2009 began the renaissance of fighting games. With the release of Street Fighter IV, the gaming industry would see a drastic change in the approach to fighting games over the course of the next decade. That generation would see the first balance patches for fighting games, DLC, large numbers of players entering major tournaments, and even developers supporting their respective communities. Netherrealm Studios would sponsor $10,000 pot bonuses for tournaments while major figureheads and developers, like Tekken creator, Katsuhiro Harada, would attend EVO and Final Round.
SNK never had the following of Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, or Tekken, at least not in a America. Certain regions of Asia and Mexico value the King of Fighters as one of the most prominent fighting games. Meanwhile, many players in the west got their taste of SNK through the heavily successful crossover title, Capcom vs. SNK 2. Featuring Terry Bogard, Rock Howard, Kyo Kusanagi, and many others, CvS2 would introduce these players to SNK franchises for the very first time. Despite this, SNK would still maintain only a niche following in America.
The King of Fighters XIV released in 2016. Despite SNK trying to capitalize on the modern successes of fighting games, The King of Fighters XIV’s momentum never quite picked up in the U.S. Most prominently, the visual models were not considered appealing. From King of Fighters ’94 to King of Fighters XIII, all used animated sprites. XIV was the first to use 3D modeling. Even after SNK released a patch, the game had already made its impression on the players and would fade into obscurity. Also of note, EVO 2017 featured the game, but notably, only one American player made it into the Top 8. Compared to other games, the Top 8 of KOF XIV featured global talent with only one American player.
Most recently, however, SNK released Samurai Shodown for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The first Samurai Shodown title released in many years, it offers a unique gameplay style. Featuring slower combat, with hits that deal massive amounts of damage, it quickly gained a following. As a result, the title was featured as an event at EVO 2019. Despite the game’s poor online netcode driving many players away from online matches, it maintains a following for local tournament scenes. Furthermore, SNK will release the title on Nintendo Switch later this year.
But perhaps the single most prominent element of this topic is the inclusion of Terry Bogard in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Revealed as the 4th DLC character for Nintendo’s popular fighting game franchise, Terry Bogard brought with him not only his fighting style, but Terry’s King of Fighters Stadium stage with his DLC pack, many character models from the KOF series, and music from Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, Athena, Psycho Soldier, Ikari Warriors, Alpha Mission, and even Metal Slug. Furthermore, Smash creator, Masahiro Sakurai, elaborated heavily on the importance of SNK in fighting games and even how much their games influenced Smash with its mechanics.
Point #1: Make a Visually Appealing Title
Samurai Shodown uses an art style similar to Street Fighter IV and V. They’re going with what has proven to work in the market. Bandai Namco has stuck with beautiful character models for SoulCalibur and Tekken, while Arc Systems Works sticks to its animated sprites featured in Dragon Ball FighterZ and BlazBlue Cross Tag.
Notably, Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite received heavy criticism over its character models. Among Dante, Chun-Li, and others, the game’s lack of visual appeal helped keep it away from EVO, among other reasons. Despite Marvel vs. Capcom being a longtime mainstay at the EVO championships, EVO 2018 was perhaps the first time the series missed out. Even though these character models would later be fixed, perhaps this was a case of, “too little, too late.”
SNK would benefit greatly from revamping their direction on visual models and animation. While one can argue “graphics don’t make a game,” these arguments help solidify that games that garner low reception for their visuals will not reap the benefits of its competition.
Point #2: Make the Netcode the Most Efficient Possible
As mentioned earlier, Samurai Shodown features less-than-stellar netcode. It’s bad enough that you’re likely to never find a random match online despite the game being out for only a year. Whatever keeps online fighting games active for years hasn’t worked for SNK thus far. Netcode is important for the online players who want to consider getting into competitive tournaments. Without reliable online play, players will give up on the game. If they have no local, offline scene, they will simply move onto the next game to play.
Keep in mind, however, that SNK has already begun using rollback netcode with thanks to Code Mystics for porting their games to modern systems. For a long story short, it’s better than the standard netcode used in online fighting games. With that being said, Code Mystics began updating their ports of classic SNK games for Steam and PS4. Garou, KOF 97, SamSho V Special, and The Last Blade 2 all feature rollback netcode.
Point #3: Capitalize on a Nintendo Switch Release.
Consider that Samurai Shodown is coming to Nintendo Switch. Now also consider that Terry Bogard is in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For those unaware, Super Smash Bros. serves as a fantastic marketing tool for game franchises. Perhaps the most notable example would be the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Despite the Fire Emblem series being exclusive to Japan at the time, fans demanded Fire Emblem come to America out of curiosity for these characters. Two years later, Fire Emblem: Blazing Blade would come to America. This would begin the series’ journey to the west with nearly every installment being released overseas. Moreover, it would continue the tradition of new Fire Emblem lords getting into Smash, most notably with the release of Byleth in Smash from Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Even Sakurai himself admitted that Byleth’s inclusion for Smash was part of marketing on Nintendo’s part to promote the game.
Another example of Smash marketing would be the release of Hero in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Immediately after showcasing the Hero trailer at E3 2019, Nintendo showcased a trailer for his home game, Dragon Quest XI S. This was timed purposely to garner interest among fans to try the next big game on Nintendo’s console. By marketing Hero, they market Dragon Quest.
The best possible thing that SNK can do is to capitalize on Terry’s inclusion in Smash. It goes without saying that this would include a brand new fanbase of Nintendo fans, many who are new to The King of Fighters, to try the latest release in the series. As Joker’s release in Smash even garnered prominent members of the Smash community to stream Persona 5, releasing King of Fighters on Smash’s console would not even necessitate players to get another console just to try the game. Now you have Terry players and curious Smash fans trying The King of Fighters and ensuring the game becomes successful.
I played Capcom vs. SNK 2 back in the day. I was never a competitive fighter, though. I just enjoyed the characters and stories. Eventually I tried The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match on Xbox 360 and really enjoyed it. I loved the music and character animations. But the release of Terry completely caught my attention in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I ended up using this character competitively in brackets and fell in love with his moveset. But I also became enamored by all the music and SNK lore that came with his inclusion. It prompted me to download several King of Fighters titles and even some of the titles included from Code Mystics’ ports on PS4.
I would definitely consider myself a newer KOF fan in that regard. But I would love to watch it succeed. I want SNK to capitalize on the foundation Nintendo has already given them through Smash. And I want the loud criticism from unsatisfied fans to help guide SNK into crafting the best fighting game possible. It’s a beautiful thing to know that they support local tournaments that host their games. But I would love to see their investment capitalize into a fresh start and introduce a new generation of fans to their stylistic character designs, battle mechanics, and fantastic music.
If you would love to see The King of Fighters XV come to Nintendo Switch, let us know in the comments below. What is your favorite SNK game memory?