Neo Geo AES / Neo Geo CD
1992 / 1994
The year is 1999. Tuesday, June 1st, 2:31PM. Your walk along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is accompanied by unusually warm temperatures, the kinds of which usually don’t arrive until late July or early August. The heat emanating from the scorching sun continues to beat down on your brow as you reach into your pocket for your nearly empty water bottle. Tilting your head back and up towards the sky to take that one last disconsolate swig of H2O lands your gaze squarely on what looks to be a… 320ft tall bodybuilder, pumped to the gills with rage and testosterone as he rips off the top half of the Trump Tower. Juggling the massive portion of the structure between his two gargantuan hands while the people of New York run for their lives, he cocks his right arm back and hurls the piece of property at another massive looking monster, just as tall and just as mean. This other leviathan, standing what appears to be a handful of streets over (though by the unbelievable size of it, you could swear that it wasn’t that far away), resembles a frog of sorts, but it’s walking on two legs and has a metal head… just what the hell is happening here? The frog monstrosity is too busy laughing to itself, seemingly unimpressed with the bodybuilder’s recent show of strength and aggression, and ends up taking the massive hunk of building to its dome – the receiving impact sending concussive waves of ground shaking fear throughout the city as debris falls atop cars and smaller buildings alike. The bodybuilder, resembling a larger than life Power Ranger clad in white and yellow tights, progresses towards his dazed enemy, once again reaching back only to sock the froggy looking nightmare in its metallic face, the resulting sound not unlike a thousand church bells ringing in tandem. You turn to run in the opposite direction when your eyes widen in helpless horror as you notice that a mere few streets over play host to what looks like a Godzilla-like dragon and a mechanized gorilla. These titans are all over the city, fighting with each other while absolutely devastating the metropolis you call home. With nowhere to run and only a few safe places to hide, you slide behind an abandoned DHL van and settle in to watch the battle unfold. When the buildings stop falling, the car alarms cease blaring, and all of the dust settles, who will be King of the Monsters?
Released for the Neo Geo AES in 1992 and later ported to the Neo Geo CD in 1994, SNK’s King of the Monsters 2 is the follow-up to their first offering that pit giant kaiju creatures (humungous monsters that frequently attack Japanese cities – see: Godzilla) against one another in battles for supremacy. This sequel features three playable characters to choose from, all of which are very aesthetically unique. Super Geon is a green and orange dragon-looking bipedal creature with a long neck and massive spikes protruding from its head, down its back and along its tail. Cyber Woo is an orange and black mechanized gorilla that has been brought back from the brink of death thanks to the events of the first game. He used to just be a monster gorilla. Now he’s a mecha gorilla. Atomic Guy is a former pro wrestler that was exposed to radiation, causing him to grow to surreal proportions. He now roams the planet in search of power plants, the likes of which he consumes to remain in his powered up state. So, those are your three options. Think long and hard before selecting one of these anti-hero champions of justice as you attempt to thwart the plans of the game’s penultimate nasty: King Famardy.
The stages in which battles are held (the battles, which can best be described as wrestling meets backstreet brawling) are all really detailed for a game released in 1992. There are a lot of things to step on and interact with when you’re over 300ft tall. For the majority of the game’s contests, your monster of choice is pitted against an opponent and set up to exchange a few blows before your rival seemingly always retreats, forcing you to follow in pursuit throughout the level’s various traps and layouts, all while defeating other minor enemies in the process. This is kind of cool as the game seems to transition from a one-on-one fighting game into a side-scrolling beat ‘em up within a single stage. Those tidbits of unique action don’t last long though as you’ll be back to squaring off against your initial enemy again in no time. That said, this is actually where King of the Monsters 2 runs into its one and only major roadblock: the gameplay during fights is painfully dull. Drawn out and rather clunky in the control and hit detection departments, the battles between the monsters themselves make for a perplexing issue considering that this is a game that’s supposed to revolve around ballistic action, mayhem and destruction. The constant grappling between the beasts feels monotonous after just one match and the barely significant punches and kicks you can lob at your opponents fail to register as more than blips in the damage department. It’s a shame, but the brawls to determine who is the King of the Monsters just don’t feel satisfying. To my disappointment, one of the game’s later levels even goes as far as to completely eliminate the beat ‘em up portions (the most enjoyable parts of the game) in its stage and immediately thrusts the player into another tedious fight, resulting in an effort that felt really phoned in.
The colour palette used in the game is great. Everything looks really vibrant and I feel like SNK did a great job at capturing the authenticity of all the diverse locales that your monster will visit. The rival monsters are all very unique, and that’s putting it lightly. One of the main reasons why I kept playing was solely to see what each successive creature would look like, with the game’s final boss, King Famardy, easily coming off as one of the most bizarre and disturbing characters I’ve ever seen in an arcade format. Seriously, he’s pretty gnarly.
The King of the Monsters 2 has a pretty good soundtrack, one that changes on the fly depending on where you are within its levels. I’ve always thought little touches like that made a game feel that much more intuitive, so they didn’t go unnoticed. The soundtrack may not supply the absolute best music I’ve ever heard spinning out of a Neo Geo game, but it does its best to hold up a game that’s really slow in the gameplay division.
There are unfortunately next to no differences between the AES and CD versions of King of the Monsters 2, which was a bummer to discover. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m really interested in coming across dissimilarities between games that were issued to multiple machines, particularly the Neo Geo AES and Neo Geo CD, but what this release received was (almost) a carbon copy. Aside from the fact that the sprites seem to move slightly faster in the cartridge version of the game, and that you’re awarded the usual unlimited continues in its CD counterpart (those of which made up for the only reason I was able to beat the bloody thing – this game isn’t only extremely repetitive, it’s hard!), it’s the same release on both consoles. There’s no unique loading screen from the CD version of the game (I love those…), nor was there any noticeable upgrade to its soundtrack, rendering the red book audio capabilities of the disc as completely null.
As a huge SNK head, I’m all too aware of King of the Monsters 2’s reputation as being a legacy title of sorts for the company, one that caught the eyes and quarters of thousands back in the early-to-mid nineties, and I can definitely understand its initial allure. Massive monsters duking it out in the middle of a city or desert? Who wouldn’t want to try that? Heck, they even fight underwater at one point. But upon playing the game for more than twenty minutes at a time, I kept coming to the somewhat downcast conclusion that there just isn’t a lot of substance here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The bottom line regarding the playability of any game ultimately comes down to how fun it is. King of the Monsters 2 has some great looking levels and characters, but if you’re vying to complete it in one sitting, you’re going to have to be King of the Patience.