ACA NEOGEO THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’94 Review

Along with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, Neo Geo titles have been steadily populating themselves within the eShop. While some allow you to conjure up that sweet nostalgia of yesteryear, others remind you that not everything ages gracefully. King of Fighters 94′ sadly is of the latter. Possibly containing some influence to dive in and relive childhood arcade memories, it’s probably best to leave this one undisturbed in the recesses of your gaming youth.

Back in the 90s developer SNK brought their intricate fighting franchise to the arcades, separating the pros from the noobs. The King of Fighters series was definitely a step up in difficultly when compared to the other genres taking over the scene at the time. Quick responding AI and fast excecution combos require much more of the players focus and performance if they plan to succeed and see those credits roll. What makes KOF 94′ unique is it’s unconventional approach to the standard one vs one battle system. KOF 94′ requires players to fight in 3v3 teams, challenging them to master each team member and fully utilize their strengths, instead of the standard one fighter at a time method.

On paper this sounds engaging and thrilling, but the execution and obtuse controls withdrew me instantly. I’m assuming that using an arcade stick setup was probably the most beneficial way to play this title, but when ported over to the Switch it just results in a clunky, uninspired, button-mashing mess. Even with the controls explained via a short video at the startup, and a menu screen for further details, they never feel cohesive or responsive enough. It’s not even the Switch hardware itself, it’s the initial button-mapping that really need some work. Thankfully the player can adjust certain buttons and customize them to their comfort.

At the title screen, KOF 94′ offers a variety of ways to play. You can choose either the original English or Japanese versions of the game, “Hi Score” mode, or Caravan mode. Each mode is a bare-bones offering to help shake up the traditional fighting system, but in the end doesn’t really offer any substantial thrills. Even though this is a simple port, some extra love into unique, interesting modes would have definitely peaked my interest more.

The character roster in KOF 94′ is a motley crew of cheesy, sometimes stereotypical fighters, each representing a country from around the world. You can battle with characters from the U.S., England, Japan, China, and more. When you enter each country’s battle arena, it’s almost entertaining how they play to the tropes you would expect from that region. For example when entering into Mexico’s battleground, why not be in a bar surrounded by a slew of cheering mariachi members? For America, the obvious choice of a New York City style skyline sits in the back, while the stage is populated by characters holding boomboxes and cheering the fight on.

Now something I really can’t understate is that KOF 94′ is no elementary fighting game. For a newcomer looking to try out a new title on the Switch eShop, please take warning. It’s not a difficulty that’s jarring or unplayable, but it will challenge you and your combo assault skills for sure. One positive thing about this is when you do get on a good win streak, it’s highly rewarding and gives great incentive to keep on going.

Even on the Switch’s beautiful screen, not much can really save KOF 94′ and it’s oppressed visuals of 90s Neo Geo games. The pixels have a more muddy, enlarged look that don’t really make it a sight for sore eyes. Explosions and special moves effects often look like a fizzle of fuzzy pixels when executed, and leave much to be desired. You can adjust the screen size in the options menu to shrink the screen, which does help compress the display and give a bit sharper resolution. But when playing on a small handheld screen already, you probably aren’t looking to shrink down your view even more.

When it’s comes to the retro audio and sound design, I acknowledge KOF 94’s lack of quality, but I still feel it delivered an unusual charm. The audio of punches and kicks landing sound like paper bags being crumpled and tossed. Not to mention the voice work sounds like its coming out of an old clock radio speaker. The battle music is pretty decent though, and sent some memories flooding back of rich 90s gaming tune-bit soundtracks. Even with its signs of age and lack of clarity, its helps even out the rough patches KOF 94′ contains.

The Nintendo Switch’s eShop is growing ripe with an excellent Neo Geo collection, thanks to SNK. Of the offerings, unfortunately KOF 94′ probably won’t be climbing to the top of the ranks. As the series advanced through the years, so did it’s innovations and barrier to entry, sadly KOF 94’s will not greet you with any of them. With its aging visuals and cumbersome controls, it can be more of a chore to complete, than a fun time. Now add in it’s surprisingly enhanced difficulty compared to other fighting games, I could only really recommend KOF 94′ to series veterans, or gamers who are a glutton for punishment.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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