100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #15 King Of The Monsters


Japanese “Kaiju” Monster movies were big in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and is in a resurgence of sorts with Pacific Rim and the new Godzilla. It started with the American King Kong movie all the way back in 1933, which sort of got Japanese adaptations with Wasei Kingu Kongu and King Kong Appears in Edo. But it was the first Godzilla movie that really kicked off the genre and established Godzilla as a global icon and a long running franchise (with Gamera being one of the bigger competitors). The first Godzilla (and Gamera) movie was a more serious affair. But they soon introduced a host of other monsters for Godzilla to fight against. And the series became campier and less serious, more a reason to watch men in elaborate monster suits wrestling each other and blowing up miniature buildings.

In the far far flung future of 1996...

In the far far flung future of 1996…


SNK capitalized on the popularity of both Godzilla and pro wrestling with King Of The Monsters (King Of The Monsters, incidentally, being one nickname for Godzilla). It is basically a wrestling game but with giant monsters instead of wrestlers, and a whole city district instead of a ring. You pound on other monsters till their health is low enough for you to pin them down for a count of 3 (Why do monsters care if they were pinned down? Who is there counting to 3? No one knows). You can grapple and do a host of wrestling moves. You can even do an Irish whip and your opponent would run till the end of the “ring” and be whipped back, thanks to the bouncy electromagnetic force-field at the sides that act pretty much like the bouncy ropes of a wrestling ring.

Character select screen.

Character select screen.

So who are the 6 monsters? They are:-

–          Geon, the Godzilla-looking dinosaur

–          Woo, the King Kong-like giant ape

–          Poison Ghost, a smog monster type

–          Beetle Mania, a giant beetle

–          Rocky, a monster composed of large rocks (naturally)

–          Finally, Astro Guy, a Ultraman-like giant superhero guy (though I’m not sure how much of a hero he really is)

I chose to play as Beetle Mania because Beetle Mania looks the least threatening out of all the monsters. And because it’s a funny reference.

That bridge is going down.

That bridge is going down.

Once you start King Of The Monsters, you can choose either to play 1 player against the computer, 2 players versus mode, or 2 player co-op mode (fighting 2 other computer controlled monsters for exciting 2 vs 2 matches). A playthrough of the game will take you across 12 stages spread across Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kobe, and Okayama. In each stage, you’ll be fighting while getting bombarded by army Tanks and planes while also getting swarmed by tiny cars and trains. But you could pick any of these vehicles and use them as throwing weapons, which is very handy.

Wiped Clean

You can throw planes. But wow this city’s just wiped clean.

The combat in King Of The Monsters is fairly intricate. [A] punches, [B] kicks. Three hits of any would usually knockdown. Thus, it’s important to learn to run away when you need to with [C] or by double tapping  left or right (wherein you could run back and clobber them with a running attack). Or you could jump out of harm with [A]+[B] (the CPU always tends to jump out of 3 hit combos).  Holding [A]+[B] would charge up a long range projectile attack.

You always need big, beautiful Pagodas to destroy.

Gotta have big, beautiful Pagodas to destroy.

As a wrestling game, grappling forms an important part of the combat. Moving to the other monster initiates a grapple. And pressing either [A] or [B] with different directions does different character-specific wrestling moves (This FAQ lists all the command throws. Although some of the buttons are switched it seems). You can also do throw-reversals (though I’m not sure how). Doing the more damaging throws would yield a power-up item, and also a dizzied opponent open for more attacks (I usually go for a back throw in this case). Collecting the power-up item fills a bar that, once filled, will “upgrade” the player, giving them a new color, slightly faster movement,  and a bigger projectile attack.  Filling that bar again would unlock the final form. Again, they have an even slightly faster movement and an even bigger projectile attack. But most importantly, the final form unlocks a special throw, done with [A]+[B], that does a lot of damage.

Nice of the Ferris Wheel runners to keep the wheel running. Must be a great view of the match.

Nice of the Ferris Wheel runners to keep the wheel running. Must be a great view of the match.

