Although SNK’s Fatal Fury and Samurai Shodown franchises placed the company on the map as far as 2D fighting games were concerned, it wasn’t until the release of the first King of Fighters game SNK could go toe-to-toe with Capcom’s Street Fighter – and win.
For the uninitiated, KOF involves picking a team of three combatants. Each bout is decided by three falls. When all your guys are knocked out, you lose, and when you defeat an opponent you face the next fighter in their team with the same energy level as in the previous fight. It may not seem like much of a change, but it really does alter the way you play. Having three fighters to utilize also means you have to learn three different sets of moves and therefore don’t end up relying on the same character all the time.
Another thing that makes KOF94 so appealing is the diverse range of characters. You have Terry and company from Fatal Fury and Ryo from Art of Fighting, not to mention some excellent original creations. Arguably the most popular brawler is Kyo, who is seen by many as the main star of the KOF story. The graphics are truly stunning and this surely ranks as one of the most visually impressive 2D games currently available on the VC.
Because it’s getting on a bit it’s unsurprising that KOF94 lacks many of the creature comforts we now expect from 2D fighters. There’s no mid-air blocking, no countermoves and only very basic supers. Also, you can’t select individual characters for your team; instead you have to pick a predetermined group (free selection wouldn’t come until KOF95). Despite these rather minor niggles, the core gameplay remains as addictive as ever.
We'd like to give this a higher score because it really is a quality videogame, but we’ll resist simply because later entries in the series – most notably KOF96 – improve on the concept by quite a margin. KOF94 is still highly recommended but if you’re unsure you might want to wait for one of the more recent editions to become available.