The King of Fighters XV came out this week, and is awesome, probably the best KOF in many years. In getting hyped for this coming release, my friend Hazel and I spent pretty much all month playing other games in the series, while I personally did that thing where I pulled up that old nostalgia of playing on real Neo-Geo cabinets and remembering my fervent teenage fandom.
A bit of history, before I actually start talking about the game I’ll be reviewing today: growing up, I used to go to a lot of arcades back when those still existed. This would have been back in the 90s, when Street Fighter 2 was the hottest game in the world. Funny thing is, I can count on one hand the number of SF2 machines I ever saw at those places. There were a lot of Mortal Kombat machines, and entire rows of Neo-Geos. There was more excitement between me and my friends over the fact that there was a Samurai Shodown 2 than the fact that Street Fighter had four new characters, only one of which wasn’t lame as fuck, and that was only because Cammy’s extremely flat ass hung out of her outfit.
Anyways, I spent a lot of formative years with Fatal Fury, World Heroes, and the previously mentioned Samurai Shodown. Then one day, a new game showed up: The King of Fighters ’94. I thought this was a pretty wild game: you could play as three characters at once, some of whom I recognized from the other games. The new characters looked pretty cool, too; there was Tiny Freddy Kreuger and The Fat Guy With The Giant Ball. There were The Guys Who Played Sports, Army Guys, and Guy With Bandanna Who Shot Fire But In A More Stylish Way Than Ryu. And of course, the Fatal Fury team. Fatal Fury might actually have been the first fighting game I have ever played, so Terry and company always have a spot in my heart.
As I got older, arcades kind of, you know, died. I eventually figured out how emulation worked, and proceeded to spend my teen years replaying these old games, except now I had unlimited quarters and was completely spoiled for choice. Plus, with the internet and fan culture, it was very easy to find a lot of KOF fansites and message boards, back when those still existed (though some have survived the transition into Web 3.0), and getting to find out all this lore and this extra shit SNK only ever released in Japan. SNK, if nothing else, are a company very, very good at providing fanservice, and I’m not just talking about Mai Shiranui’s massive Oingler-Boinglers. This was a company that would bring its voice actors into a studio and have them cut whole albums. Like, have you ever wanted to hear Terry Bogard rap? I mean, you probably didn’t, but he did.
The King of Fighters became more than just a series of really hard games I was bad at because the AI was really cheap. I got to obsess over these really cool looking characters, listen to arranged versions of the games’ music, and ogle the extremely spicy fan art. I was (still am) a big supporter of the Kyo x Iori pairing, and of fucking course I “read” all of The Yuri and Friends. To cut an extremely long tangent short, I really fucking love these games because 1) they are stylish as fuck and 2) because it felt like you were rewarded for being a fan. At least until shit went south after 2000 and SNK got bought and sold by about 80 different Pachinko companies.
In between these two phases of my life, I had been given a copy of KOF ’95 for the Game Boy for my birthday. I was excited, because oh my god it has the Team Edit, so you can make your own teams, instead of the pre-set ones you had to pick in ’94! I played the absolute fuck out of that game every day during and after school (because I sure as fuck wasn’t paying any attention in class). I would play it at home. I loved this game, and loved the characters and they cutesy art style they all had on the Game Boy. I knew all the secret codes by heart (press Select about twenty times when you turn on the Game Boy and you can play as Saisyu, Rugal, Nakoruru, and pick the same character more than once). So much fun. My favorite character was Kensou, because he wore shorts, and I also wore shorts, but I got made fun of for wearing shorts. See, I was a very skinny kid, so I got called “Chicken Legs” a lot. And on days where I wore cut-off shorts? Oh man, that was rough. Only faggots wore cut-offs, and in those days and at that age, being gay was a fate worse than death! I would ask my mom and dad to please get some pants, and they would say no, I spent money on those clothes, and I took the time to cut those pants into shorts, so you are going to go to school and you are going to wear them! Anyways, Kensou wore shorts and shot fireballs, so he quickly became my favorite character.
Now, a couple of things to admit to here:
1) Once I got the original Neo-Geo games on my PC, I never played this version again until it was time to write this.
2) I front-loaded this post with a ton of nostalgia talk because, upon replaying this game, I made a horrible discovery: that The King of Fighters ’95 on Game Boy is absolute fucking dog shit.
I remembered this game being great! Then, I played it. The controls are beyond unresponsive, with massive input lag. Landing any kind of attack is a matter of luck. Jumping causes you to fly from one end of the stage to another, making jump attacks completely useless. It plays like one of those “Strret Figgter vs Nortal Kambot.nes” bootlegs. Of course, this being an SNK fighting game, the CPU will take every opportunity to fucking kill you immediately (kid me must have been smart enough to turn this shit down to “easy” or something). Attacks, when they actually do come out, have next to zero range on them. Projectiles are always dodged by the enemy, so trying to spam those is a fools game. A little PROTIP from me: the key to victory is picking Ralf, Kim, and Eiji, and simply using their special moves, which do more chip damage than actual hit damage; a properly aimed dive kick from Eiji can one-hit KO an opponent.
This game is so bad, and I am so bummed. I thought that I would write a little thing about this fun game I played as a kid because a new game in the series is out. Instead, I have to shake my head and question how I was ever able to find enjoyment in this. It wasn’t like I was starved for good Game Boy games. I had Mario Land! I had Kirby! I had Space Invaders! I had Link’s Awakening! There was not a stark lack of quality in my library that my standards were so low for KOF to clear it. Was it simply me being a stupid kid and “oh wow Neo-Geo game in my pocket” was enough to give it a thumbs up? In only a few years, the Neo-Geo Pocket would be out, and show how a handheld KOF game is supposed to be done. As it is, this port is a meaningless roadbump. Now all I have is this fond memory that isn’t as good as I remember it. That sucks.