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This is one of the very first Neo-Geo fighting games: It is also the very first game to bear the title "King Of Fighters" title (Rugal Bernstein reopened the tournament in The King Of Fighters '94) It's a classic game; and the first of one of the longest living series in the Neo-Geo.
Geese Howard holds South Town in his grasp; he is the leader of the biggest criminal organization in the city. But ten years before this game takes place, there was only one person who could defeat him: Jeff Bogard. Jeff had trained alongside Geese years before, but Jeff was favored by their master. Geese knew that Jeff was a better fighter, so he had to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Geese had Jeff Bogard killed.
Geese now holds a tournament each year - The King Of Fighters Tournament - in order to find worthy contenders for him. Whoever can defeat the tournament's current champion (Billy Kane), goes on to fight Geese himself. No one has yet survived a fight against Geese. This year, however, there are three fighters who interest Geese: Terry & Andy Bogard, and Joe Higashi. But he dismisses them as regular fighters... But in reality, the three are out for revenge - revenge on the death of Jeff Bogard.
Yep, folks, this game started it all! The story may not be very original (it fits in on any cheap martial arts movie), but for the time, it seemed enough. At least the game had a storyline; many of the first fighting games out there didn't even bother with one. For a 1991 game, SNK really churned out lots of details for the game. The animation, though choppy at times, is really good. Practically all of the characters in the game are completely different from one another, with the exception of Hwa Jai, who is a retooled (stoned, actually) Joe Higashi. All of the scenes in the game are different from one another, and go from a bridge that resembles the Golden Gate (Billy Kane) to a restaurant (Richard Meyer) to an amusement park (Raiden). Though many of the people in the background get recycled from one stage to the next, all of the backgrounds themselves are unbelievably detailed; try checking out the dragon statues on Richard Meyer's level, or the Demon warriors on Geese's stage. For a 1991 game, the graphics are breathtaking. Oh, and depending on the round, the backgrounds go from the afternoon, to the evening, to night. Rain appears in Tung Fu Rue's level, complete with thunder and the sound of the rain hitting the floor.
Another innovating feature that was also seen in SNK's earlier title Street Smart, is the 2 player cooperative mode: When one player is fighting the computer, another player can join in to help him at the same time! After they beat the enemy, they fight each other to see who will continue. Honestly, this made the game a lot easier, but the computer could hit both of the characters at the same time! (See the above image). And this game introduced fighting in various planes of movement, with you knocking the computer (or the computer knocking you) towards the back of the scenery with one well placed punch.
The game's music is still, to this day, very good. The vocalization on Richard Meyer's stage is excellent, Tung Fu Rue's theme is played with classic chinese instruments, and most of the others go from 80's hip-hop to classic Rock'n'roll.
But unfortunately, all the redeeming elements above can't change the inevitable: The control is very loose, making some special attacks (like Terry's Power Wave) hard to pull off, but some of the more devastating moves (like Joe's Tiger Kick) are very easy to perform. But the character you control responds very well when you move around the screen. The computer gives you a very good fight, though sometimes on the edge of being impossible to defeat without cheating, as is the case of Geese Howard and Billy Kane. Well, at least the computer tells you how to perform the special attacks after beating 3 characters. And only being able to play as three different characters (even in Vs. Mode) is limiting, especially since they all have virtually the same ending.
If you like playing old fighting games, this is for you. Though it may be somewhat difficult for younger players, most veterans will like it.
Very special thanks go to S The Great (Salah Abed) for the information and the storyline he gave in his Fatal Fury (SNES) FAQ. You can find his FAQ here.