SNK takes another step back to its glory days

One of the greatest names in 90s coming is coming back, with SNK Playmore announcing its changing its name to SNK Corporation from December 1st.

It’s part of a concerted effort for the Osaka-based company to return to its roots, with the company readopting its original logo and slogan ‘The Future is Now’ back in April this year.

“Through the huge success of many of its game franchises in the past, SNK is still a brand supported by countless fans from around the world to this day,” the company said in an official release. “The new corporation name chosen for this turning point, signifies both a return to the origins of SNK, and revival of our pioneer spirit to always offer long-time fans of SNK, as well as newcomers, entertainment of an even higher quality moving forward.”

The King of Fighters 14 review

Frame the rivalries between Japanese fighting game series as a pugilistic tournament and, for the past few years, Capcom’s Street Fighter has held its title unchallenged. The field wasn’t always so uncontested. Throughout the 1990s SNK’s King of Fighters ably faced Street Fighter, pitting its forte – technical intricacy – against that of the latter – an iconic cast. It was a rivalry worthy of myth: both games were originated by the same man, Takashi Nishiyama, who, having designed the original Street Fighter at Capcom, left (under a dark cloud, some say) to run SNK’s development division. In a final, fanciful twist Nishiyama went on to found Dimps, the company responsible for Street Fighter’s triumphant return in 2008.

Like a prizefighter falling from the wagon, King of Fighters tumbled into relative obscurity in the early 2000s, a victim, in part, of SNK’s tumultuous corporate wrangling. Street Fighter’s renaissance was left largely unchallenged. In video games, as in government, one can never underestimate the value of strong opposition; without it, complacency sets in and the urge to deliver deadens – here’s looking at you, Street Fighter 5. So it is that King of Fighters 14 makes a return that’s welcome not only for reviving a beloved series, but also to diversify the field.

For beginners, the greatest difference between King of Fighters and its rivals is that this is three vs three game, although, unlike in Marvel vs Capcom your chosen trio cannot tag in and out during rounds. Knock-out one of the opponent’s characters and, when their replacement arrives, you gain some health back, the amount of which is dependent on how much time was left on the clock when the previous round ended (a mechanic that’s never explained). In the event of a draw, both characters are deemed to have lost, and each player must move on to the next character in line. The aim, as ever, is to be the last player standing.

The Last Blade 2 is SNK at its bawdy best

Maybe it’s something in the water, or maybe it’s because most of its residents would rather gulp back a beer to hydrate themselves, but there’s something awfully fighty about Osaka. A bawdy counterpoint to the dignity traditionally associated with the city of Kyoto, it’s no wonder that while Nintendo was pursuing delicate refinement in its craft through the 90s, further south things were a little scrappier. Think of the fighting game in its absolute pomp and you think of Capcom and SNK, two companies once locked in both fierce rivalry and jolly camaraderie, sparring then embracing one another like two friends tipping over themselves through the course of a booze-soaked evening.

Capcom’s 90s output you’ll know, of course, from Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Marvel Super Heroes and more, while SNK’s work of the era is likely just as familiar: evocative greats such as Fatal Fury, The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown among others. Yet while Capcom has intermittently carried on fighting its corner with some relative success, SNK’s star has waned, its output slowing to almost naught in recent years.

More’s the pity, as I’ve always had a soft spot for SNK. Maybe it’s something to do with how exotic these games once seemed: almost every 12-year-old had a SNES with Street Fighter, yet it was only the chosen few who had borne witness to a Neo Geo, let alone had the means to carry home one of its adorably oversized AES cartridges. These were the game boxes always carried out of reach in local game stores, behind the counter and perched high on a shelf, complete with glorious artwork and eye-watering price tag.