When your opponent is down, you can pin them with [A], pick them up for a throw with [B], or do a downed attack with [C]. But you can’t mine hits by constantly throwing them over and over as there’s a set amount of times you can pick an opponent up for a throw, or else they’d just stand up straight.

Fighting all summer and winter.

Fighting all summer and winter.

But of course, you don’t need to know any of these specific commands to get through King Of The Monster. I managed to mash my way through all 12 stages. I only learned about most of these mechanics after I beat the game & tried a bit of 2 player practice.

Seems like there's something written on that building.

Seems like there’s something written on that building. “Neo Geo”? What’s a “Neo Geo”?

There are some issues with King Of The Monsters mechanics. When a player moves the character to contact the other monster for a grapple, the game randomly decides who should get the upper hand. The one with the upper-hand gets to throw, and the other character can only hope to be able to do a throw-reversal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except that I don’t know how to do throw-reversals and seemingly, no one on the internet knows either. So when odds are against you, you just have to accept it and take the hit. This discourages from trying to grapple the other character since there’s an equal chance that you will get thrown. And there’s nothing you can do about it.



There’s also the issue with lifebars. Usually with wrestling games, the lifebar serves as a measure of “how much button-mashing does a pinned player need to do to get out of a pin-down”. The less life they have, the more mashing they need to do, up to a certain limit where no conceivable level of mashing could save a player from a pin-down. Usually, that extent is reached when their lifebar is fully depleted or even a little bit beyond that . Some games have a hidden 20-or-so percent of life hidden beyond what’s displayed just to add a bit of exciting comebacks and suspense to the match. King Of The Monsters does have this “extra life” in, but it seems like there’s an extra %100, %200 of life after it’s depleted, maybe even more, especially in the later levels. This drags out matches for far too long. And with health being low, both players end up spending their time down on the ground for the latter part of a match. And you can be sure that the CPU will take every single chance it has to pin you down.

Some nice water effects here.

Some neat water effects here.

But all of this doesn’t deter from what is a really fun game with a novel idea, especially in coop or versus multiplayer. There’s inarguable appeal to playing as funny looking giant monsters body-slamming other funny looking monsters all while destroying tall buildings and getting bombarded by tiny fighter planes, all while a vaguely English-sounding guy narrates the scene and the hopelessness of it all. Yes, there were a few of “Kaiju” games before King Of The Monsters. But the few Godzilla games weren’t all that great. And I guess Midway’s Rampage has its fans. But Rampage was more “Monsters vs tiny people and buildings” rather than “Monster vs Monster” type of action. King Of The Monsters didn’t set any precedent. But still remains a fairly new idea that was well done.

More monster fighting. Kinda getting tired of these samey-looking screenshots.

More monster fighting. Kinda getting tired of these samey-looking screenshots.

The precedent that King Of The Monsters did set, however, was that it was the first of several Neo Geo games that got ported to the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive. These ports were handled by Takara, who would also work on Game Boy ports of Neo Geo titles later in the ’90s. The ports took out 2 characters, probably for memory-saving reason.  The missing characters were Woo (The King Kong lookalike, probably because he was a King Kong-lookalike and Takara didn’t want to get sued by Universal, just like how Universal Sued Nintendo) and Poison Ghost (the smog-monster, because…look at it).

I almost forgot to put a picture with Rocky. So here's Rocky.

I almost forgot to put a picture with Rocky. So here’s Rocky.

SNK did make a sequel, King Of The Monsters 2: The Next Thing (No, not “The Next BIG Thing”. Just “The Next Thing”, which is true in a sense). The sequel expanded the game to be a beat em up, with plenty of boss fights that resemble the first game’s wrestling matches thrown in. It also dropped (actually, killed off if the into is to be believed) Beetle Mania, Rocky, and Poison Ghost (again), keeping only Geon and Astro Guy intact, while Woo was turned into a robot in the spirit of Mecha-Godzilla and Mecha King Ghidorah, becoming Cyber-Woo. Cyber-Woo did join Neo Geo Battle Coliseum as a playable character (though a much smaller version). And there is a stage in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum that is an ode to King of the Monsters, depicting Cyber-Woo fighting a skeletal version of Geon.

