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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.