For any true Neo Geo fan, this game should need no introduction. However, for the few people out there that have either never played the game, or are new to the wonders of Neo Geo games in general, I will try to review it :)
Basically, the idea behind the King of Fighters series of games was to let players pit characters from the popular Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series of games against each other, along with a few other characters from various SNK games. There was certainly a lot of excitement when this game was first released, at least around the arcades where I live. I can remember that most of my friends and I were really looking forward to this game because we loved the idea of characters from different games scrapping it out with each other. When the machine arrived in a shop near to us, suffice to say we pumped it full of credits and were not disappointed at all!
Unlike most other one on one fighters, in KOF you get to select a team of three different characters. Each of these teams represent a different country from around the world (although the team members are not necessarily of that nationality). There are 8 different teams to choose from, which means 24 characters altogether; this was quite a respectable amount for the time this game was made. You fight with your first character until he/she is knocked out and then you fight with your next character and so on. When all your characters are knocked out, your team loses.
The only real disappointment with the character selection was that you couldn't make your own team up, but had to stick with the set combinations of characters that were already chosen. (this problem was rectified in KOF '95 however). In the home version of KOF '94 though, you can play through the game in "single play mode" where you only select one character, instead of 3 on 3 "team mode".
KOF features many fighters from different SNK games - some of which were not originally from fighting games either (example: Athena from Psycho Soldiers , or Ralf and Clark from Ikari Warriors). In addition, some characters are totally new, like Kyo Kusanagi, who also happens to be one of the most popular characters SNK has ever created!
Here's a full list of all the teams in the game:
Italy (Fatal Fury Team)
This team is made up of the three main characters from Fatal Fury - Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi. Their stage features a lot of cameos from other familiar SNK faces.
China (Psycho Soldiers Team)
This team features Athena and Kensou, who were originally from the 1986 arcade game by SNK called "Psycho Soldiers", along with Chin Gentsai (who looks very much like the old guy from Jackie Chans classic movie "Drunken Master"). People that played the original Psycho Soldier will recognise the music from their stage too, as it is a remix of the theme from that game.
This team features 3 all new fighters: Kyo Kusanagi, Benimaru Nikkaido and Goro Daimon. As mentioned above, Kyo was soon to become one of SNK's most popular characters. Their stage also features one of my all time favourite music tracks from a KOF game.
USA (Sports Team)
Made up of Heavy D (boxer), Lucky Glauber (a basketball player from the game Street Hoop/Dunk Dreams ) and Brian Battler (an American football player). The USA Sports Team was probably one of the least popular teams in this game, which led to them being removed in the next KOF game (although they did make a brief re-appearance in KOF '98). Some people liked them, but to tell the truth I never really enjoyed playing as them myself.
The Korean team features the excellent Tae Kwon Do expert Kim Kaphwan (from Fatal Fury) and two other characters; Chang Koehan and Choi Bounge (who are both criminals). Chang is a big guy that fights with a huge metal ball, while Choi basically looks like a miniature version of Freddy Krueger, with claws on both hands. I've always liked playing as Kim, but have never been a big fan of Chang or Choi.
Brazil (Ikari Warriors Team)
This team is made up of Heidern, Clark Steele and Ralf Jones, who are from the old SNK arcade game "Ikari Warriors". Not a bad team in my opinion, although their stage music in this game has always annoyed me a little! :)
England (Womens Team)
Well, it seems like my homeland is represented by a very sexy womens team, which is never a bad thing! ;) This team features Mai Shiranui (the "bouncy" girl from Fatal Fury), Yuri Sakazaki (sister of Ryo from the Art of Fighting series... and also this game) and King (another character from AoF). A great team that also has a decent stage with some cool music.
Mexico (Art of Fighting Team)
Mexico is represented by the Art of Fighting team, featuring Ryo Sakazaki, his father Takuma Sakazaki (who was the boss from AOF1) and Ryo's friend Robert Garcia. A good team, although in this game all three characters were very similar with respect to their movelists... they all play along the same lines as Ryu/Ken from Street Fighter.
Final Boss: Rugal
Rugal is one of the best bosses that SNK has ever created, but also a very tough one. You have to beat him in two rounds to win the fight, and although the first round is usually quite easy, he is very tough in the second round... especially at a higher difficulty level.
For a game with such a diverse lineup of characters, the playability of KOF '94 is excellent; and this is especially apparent considering the game is still fun to play, even today! It's quite easy to get used to the controls, because they feel great and are nice and responsive. This is very much an old-school fighter and as such it doesn't feature any of the insane multi hit combos that newer games have, but there is still scope for smaller combos.
One of the most useful moves in this game is the sidestep, which is performed by pressing A+B together. This move allows you to dodge out of the way of certain moves, and is especially helpful when it comes to avoiding projectile attacks). Another important aspect of the game is the power bar - this has to be charged up by holding the A,B and C buttons together, and it also charges slightly when you block attacks or take damage. Once full, your attacks will do more damage, and you will be able to initiate a super attack (see the FAQ's for more info).
The graphics looked decent at the time this game was released and surprisingly still look cool today. Although the fighters do lack animation and seem quite stiff, they still manage to look fairly good. The backgrounds are of a high standard for a 1994 game as well... although some look a little bit grainy, they are very well detailed and are just... well, for want of a better word, cool! This is a testament to the amount of effort SNK put into this kind of thing. Also, if you look close enough there are cameos from different SNK characters hidden in some of the stages, like Duck-King and Big Bear on the Italy stage.
The presentation is also of a high standard, especially when it comes to the nice opening animations for each stage. A pair of large wooden doors open in China to reveal the stage behind it, and rain pours and lightning flashes on the Korean stage before the fights starts. This is only a minor thing, but it is a very nice touch and really gives each stage it's own distinctive personality.
The only major gripe that I have is that the endings in this game are a bit poor really - the artwork looks very different to the rest of the game, and it just isn't all that good. At the end of the day this is only a small problem though, as you probably won't pay too much attention to the endings once you have seen them all.
Sound Effects & Music:
This area of the game doesn't really disappoint either. The voice actors for all the characters are great too, although a couple of speech samples are unintentionally hilarious as they sometimes sound like other things (e.g.: Mai sounds like she says "Me Bouncy" to some people ;-). Many people also find Athena's voice less annoying in this version too, at least compared to how she sounds in the later games... I don't hate her voice personally, but check out the other KOF games and see what you think.
As far as the music goes, some of it is excellent; I like the China and Japan stages in particular. Some of the music tracks can be a bit annoying though, especially on the Korea and Brazil stages. Despite a few minor problems, the sound in this game does suit it perfectly and it is WAY above average.
If you are new to the Neo Geo, or if you haven't played any KOF games yet (however unlikely that might be), I suggest that you give this a whirl before trying the others in the series, because it is still a great game. If you prefer to play more modern fighting games, then you might be better off skipping the first two KOF games and going straight to KOF '96. If you can appreciate this game for what it is (a great old school fighter), then you will get a lot of enjoyment from it. Although it isn't the deepest fighter around, it is still challenging at higher levels of play and will require a lot of practice to be able to beat it.
Be sure to check out KOF '95 after you have played this game however - it is very similar, but improves on almost every aspect in this game.
Game play: 7.5/10
Replay Value: 8/10
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