically the same, but a new "advantage system" gives the second and third fighters an edge to keep things exciting.
The character selection screen now gives you more time to assemble your crew (forever, to be exact), and a "roulette" function lets you select random characters (for every match!). A new practice mode is included to hone your skills. The high score screen isn't presented immediately after you enter your initials, but that's a minor inconvenience. King of Fighters 98 got the series back on track, and despite the lack of razzle-dazzle it's hard to find fault with this well-crafted fighter. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
You can slap lipstick on a load screen, but it's still a terrible thing. Making matters worse, there's a substantial pause before the load screen even appears. I can only assume it's loading the load screen during that time. If that's the case, SNK should have included a load screen for the load screen.
Yes, I am losing my mind. Experiencing the best in 2D fighting should not be this painful. See cartridge review for more information on a playable version of this game. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Best of all, the innovative new "Striker system" lets you call upon a fourth member of your squad to deliver a strategic blow in the heat of battle. Yeah, we've seen this kind of thing in previous KoF games, but those "assist attacks" were extremely limited. Here, you get three "strike bombs" per match, and you can employ them at any time.
KoF99's character roster has been trimmed to 32, but that includes six new characters. In the tradition of SNK's imaginative naming conventions, there's a woman with a whip by the name of - you guessed it - Whip! The best new character is K' (pronounced "K Prime"). What makes him so cool you ask? Well, duh - check out his name! Not cool enough? How about that silver hair!? Did I mention he can wield fire? Hello! He's wearing black leather for crying out loud!! Not all of the new faces are as appealing. Bao and Xiangfrei act like annoying children, and why are there three Kyo's (Kyo, Kyo-1, Kyo-2)?! Can you say personality disorder?
The game screen has been reorganized a bit, with the power meter moved to the top (under the life bar), making room for your striker icons on the bottom. But what really left an impression with me is KoF99's fantastic stages. The dinosaur museum has a looming T-Rex skeleton, and the sewer stage unexpectedly turns into a rollercoaster!
The courtyard stage begins as bright and sunny, but clouds roll in as the match progresses, culminating in a massive downpour! This rainstorm is one of the most visually arresting scenes I've ever witnessed in a video game. Even less spectacular stages like the street outside of the Chinese restaurant have a lot of interesting, subtle details (check out the shadows on the wall).
KoF99 did throw me for a loop with its new "battle ability point" scoring system. It's actually possible for you to lose points between matches, and I don't get that. Another source of confusion is the intro which refers to this as "episode 5". It's six by my count! But for a series with more iterations than SNK can count, King of Fighters 99 feels surprisingly fresh. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
To its credit, this CD fully reproduces the amazing effects of the cartridge version, including the changing weather conditions. The CD also contains a bonus art gallery not available on the cartridge version. But unless you're doing 25-to-life in a prison somewhere, you have better things to do with your time.
The only thing these inexpensive CD versions are good for is to provide an English instruction manual to go with your Japanese Neo Geo cartridge. I wouldn't be surprised if these CDs actually raised the value of the KoF cartridges! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
You have six monsters to choose from, including a Godzilla clone (Geon), an ape (Woo), a slime monster (Poison Ghost), a stone creature (Rocky), a giant bug (Beetle Mania), and a cheesy oversized superhero called "Astro Dude". The monsters can roam the screen freely, and when they maul and throw each other they leave devastation in their wake. Three buttons let you punch, kick, and run, but the most effective move is your special attack which must be charged over a few seconds.
It's a shame King of the Monsters feels more like a professional wrestling game than a Saturday afternoon creature feature. The monsters often grapple with each other, which leads to body slams, pile drivers, back-breakers, and clotheslines. You even have to "pin" your foe to defeat him - and he'll always kick out of your first two attempts. I'm not a huge wrestling fan, and I wish SNK had put more emphasis on interacting with the urban scenery.
Yes, buildings get crushed as monsters get tossed around, but it's not a major part of the strategy. Occasionally you can pick up and toss a plane or tank, but the act of throwing is so sluggish that you usually get nailed in the process. I find it unfair how you can drain your opponent's health completely, yet he can still fight normally and pull out the victory. Winning the grapples seems to be a matter of luck, and the basic kick/punch attacks are weak.
The small battlefields are heavily constrained by electric barriers which you're constantly bouncing off of. Two players can team up against another pair of monsters, but it just feels like two battles going on at the same time. The background music is weird, and it's really hard to make out the radio commentator. King of the Monsters has a great premise but fails to live up to its potential. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
New moves like jump attacks and "death blows" make the fighting feel less monotonous, and you no longer need to "pin" your foes (thank goodness). But the most dramatic innovation is the stage designs. Instead of fighting in a small confined area, you forge through the city, prodded by annoying "Hurry up!" arrows. Destroying buildings is more satisfying because they crumble to the ground in dramatic fashion and release bonus point icons. Many are actually recognizable landmarks. It's easy and fun to smash ships and planes and then use them as projectiles.
I find it amusing how the cities have generic names like "American City" and "French City". The American city features a big white house with the pillars in front. Hmmm, I wonder what city that is? The French City has a really tall tower that looks awfully familiar. Certain areas feature divided elevations (like a harbor and a waterfront) that you can jump between. You'll leave nothing but rubble in your path, and in the desert stage you can literally create your own Grand Canyon!
The bosses come in many gruesome varieties, but it takes too long to chip away at their health meters, and that slows the momentum of the game. Bonus battles have been incorporated, but these are just mindless, carpal-tunnel-inducing button mash-a-thons. A level select feature would have been nice, but overall this represents a logical evolution of the series. Instead of feeling like a glorified wrestling title, Kings of the Monsters 2 has the feel of an over the top monster flick, as it should. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Screen shots courtesy of NeoGeo.com