There are enough fighting games for every gamer to have their own series, let alone favourite individual title, but keeping track of them or even being aware of them in the first place can be quite the challenge. Case in point is the first in the King of Fighters series, King of Fighters '94.
I knew the series existed - that King of Fighters was a thing - but could not for the life of me tell you what made it stand out from the competition, or how many titles were made, or what it even looks like.
That's about to change...
King of Fighters merges stars from previous SNK titles Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, as well as older games that made the 1001 list, like Ikari Warriors, but instead of simply being content with one-vs-one competition between the various camps of fighters, KoF '94 pits eight teams of three against each other in a globe-spanning tournament to prove who the very best fighters are.
Apparently, the teams are rather mismatched and very loosely related to each other or the country they're supposed to represent - if at all - but none of that is interesting to me because I am absolutely suckered in with this game from the first second of the fight.
The animation isn't silky smooth (though I am playing via an emulated PS2 kinda emulating a NEO-GEO via the SNK Arcade Classics Vol 1 release, so I perhaps shouldn't complain) but the artwork is above and beyond what I was expecting, with the down to earth cast of combatants still managing to be over-the-top in whatever way the developers want them to be - size, costume, fighting style, mannerisms, you name it.
You can punch and kick with different strengths, as well as unleash more powerful attacks once you've charged up your meter for a short while. There's also a dedicated 'avoid' button to dodge incoming attacks, should you time it right.
Hits and blocks have clear visual and audio cues to help you out in fights, and they'll continue until only one team is left standing. Which brings me rather neatly to my one major problem with KoF '94...
It's really KoFing hard...
I started on the Normal difficulty, lost heavily, switched to Easy (or sure hope I did) and lost just as hard. It's insane, and insane is an actual level of difficulty included in the list too.
I know I'm playing with a convoluted setup and an Xbox controller, but never making it past the first opposition team no matter who I pick means I've either got plenty of learning to do, or the game is too damn tough.
And that sucks because the game is such a looker. These screenshots appear to show fighters merging with their backgrounds, but it's not too bad in the game itself, even with everything in motion. The rest of your team, previously defeated or not, can be seen on the sidelines and even react to the hardest hitting moves. There's sometimes even a referee a la Samurai Shodown II who changes character depending on the stage you're in - if there's one in that particular stage at all.
Everything about this game says "You want to play me again, don't you?" and I reply "Hell yeah I do!" and then I remember "Oh no, the difficulty..." and that quashes that idea rather quickly.
The cast, while perhaps bland and forgettable in the long run, have plenty of character and differentiation from each other that you can play through with multiple teams and not get bored, but it is a shame that you can't pick and choose your own teams from scratch.
Luckily, KoF '94 was the kickoff to the series, and with enough time having passed for there to be sequels, remakes and collections that bring together multiple titles, I'm looking forward to branching off and exploring where the series went - hopefully towards the easier end of the difficulty slider and the more customizable end of the team selection screen, but I simply don't know.
Unfortunately, that'll have to be done in my own time some time, as no other King of Fighters title has made the 1001 list - despite there being better games released down the line, the first was the one that got crowned, mostly for its introduction of teams to the fighting genre.
It's worth playing, most definitely, and I want to see much more of it even though it kicks my arse each and every time. Hopefully, you'll fare better.
KoF started life as a sidescrolling beat 'em up starring characters from Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury, but SNK were only sold on one part of it - the crossover of stars from previous titles. Sticking with what they know, it turned into a fighter and began a lengthy series.
King of Fighters '94, developed by SNK, first released in 1994.
Version played: SNK Arcade Classics Vol 1, PlayStation 2, 2008, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1994 (World of Longplays)