Editor’s Note: No Screen Gallery this time because honestly, there’s not much else new to be shown in the other screenshots. It’s just more monsters wrestling. Hope you don’t mind.


100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #14 Sengoku


Sengoku is the second beat em up on the Neo Geo, after Ninja Combat. But unlike Ninja Combat (which was by ADK), Sengoku was internally developed by SNK. According to the intro, 400 years ago, a warlord was defeated by 2 samurais. But just before he died, he promised to return in 400 years to bring death and destruction to the land. And 400 years pass. And lo and behold, the warlord actually kept his promise, resurrecting, along with his magical floating mansion and massive undead army, to bring the apocalypse to modern times. Interesting tidbit: The intro is different between the MVS & AES versions of the game. The MVS intro, while more impressive looking, has a rather fast text scroll that is hard to read. The AES version slows down the text scroll. But the intro is just a series of static screens, which is less impressive. But back to the game itself.

Two Crude Dudes!

Two Crude Dudes!

So who will save this world from the mad man warlord in his floating, spinning magic mansion? Two dudes. Player one is a Mad Max or Kenshiro looking guy, complete with leather jacket and metal shoulder pads, but with a brighter attire to give him a bit of legitimacy/avoid lawsuits. Player two is a shirtless cowboy. The two of them will have to get to the mad man warlord by punching hundreds and hundreds of ghost ninjas, undead samurais, demons, Kappas, evil spirits, and a host of other mythical Japanese monsters under the warlord’s command.

Buildings crumpled, cities levels, but somehow, this billboard is nigh intact.

Buildings crumpled, cities levels, but somehow this billboard is nigh intact.

Like other contemporary beat-em-ups/belt-scrollers/brawlers (pick your favorite term), you walk to the right and punch people, monsters, demons, and other such things. [A] button attacks, and [B] jumps. But the main gimmick of Sengoku is that, on your journey you will befriend three different “warrior spirits” who will help you out: A Wolf, a Ninja, and a Samurai. And you can “tag-in” any of these spirits with the [C] button. But each of the 3 spirits has their own 60-second timer that counts down when they’re “tagged in”. And once the timer reaches 0, they’re out, lost for good. And you can’t get them back (not even after dying. Death actually doesn’t take away your spirit friends if you have them along when you die). That is, unless you find another one of the lost spirits on your way, which is pretty rare. So it’s very important that you tag them out before they’re timer runs out to have them recharge their timer (although, if you’re like me, you’ll probably die & use all your lives pretty quickly before the timer runs out, wherein you’ll continue and then have all your spirits fully charged).

Here's where you get the wolf. Which oddly has the same wolf-howl sound sample as Galford's Poppy.

Here’s where you get the wolf. Which oddly has the same wolf-howl sound sample as Galford’s Poppy. Also look at that army!

Many of these battles won’t even be taking place in the earthly domain. See, every so often, your player gets transported instantly. Sometimes to the heavens, sometimes seemingly back in time, or just to the lower city levels, in the subways and severs. It’s a very abrupt, very interruptive sequence. And it’s Sengoku’s other big gimmick that’s also really weird. In fact, in stage 1, mere seconds after starting the game and walking for a few feet, you will suddenly be transported to the heavens to fight a horde of monsters. It’s a hectic kind of pace, ensuring that you’re not fighting in the same locale for too long. It’s an obvious gimmick to reduce the apparent tedium that a lot of beat em ups can have by “mixing it up”. And honestly it works, even if you are still fighting the same types of enemies wherever you are. And yet even within the same plane, Sengoku tries to mix it up by having the same enemies appear on screen in new ways. Sometimes, they just walk in from off-screen, or come by running from the background (with lots of sprite scaling. This IS an early-era Neo Geo game, so expect plenty of ridiculous sprite-scaling). Other times they appear as weird ghosts that transform into the usual set of enemies you fight. It doesn’t really have an effect on how you play the game, just a variety of fancy wrappers for the same types of sandwiches.

