After having some solid success in arcades with the inaugural game in the series The King of Fighters '94, SNK wanted to try to address some of the complaints players had with the game in the sequel. Two of the biggest complaints were the inability to customise your own team lineups and the inherent lack of challenge with the CPU-controlled opponents in the first release. But while SNK were able to successfully give players the team customisation options they were looking for in The King of Fighters '95, they also managed to go quite a bit overboard on upping the difficulty and challenge of the CPU opponents, thus making the game extremely cheap at times and ultimately defeating most of the other improvements made to the sequel.
The fighting engine itself hasn't changed much since The King of Fighters '94, but the game does now allow players to choose their own individual team members from the entire cast of characters, rather than have the three-fighter teams already assembled. You still have your weak punch and kick attacks along with your strong punch and kicks, and of course the POWER gauge is back, something that allows you to execute your character's Super Special Move or Guard Cancel for a much more devastating attack.
There are several different game modes to choose from. Single Play allows you to choose a character and duke it out with the leader of each of the respective teams. Team Play lets you choose your three-character team and go up against the CPU's own team of fighters. You can even go so far as to take on the Single All mode where you can choose only one fighter and take on the entire game's cast of characters, one right after another. Each mode has their own pluses and minuses, but the Team Play is generally the best way to play the game as a single-player experience, especially given the game's high difficulty level.
If you're looking for some competitive action, there are a few modes to choose from here as well. You can take on the Single Vs. mode that allows you and another player to each pit one character against one another. Or if you prefer the more standard mode of the King of Fighters series, you can play the game's Team Vs. mode where you each choose your team of three fighters and play until one player has bested all three characters on a team. Much like the single-player version of this mode, it's easily the most enjoyable and competitive way to tackle the game.
As with most games in the series, the control is extremely responsive and the special moves are fairly easy to execute, even in a pinch. The real problem comes into play with the CPU-controlled opponents more than anything. In an effort to crank up the challenge a bit, SNK seems to have gone a bit overboard with their AI. Not only is it brutally challenging, even on the standard setting, but it tends to be very cheap as well. Often your fighter won't even be able to hit the ground after an attack before the CPU opponent pummels you again. Even veteran fighting game fans will likely have trouble beating the game and it's definitely something to consider before you think about picking up the game.
From a visual standpoint, you're not going to see a lot of dramatic improvements, although there are certainly plenty of new backdrops to enjoy throughout the game. The same can pretty much be said of the musical presentation and it never diverts very far from that of the original release. Even the announcer's voice didn't get much of an improvement in this somewhat lacklustre sequel.
Although there are some welcome improvements in The King of Fighters '95, the overall package is probably not significant enough to warrant buying the game for those who already own the previous instalment. And given the brutal and sometimes quite cheap AI of the game, gamers not quite as seasoned in the fighting game genre might want to think twice as well. The King of Fighters '95 is still a solid release, and will test even the most skilled fighting game fan, but those looking for a more serious step up in the series might want to hold off for King of Fighters '96.