The Fall of SNK
It’s the year 2000, the start of a new millennium! The good news is we’ve survived Y2K! Well, several of us. The late 90s and early 2000s were a difficult time for several Japanese game developers like Sega, SNK, and Data East. Struggling to survive by making staff cuts and developing that one game that could save the company.
As the 90s progressed, it seemed that 2D games were put aside for 3D based games that we’re rapidly taking over with titles like Super Mario 64, Virtua Fighter 2, and Tomb Raider impressing audiences for their remarkable 3D graphics (for the time). Consequently, forcing multiple companies to either enter the 3D Market or leave.
Even more, with SNK competing in the console market with their AES (Advance Entertainment System) were trapped with which direction to go into. The AES was not selling well since it’s $400+ price tag was not meant for the middle class consumer. Not even their cheaper Neo Geo CD was selling enough, despite its cheaper price tag. Add to that, even the smallest amount of 3rd party developers halted development for Neo-Geo or left the gaming industry entirely. So by 1997, SNK announced the discontinuation of the AES, yet games were still being developed until 2004.
As a result, SNK decided to enter the 3D market with the successor to the Neo Geo, Hyper Neo-Geo 64. Unfortunately, that failed to attract arcade goers competing with the likes of Sega’s Model 3 and the Namco System 12. Releasing merely seven games during its life span.
Despite that, the releases on the MVS during this time (1997-1999) are among the best SNK released with titles like Last Blade, King of Fighters 98, Metal Slug X, and Garou: Mark of the Wolves were not successful enough to turn a profit.
Accordingly, SNK even attempted to jump into the handheld market, which was (and still is) monopolized by Nintendo with the release of the Neo Geo Pocket in October of 1998.
Though initial sales were promising, it was not enough as a few months after its release, Nintendo released the successor to the Game Boy, the Game Boy Color. Thus, SNK went back to the drawing boards and released the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999 worldwide. With promising sales, fantastic third-party support from Capcom, Sega, Namco, and Taito. Moreover, expectations made it seem like SNK would be seeing green again.
Unfortunately, the optimism was temporary when Aruze acquired SNK in the beginning of the century. Having no faith in the SNK’s game developers, Azure reduced funding to the company. During this time, the developers at SNK noticing the writing on the walls knew, this was the end. But they were not going to leave fans without sending them a thank you gift for all their support.
The King of Fighters 2000 released in the arcades in March 2000 is without a doubt, the last game developed by the original SNK team and the other game published by SNK that year (the other being Metal Slug 3). The second game in the NEST saga beginning a year earlier featuring K’ as the saga’s main protagonist in his quest to defeat the NEST cartel from taking over the world. Zero, a former member of the NEST plans to destroy the organization using the Zero cannon. K’ and friends must stop Zero before it’s too late.
Secondly, improving on the striker system that debuted in the previous game. This time around, summoning strikers can accomplished at any time making it more convenient for players. Furthermore, players are able to select regular strikers which are any of the playable characters or another striker featuring excellent fan service! With appearances of characters from Garou, Last Blade, Samurai Shodown, and Metal Slug leaving fans content.
Next, like the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it!” As the years pass, the KOF formula remains intact. The controls are fantastic and feeling at home with previous titles.
On another note, graphically the game is on-par with the previous games in the series despite, it feeling like a quick copy and paste job with minor editing in between. Though they still fit the game’s setting feeling bland, which seems is one of my complaints of the entire NEST Saga. The new characters however like Seth, Kula, and Vanessa are a breath of fresh air balancing out the young cast.
Moreover, one of the game’s best features is by far is the soundtrack. Undeniably, the best King of Fighter’s soundtrack ever made! New tracks including Beauty and the Beast, KD-0084, Terry 115, Arashi no Saxophone 4 are wonderful additions, yet none compare to the track fitting of the situation felt by fans and SNK alike, Good-Bye ESAKA or as referred to by fans Good-Bye SNK. The track gives off that “Goodbye” feeling being felt among fans around the world. Overall, the arranged versions are the excellent surely leaving fans satisfied one last time.
