SNK: The Phoenix of Fighting Games

“Like a  Phoenix rising from the ashes” is a saying that’s as cliche’d as it is awesome. But honestly there is no better metaphor for SNK, or SNK Playmore, because not only have they been the absolute paragons of fighting games for nearly 30 years but their return to form with King of Fighters XIV has made the last 3 years arguably the best time ever to be an SNK fan. 

To fully understand the highs and lows of SNK we have to go back a few years…okay we have to go back 18 years but just follow me on this one. 

The year is 2001, SNK is a respected name in the Fighting Game scene. The Fatal Fury series is regarded as classic, King of Fighters has a lively scene with a dedicated fanbase, and the Neo Geo is completely tanking their profit margins. If you don’t know what  Neo Geo is, allow me to summarize:

The Neo Geo was the most advanced video game console of the 1990’s. Debuting in 1990 it stayed on the market till 2004 and had one of the longest shelf lives in video game console history. 

If you wanted the most accurate port of an arcade game then you had to have a Neo Geo…if you could afford it. 

Neo Geos are notoriously expensive and the systems will go for hundreds of dollars even today.  The cost of the console was $599 and I know what you’re thinking “don’t consoles cost that much nowadays?” you would be right. But this thing came out in 1990 and adjusting for inflation it would be the equivalent of nearly $1,200 today. 

It kept SNK afloat for a while because it was a must-have for collectors and die-hard fighting game fans because if you browse through the Neo Geo library I challenge you to find a single bad fighting game on there.

Well…I did… but that’s because I’m morbidly curious about anything with punchy/kicky mechanics. (The game is called Fight Fever, it’s an uninspired Street Fighter clone best left forgotten).

Even though it has the greatest fighting game library of all time, most people simply couldn’t afford it or even if they could afford it chose not to purchase it because they didn’t see the value in spending $600 on a console and then anywhere between $100 to $300 per game(dead serious). 

So the poor Neo Geo was taking on water and that forced our Beloved SNK to file for Bankruptcy.

But wait, I can hear you saying, how did a Console survive the company’s bankruptcy??? Well because they had all of their licenses sold to another company of a similar name “SNK Playmore” was founded and virtually nothing changed. Their IPs continued on and the Neo Geo was officially discontinued 3 years later. 

SNK Playmore was sorta in and out for several years. Mostly recovering from the Bankruptcy and re-releasing compilations of their older games for newer consoles instead of building new games and it’s been a constant problem with SNK ever since. 

To get the idea, Fatal Fury was their first fighting game IP and the last time we saw that Franchise was in 1999’s Garou: Mark of the Wolves, an excellent fighter and one of the all time greatest 2D fighting games ever made but here we are, 20 years later, and Fatal Fury has yet to have another installment despite re-releasing Garou Mark of the Wolves a seemingly infinite number of times. 

They tried their hands at making other games like the lackluster Samurai Shodown Sen in 2008, and of course they kept up their King of Fighters franchise going until 2010 with the release of the gorgeous King of Fighters XIII. 

SNK backed off from console and PC games for a while to focus on gambling machines and mobile games. All of their gambling machines were tied to their franchises in some way, shape, or form. There’s a rather Impressive 2D anime styled Art of Fighting Pachinko machine that makes me really wish they would produce another Art of Fighting Anime.

For my review of the original Art of Fighting Anime, please see this link:  

Konami fans are feeling exactly what SNK fans felt for 6 years…stay strong. The dark times will end. 

When SNK was purchased by Chinese Company Leyou Millenium, I thought “This is it, they’re going to scatter their IPs to the four winds and SNK will continue to fade into a distant memory”…or at least that’s how it COULD have happened. 

Leiyou Millenium said that they want to use SNK’s dormant IPs and make more video games, comic books, anime, manga, and even movies. Their first foray into fighting games was King of Fighters XIV and…man did it look bad. 

SNK was broke at the time and even with their parent company they couldn’t  afford the Unreal Engine so they had to build their own engine for the game and it showed. The Graphics looked awful for a PS4 title and hopes were dashed again. 

Yeesh

It was up for a bit then it went down hard…but then more trailers for KOF XIV kept coming out. Showing us more characters and comparisons to KOF XIII were showing that the movesets were still there, the graphics were gradually improving from trailer to trailer, so hopes were raised. 

Then the game was released…And it was great.

KOF XIV may not be the prettiest game but it has a lot of heart. Where it lacks in graphics it makes up for by being one of the funnest Fighting Games of the decade. SNK was BACK baby!

They experimented with a new title called “SNK Heroine’s Tag Team Frenzy” which is a cute, bright, fanservicy fighting game using KOF XIV’s engine. It’s not as good as KOF XIV but it is fun and any game that puts Mai Shiranui in a cow outfit and Leona Heidern in a cat bikini gets top marks from me. 

Which brings us to SNK’s current competitive fighter, Samurai Shodown and my God what a game. This game deserves all the praise in the world that it gets and I cannot tell you how hard I marked out when I saw the Tokyo Game Show Trailer. I leapt from my seat when I saw Haohmaru cutting that map in half and I couldn’t contain myself. I was talking about it for weeks on end. 

I wasn’t the only one who bought into the hype as well. Not only did Mortal Kombat 11 come out this year but if you look at EVO Registration numbers, MK11 lost to Samurai Shodown. 

Samurai Shodown? More like Samurai Show Stealer!

Currently they are adding in one new character to the ever growing roster every other month and if you’re not playing this game, stop what you’re doing and pick it up asap. SNK does not pay me anything in case you are wondering, I just know good games and good business when I see it. 

Which brings us back around to Fatal Fury and how the world was confused but long time fighting game fans were excited when Terry Bogard was announced as DLC for Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. 

I have a friend who got me into SNK and I remember him telling me how he’d love to see Terry Bogard in Smash because Ryu and Ken were in it. He’s a big fan of the Capcom vs SNK games. I agreed with him that it would be great but I didn’t think it would ever happen since Terry’s not as big of a name as Capcom’s golden boys. 

But here we are. Terry Bogard is a playable character in the best selling fighting game of all time, an SNK game has more registers than a Mortal Kombat game at the biggest fighting game event of the year, and slowly but surely I am seeing more and more cosplayers of SNK characters at Conventions as well. 

Considering that nearly 20 years ago SNK filed for bankruptcy and we went from having ZERO games between 2010 and 2016 other than ports and mobile games to now. It’s been a quick rise from downright obscurity to household name in just a short span of 3 years. 

I would say “The Future looks bright” but I think I need to rephrase that because SNK already has a better slogan. 

“The Future is Now”.