I kind of want to listen to Sewer Surfin all the sudden.

I kind of want to listen to Sewer Surfin all of a sudden.

But is the meat of Sengoku good (Apologies for the heavy handed metaphor)? Past all the gimmicky visual tricks & the fancy spirit-tagging mechanic, is the raw punching & kicking good?

Ninja's throwing shurikin, naturally

Ninja is throwing shurikin, naturally

Well, not really. For one, regular dude moves quite slowly. But more importantly, there’s no “combo lock” like you have in Final Fight or other beat em ups. When an enemy is punched, they go into a “getting hit” animation frame & are pushed back a little. And during the “getting hit” frame, all subsequent attacks won’t register until the enemy is back into normal state. So it feels flimsy hitting attack 4 times & only having attacks #1 & #3 register as hits. This is unlike Final Fight, where once the first attack lands, the subsequent attacks initiate a combo that ends with a final attack that knocks down the enemy. Also, there aren’t a lot of moves you can do. There’re no throws, only 1 jump attack, and no running at all. Although you can break enemy sword with your bare hands but I’m not sure how to trigger this move. But it’s useful and looks pretty cool.

This midboss shoots tiny versions of itself out of that big sack.

This midboss shoots tiny versions of itself out of that big sack. Weird.

The spirits you can tag with are also of mixed usefulness. The wolf is nearly useless, with very short range attacks. The Ninja is basically a faster version of regular dude (that’s because instead of walking, the Ninja does acrobatic ninja flips, as a Ninja should). The Samurai is the most effective of them all, as the samurai’s sword has great reach and does great damage.

Ninja is shooting this thing. Naturally???

Ninja is shooting this thing. Naturally???

But even if the wolf and the Ninja are not that much more useful than regular dude, it’s still a good idea to switch to them whenever you get a power-up. Defeating some enemies would yield different colored orbs. which give you power-ups, like giving regular dude a sword, or 2 swords, or 1 BIG sword, or can make him shoot stuff. But if one of the spirits gets a powerup (or powered up regular dude is switched up to any of these spirits), they will shoot a plethora of crazy looking projectiles too. So it’s a smart idea to change to one of the spirits when powered up (even the nearly useless wolf gets some much needed firepower).

SNK doing more of their usual referential stuff.

SNK doing more of their usual referential stuff.

So despite not having a strong basis in terms of bare-handed combat, there’s quite a lot of switching between the 4 characters. And optimally, you won’t be using regular dude for long stretches if you’re playing well. And yet, thanks to some smart enemy designs, there are some instances where you’re better off using regular guy against some enemies. Sword wielding enemies can reflect projectiles, so if you were using a powered up spirit that’s shooting stuff, your attacks would be reflected back. Therefore it’s better in this case to switch back to regular dude to use his sword-breaking move (which would be much more useful if I knew how to do it). Or you can clash your sword with an enemy sword and presumably mash in order to win (unless it’s done like in the first Samurai Shodown, then you really shouldn’t bother with the wasted effort).

Final boss encounter is some crazy high-flying sword fight that...

Final boss encounter is some crazy high-flying sword fight…

...and this is the warlord's final form.

…and this is the warlord’s final form.

This dependency on tagging between characters while also managing each spirits “cool down” period, factoring in whether you have a power up or not, and who are the enemy-types you’re currently fighting, all of this does build a simple strategy element on top of an otherwise pretty simplistic brawling system, a system which I believe could not sustain a whole interesting game on itself. And the pretty-looking, very imaginative stages you go through, especially with the whole warping around thing, is a clever gimmick that nullifies the “brawler tedium” that happens in similar games. Add to that some really cool looking bosses (mostly the minibosses. The real bosses are somewhat less impressive oddly), and a very climactic final boss encounter, and Sengoku ends up being a very good, smartly designed brawler that does enough to differentiates itself from the competition. And it seems SNK did a good enough job with Sengoku to spawn 2 other sequels, Sengoku 2 in 1994, and a Noise Factory-made Sengoku3/Sengoku 2001 in, well, 2001.