The King of Fighters series
Retro Coin Op Synopsis
SNK’s bold intentions were clear from the name: The King of Fighters. With literally dozens of fighting games flooding the market in the wake of Street Fighter II, it would take more than a cocky title to earn the right to be called “King.” And while gamers may argue over who really wears the crown, SNK clearly delivered a contender.
Back in 1994, fighting games were still a one-on-one affair—Ryu vs. Zangeif, Sub-Zero vs. Sonya, Robert Garcia vs. Mr. Big and so on. The King of Fighters ‘94 took that concept and multiplied it by three. The annual King of Fighters tournament, seen previously in SNK’s Fatal Fury series, was now a team affair, as three-member delegates from around the world showed up to test their might.
Eight teams of three appeared in the original King of Fighters game, consisting of familiar faces from earlier SNK hits—Art of Fighting, Psycho Soldier, Ikari Warriors, Fatal Fury and more—along with a few new combatants. Only one of the three fighters competed at any given time, and once that player went down for the count, the next one stepped in.
Ruthless tycoon Rugal Bernstein had masterminded the 1994 tourney, and after fighting through the other three-man squads (or three-woman, as the case may be), players faced off against Rugal himself. The three-to-one advantage didn’t matter much against this baddie; he could take out twice that many fighters and not even break a sweat.
Apart from the team aspect, The King of Fighters ‘94 stayed true to the nature of most other fighters. Combos and “super” desperation moves were available, and a full “POW” meter at the bottom of the screen opened up an arsenal of deadly special moves.
The King of Fighters ‘94 helped revolutionize the growing fighting genre, paving the way for future team fighters like Marvel vs. Capcom and Tekken Tag Tournament. Fans’ only complaint was the fact that the teams were fixed—no mixing of Mai Shiranui with Joe Higashi with Athena Asamiya, etc. SNK listened, and The King of Fighters ‘95 threw the system wide open. The 1995 sequel featured a “Team Edit,” allowing players to mix and match from among any of the 24 fighters. The new system brought even more fans into the King of Fighters fold, and the games became an annual event for the rest of the decade.
The tweaks and twists kept coming in every new King of Fighters installment, from 1996’s revamped combo system to 1997’s dual “mode” system—Advanced and Extra. The ’97 game also introduced realistic relationships to the team-ups. If the fighters in your lineup didn’t get along well together (their faces let you know on the selection screen), then they might not be as willing to lend each other a hand during the fight.
In The King of Fighters ’98: The Slugfest, the cast blossomed to 38 selectable characters. For those unable to decide from among so many eligible fighters, the game included a “roulette” team edit mode, allowing players to have the computer pick randomly for them. The ’98 version also gave an advantage when a team lost one of its members, trying to keep matches from becoming blowouts.
The series closed out the decade with The King of Fighter ’99: The Millennium Battle. The roster was trimmed back down to 28 characters, but the teams expanded to four members each. Three fighters still fought the main battle, but the fourth could lend a temporary hand as a “striker,” swooping in to do a bit of dirty work when necessary. The ’99 game also replaced the Advanced/Extra modes with Counter/Armor. Counter allowed players to do any desperation move at any time, while Armor kept players from being pushed back out of position by normal hits.
With years of innovation under its black belt, The King of Fighters has become one of the most enduring titles of the 90’s. And if the past is any indication, you can expect this tournament to keep convening well into the next millennium.
Arcade Machine Release History1994 - The King of Fighters '94
1995 - The King of Fighters '95
1996 - The King of Fighters '96
1997 - The King of Fighters '97
1998 - The King of Fighters '98: The Slugfest
1999 - The King of Fighters '99: The Millennium Battle
2000 - The King of Fighters 2000
2001 - The King of Fighters 2001