Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fighter's Misery Extreme: King of Fighters Neowave

There's a phenomenon in the entertainment industry called the contractual obligation. When you're fairly popular in the biz, a big studio will bankroll the album or the film you wanted to make... then stick an extra project on the end of the contract. Maybe you didn't really want to do it, but hey, that stack of papers has got your signature right there, so you take a deep breath and finish it anyway. You may do it with all the enthusiasm of French royalty trudging toward the guillotine, but it's gonna get done, damn it, and then you'll be free! Until you sign another contract and the cycle repeats.
Sammy, hard at work on Neowave.
(image from PoopPac)

This is all a very roundabout way of telling you that King of Fighters Neowave is a reeking pile of shit. But it also illustrates why Neowave could empty a city block with its aroma. The game was designed for Sammy's Atomiswave hardware; essentially a Dreamcast stuffed into an arcade cabinet. (Yes, there was already one of those, but the more the merrier, right?) Sammy was desperate to make the Atomiswave relevant, and Playmore, the successor to SNK, was eager to re-establish itself in the video game industry after an ugly bankruptcy. A special Atomiswave version of The King of Fighters, Playmore's strongest property, seemed like the best way to get both companies noticed. It didn't have to be good; Playmore had The King of Fighters XI for that. It just had to be there.

Stop me if you've heard this before.
(image from ShackNews)
And that's one thing you've got to give King of Fighters Neowave. It sure is there. You can't deny that it exists, as much as you wish you could. It's got SNK characters, including the heroes of Fatal Fury, Ikari Warriors, and Psycho Soldier, duking it out in team battles, but the enthusiasm and the creativity of past KOF games didn't make it to the party. Remember how in King of Fighters '97, each battle was televised, complete with cameras in the background and ring girls introducing each round? Remember the gorgeous backgrounds in King of Fighters '99, given added life in the Dreamcast version with a sweeping camera pan? Weren't those great moments? Well, you won't be seeing any of them here. The characters (jagged resolution and all) are just plopped into instantly forgettable locales like a bridge, a shipyard, and a garden, drawn in amateurish 3D and adorned with drab colors.

Then there's the music... if only you could forget that. Encouraged by Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Playmore added a pinch of rap to Neowave's soundtrack. However, the difference is that Third Strike's excellent hip-hop tunes add intensity to the battles while bringing a modern sensibility to the series. Neowave's lyrics just bring intense shame to anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot. Writer Bob Mackey lamented that Blondie's lead singer Debbie Harry couldn't win a rap battle against Barney Rubble in a Fruity Pebbles commercial, but Neowave goes so much further down the rabbit hole that it requires a visual aid. Here's where you'll find the game on a sliding scale of musical freshness...

99 Problems
Black Sheep
Black with NV (No Vision)
Beastie Boys
Ch-Check It Out

Marky Mark Wahlberg
(yes, he actually called
himself that)
Good Vibrations
MC Hammer
Can't Touch This
"Weird Al" Yankovic
Can't Watch This
William Shatner
The Real Slim Shady
(Spoken Word Variant)
Roll the Bones
Kris Kross
I Missed the Bus
Vanilla Ice
(no, that's not Guile)
Ice, Ice Baby
Shaquille O'Neal
(I Know I Got) Skillz
Barney Rubble
I Love Fruity Pebbles
(in a Major Way)
Macho Man
Be A Man
Persona 3
That One Song.
YOU Know the One.

King of Fighters Neowave
Character Select Screen

After all the falls he's taken from
skyscrapers, you'd think this guy
would be a Fruit Roll-Up, not some
douche in a purple suit.
(image from cngba.com)
But wait, I haven't even gotten to the best-worst part! That'd be Geese Howard, cut and pasted from The Art of Fighting 2 because the designers couldn't even be bothered to whip up a new final boss. (Good lord, Playmore, even King of Fighters EX 2 on the Game Boy Advance had Sinobu. Sure, he was some annoying brat with Goenitz's move set, but at least he was something.) Geese is every bit the pain in the ass he was in past games, with a jumping kick that somehow connects even if you're behind him, a Reppuken the size of a small state, and a health bar-melting super move that instantly negates any attempts at defense or evasion. Geese simply kills you with sheer force of will, making even the admission of design failure SNK calls the continue service pointless.

If you can beat Geese (and you won't), your reward is... nothing! All you get after a frustratingly cryptic ending is a credit roll and a chance to land a few free hits on the scourge of South Town. It's a fitting conclusion to a game that makes no effort to distinguish itself from past King of Fighters titles, or improve on the formula in any significant way, or push what amounts to a warmed over Dreamcast to its limits. 

Certainly, Neowave exists... but WHY?!

1 comment:

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