King of the Monsters: A Review/Honor by/of Bobak!
King of the Monsters is my favorite early Neo Geo game. It was the game that pushed me to get the $650 system and $200 game when they first arrived in my local Software Etc. back in Christmas 1991 (sadly, I think I was the only one who did). While I'm going to try hard to not let that bias my review, I thought I'd let you know that off hand -out of some kind of pseudo-journalistic integrity (like there is such a thing anymore...).
Because KOM was released during SNK's attempt to sell the Neo Geo everywhere, its a fairly common game: released plentifully in every format except a CD version. The price is low, but supply is not as plentiful as other common games because most KOM's do find a permanent home: based on their good 'bang-for-buck' worth.
King of the Monsters is set in Japan at the near future of 1996 (the game was produced in 1991). Six powerful monsters have arrived in duke it out in some of Japan's largest cities to destroy their competition and become the King of the Monsters (a few of the monsters are plays off of classic movie monsters). The game does this in a wrestling format using a downtown as the ring and high-voltage power lines as the ropes. Each monster beats the heck out the other until there is a 3-count pin or the time runs out. Destroying large building and landmarks earns you extra points, as does destroying the civilian and military vehicles that move through the city (some of which you can pick up and throw at your enemy). The game is divided into 6 different cites which you play through twice for 12 rounds of monster mashing mayhem. It's like someone took WWF Superstars and crossed it with Rampage.
GRAPHICS: "We can't save the city!"
The graphics in KOM were some of the most impressive in the early days of Neo Geo. Each of the six cities are detailed with tiny, medium, and large landmarks. Each city has two seasonal or time variables to make the second round in the town different (a shame there weren't more Japanese cities). The screen in constantly filled with movement by the monsters and the little army units that come to attack you (presumably to stop you from destroying the city, but they're no more than a minor annoyance). The human problem come is many forms: from innocent civilian cars and passenger jets to military tanks, jets, boats and many other vehicles (including several that were taken from the classic Toho films). Each step the monsters takes flattens some piece of town into rubble. Stepping on the same place twice reduces the rubble to smoldering ash. The taller building require several hits (or a monster thrown into them) to break and explode into flames. After a good bout you can't help but sit back and be proud of all the mayhem and destruction you've caused. I found it very amusing to destroy a city in level four, only to see in back, totally rebuilt, in a later round -only it had become night time (like most Godzilla movies). If you play two player cooperative against the two CPU creatures, the screen is completely packed with monsters and vehicles all the time with no slowdown and plenty to look at. While these graphics are not cutting edge any more, they're still quite a sight to see (especially if you've always wanted to wreck a city).
MUSIC/SFX: "It's too late to escape!"
Wow! Unlike many of the early Neo Geo games, the music in KOM does not sounds like its coming from the end of a hallway. Each monster has their own theme song which match their attributes and keep the game's rythm at a quick pace (the chanting song for Woo is a personal favorite). The sound effects are big and booming, appropriate for thousand ton beasts throwing each other against the ground. The multi-channel sound capabilities of the Neo Geo are well used in KOM. At any given moment you'll hear the combined explosion of a building, scream of a taunting monster, the boom of a beast hitting the ground, and the roar of fighter jets over head -among others. Layered on top of each other they help elevate the action on screen into your living room or arcade. Play it with the friends and crank up the volume, you'll have a blast annoying your neighbors.
PLAYABILITY: GlucoseJoe is a shmo and other observations...
Frankly, I'm sick and tired of reading all the Neo Geo reviews written by pre-pubescent emulation geeks. Not that I have anything against emulation per se, but their reviews will clobber a game for controls because the "reviewer" can't get the game to work right on their computer. Why do I bring that up here? Because KOM is a game that is trashed by such fatally flawed reviewing. KOM, when played where it was meant to be played, on an _actual_ Neo Geo, is quite fun. In the genre of wrestling games (where I swear the term "button-masher" was first coined), KOM is very good. One flaw of button mashers like KOM is that they always give the computer an inherent advantage in grappling (otherwise the player could plow through the computer and [GASP!] save quarters!). KOM gives the player a better chance than most by making the controls are tight and responsive. Your monster can do quick maneuvers with ease. With practice, a skilled played can get through the game with no serious problems. I've found myself beginning many a match with nearly no life left, only to scrounge up yet another victory through skill and determination. The game gets tougher in later levels, where tougher opponents are hard to take down before the time runs out and forces a continue. In a player vs. player round, the game is much more fair in its grappling bias. However, the game shines the brightest in the organized chaos that is the two-player cooperative mode. My biggest caveat is that you cannot rip up and throw buildings, but they added that feature in the fun but very uneven sequel: "King of the Monsters 2: The Next Thing"
If the idea of going around and wrecking a city while wrestling appeals to you, then you'll want to play KOM again and again. While the game has its limitations in innoventions (most of which added to the sequel), the game is best played with another -and its in that form that I've played it countless times over the years. I've played it all the way to the end with each character just to hear their name called out by the newscaster. For good old fashioned mayhem, it's tough to beat (the Metal Slugs surpass it in mayhem, but not anyone else). If wrestling games and Godzilla themes aren't your things, the replay value may not be there for you. Use your own discretion.
This is an essential first-run Neo Geo game. Its huge success in arcades led to KOM2 a year later. I still consider the first to be the more fun of the two, especially with two players. The ending is a classic Neo Geo moment (and one which I won't spoil -you must see it in action). For the price, history, and fun of this game, you owe it yourself to picking one up at a discount price. It probably won't be your best game, but you'll be proud of it nonetheless.
REPLAY VALUE: 1up, 60%; 2up 85%
OVERALL: 77% [back in 1991: 95%]
Bobak!: loves KOM so much he appears in it. He's that guy driving that car on level one. ... No, that other guy. No, I mean that one. Oh, forget it...