While all the hype behind MKII and SSFII was overwhelming US gamers (The two games were basically all that my friends and I would talk about at summer camp that year, outside of the X-Men), SNK released a game that would be more important to the evolution of fighting games than anybody realized. The King of Fighters ’94 offered a unique gameplay experience, where players chose 3-on-3 teams, mostly made up of characters from other SNK fighting games; Ryo, Robert, and Takuma from Art of Fighting comprised one team, while Terry, Andy, and Joe from Fatal Fury were another.
This meant that the SNK games were all part of a shared world, something not really ever explored in video gaming up until this point. Sure, Mario appeared in the original Donkey Kong game, Pin Ball and the Super Mario Bros. games, but that wasn’t necessarily a shared universe; it was Nintendo re-using a character design for multiple games. King of Fighters was the first time we saw game characters in a shared world, like in comic books!
In addition to characters from Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury, KOF ’94 featured the lead characters from the Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier games; So it wasn’t just the SNK fighting games that were a part of this shared world. It was potentially SNK’s entire game library!
Unfortunately, the hype behind Super Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II was so huge, The King of Fighters ’94 got left in the dust. All of us serious fighting gamers knew it was there, but it wasn’t making the US gaming magazine headlines.
And, really, why should it? Art of Fighting was a piece of trash game. It had some great characters and cool ideas, but the actual gameplay was crap, and we all knew it. Fatal Fury was pretty okay, but nobody could find it in any arcades. Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier were both games whose days had come and gone – The inclusion of those characters was more of a fun bonus than anything else. And despite having 24 playable characters (the most in any fighting game up to that point), there were only 8 teams, and you were stuck with all 3 team members.
The King of Fighters was a fantastic idea that got held back because of its legacy and limitations. At least that year.
But by the end of 1994, Capcom’s Street Fighter would be the first to do something that neither Midway nor SNK was really prepared for – Release a feature-length film!
Street Fighter starred martial arts movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile, in his quest to defeat M. Bison (played by Raul Julia), once and for all. The film was considered a financial flop, mostly because it sucked. Why was Chun-Li a news reporter? Why were Dee Jay and Zangief working for M. Bison? And why wasn’t Balrog? Where was Ryu’s trademark red headband? AND WHY WASN’T ANYBODY FIGHTING?! For a movie called “Street Fighter,” there was WAY too much talking.
I remember my dad taking my brother and I to see the film, and FALLING ASLEEP in the middle. I have to say, I wasn’t much more impressed with the movie, myself. And for a 12-year-old kid to be disappointed in a movie based on a franchise he loved, that’s saying something. I mean, there were parts of it that I liked, but it seemed as if the producers hadn’t even TRIED to make a good movie.
I have a much fonder appreciation for the movie, now, as the tongue-in-cheek, campy ride that it was probably intended to be. My friends and I will often make daft references to it while playing games over XBox Live (the “Each Bison Dollar will be worth FIVE British Pounds!” line, and basically anything Dee Jay said being amongst our favorites to quote). I own it on DVD, but I only paid five bucks for it, because I refused to pay any more. It did, however, introduce me to Kylie Minogue, who has become one of my favorite pop singers.
But with the two-hit combo of the film and the release of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, which introduced even more moves and a new secret boss character into the SF world, Street Fighter was undisputedly the true “King of Fighters.” At least for the next several months.