Sample of the game’s music
Nonetheless, Playmore ported this to multiple systems, including the AES, Dreamcast, PS4, and PlayStation 2 including a standalone release and another bundling KOF 2000 and KOF 2001 together. The former eventually being released on PSN in Japan in 2015 exclusively in Japan and a year later on the PS4 worldwide.
An Xbox version was in consideration, but eventually cancelled. The AES version being a straight conversion of the MVS one that includes a Single fighter mode, survival, unlocked Kula from the start, and training mode.
The Dreamcast and PS2 ports are nearly identical except the sound effects and voices are clearer, a gallery mode, arranged soundtrack, additional strikers, and a bizarre puzzle game exclusive to the Dreamcast version.
There is a re imagined version for the Game Boy Advance titled King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood which uses borrows music, stages, and sprites from KOF 2000, but has a completely different plot.
Afterwards, it seemed like SNK’s luck was turning around, the anticipated crossover with Capcom, Capcom vs. SNK and the sequel, Capcom vs SNK 2 were successful, but unfortunately Capcom ended up winning a majority of earnings since they developed both titles.
Despite all the internal problems SNK was having, SNK headed to E3 to present audiences with the future of the Neo-Geo Pocket Color and promising a series of excellent titles like Last Blade, Cotton, Faselei, and Metal Slug: Second Mission to consumers.
Unfortunately, despite the positive reception of SNK’s E3 appearance, their promises fell short. Aruze not interested in helping SNK rather, exploit their beloved IPs to help their slot machine and pachinko business announced weeks after SNK’s appearance at E3 that SNK would stop all production of the NGPC and future title in the US and Canada.
Sadly, all the games announced for the NGPC at E3 that we’re shipping to retailers nationwide were either sold to recycling firms or sent back to Japan. Eikichi Kawasaki, founder of SNK left the company after Aruze’s betrayal and went on to form Playmore the following year.
With of the key players out, Aruze noticing this as an opportunity to remove SNK indefinitely. Finally, October 2001, Aruze approved SNK’s bankruptcy. Beginning to auction out a plethora of SNK’s IPs which Playmore bought back while licensing major IPs including KOF, Metal Slug, and Sengoku to other companies during this time. On the final day, SNK wrote this message on their website, “Dear All NEOGEO fans/customers, it is with deepest grief that in the Autumn of 2001, SNK will close the company history in its business. It was all of your favor and encouragement which made our passion running to make better games for SNK fans. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank and every one of you for your continuous help and assistance rendered to SNK since its incorporation in Japan July in 1978. Without your support, SNK Corporation would not have been possible throughout 23 years of operation. With all our heart-felt gratitude, thank you once again!” and just like that, SNK was no more.
However, SNK returns to the living when Playmore regained the rights to use the name SNK and became SNK Playmore in 2003. Resurfacing by releasing new titles to the Neo Geo including KOF 2003, Samurai Shodown V, and SVC: Chaos. Eventually, SNK Playmore sued Aruze for unauthorized usage of their IPs during the time of acquisition and awarding SNK Playmore with 5.64 billion yens.
Although SNK Playmore is around today, recently acquiring SNK was no other than Ledo Millennium in August 2015 hoping to use SNK’s IPs in a similar way to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. At the same time, having built a great relationship with Sony, SNK has begun it’s comeback by releasing many of their classic titles to the PS4, Vita, and PC with a considerable amount of success. As a result, promising fans with new titles, including a new KOF, Samurai Shodown, and hopefully a new Garou.
As of December 1st 2016, SNK Playmore will now return back into SNK, promising audiences with the intention to return to producing quality titles as they did back in during the Neo Geo days.
Conclusively, this is a game comes highly recommended to KOF fans. Sure, this isn’t 98, 2002 UM, nor XIII. At the same time, this was the last game developed by the original SNK team which means something for hardcore fans of the series. In contrast, KOF 2001 and 2002 published by the Korean based company Eolith are not so memorable. It’s a worthwhile addition and a solid fighting game.