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King of Dragons (SNES) artwork

King of Dragons (SNES) review

"King of Dragons was one of the first so-called “beat ‘em up” games that I really got into, mostly because its fantasy setting and RPG aspects set it apart from the millions of other beat ‘em ups that all seem to involve brutish shirtless men kicking and punching their way through junkyards or other unattractive urban locations. "

King of Dragons was one of the first so-called “beat ‘em up” games that I really got into, mostly because its fantasy setting and RPG aspects set it apart from the millions of other beat ‘em ups that all seem to involve brutish shirtless men kicking and punching their way through junkyards or other unattractive urban locations.

The game features five playable characters taken from a well-established set of fantasy stereotypes. There is the brawny fighter, the club-wielding cleric, the wizard with his magical staff, the elf with his bow and arrows and the powerful dwarf. Even more exciting than five whole playable characters is the fact that they are actually somewhat different from each other in terms of moves, strengths and weaknesses. The wizard, for example, is rather wimpy in the beginning but grows to be one of the most powerful characters in the game later on. The fighter is a steadfast and average character who can take a lot of hits. The elf has poor defensive skills but can use ranged attacks, meaning he doesn’t need to get hit as often.

There is actually a story behind King of Fighters, which unfolds through talking to the odd “NPC” who pops up, usually at the end of a level. The land is being ravaged by a huge red dragon named Gildiss, and so our five heroes have set out on a quest to kill him. Their journey takes them through fifteen levels that range from forests and swamps to a ship on the sea, to mountains and castles. The enemies and bosses are a lovely mishmash of fantasy and mythological characters that include harpies, giant spiders, skeletal warriors, a wyvern, minotaur, giant, cyclops and hydra. It was slightly disappointing to see such a lack of originality that the game had to draw upon the monsters of other cultures for its enemy designs. Nevertheless, the good old stock creatures are certainly recognizable to any fantasy or Greek mythology buff and were kinda neat to see all the same.

The RPG elements I mentioned come in the form of permanent equipment upgrade power-ups. These new weapons and shields actually show up on the character sprite, which is a nice little touch. For example, when the wizard gets a funky new staff with a blue crystal on top, you can actually see him wielding that new staff. Also, the characters increase in level as they fight and collect sacks of gold and gems, meaning that the more monsters they kill, the larger their life bar will be. I really like this feature. It gives a sense of improvement and progress, and gives an added goal to strive for that makes the game more exciting.

I would say that King of Fighters has average difficulty, although certain characters are definitely easier to play than others. There isn’t a lot of finesse involved in the fighting; it’s basically a one-hit attack pattern with a second button to block (if you’re playing a character who has a shield), and another button to cast a limited number of magic lightning attacks. I found that sometimes so many enemies would pile on the screen at once that getting hit becomes simply inevitable. It would have been nice to have more variety of moves, even if they were automated to kick in during certain situations as opposed to having to use a specific button combination. For example, the scenario I just mentioned with tons of enemies surrounding the character would have been much easier to deal with had there been some sort of spin attack or a way to attack someone who is behind the character.

As far as graphics and scenery goes, the levels are all pretty straightforward and attractive enough in a SNESish sort of way. The sprites aren’t the most detailed that I’ve seen the SNES produce, yet I did enjoy the wide variety of color that was used both in the characters and enemies and in the background graphics. The outdoor scenes are especially vibrant; I thought the mountain level was remarkably good. In it, the character is fighting on a dirt path that winds its way up the mountain and you can see the skyline and the green meadows scrolling by below.

The audio is a little more mediocre. While I never found anything overtly wrong with the music, it was nevertheless quite bland. It was upbeat enough, and wholly appropriate for the fighting setting, yet there was nothing that stood out to my ears. The sound effects, again, are average at best. One odd thing I noticed was that all of the characters had the same voice. They all utter the same battle-cry in a strong, manly baritone that is perfect for the fighter or dwarf, but somehow feels less appropriate for the elf or wizard.

There is no password system or save feature to King of Dragons, however you do get a generous three credits with five lives to each credit. More than enough for an experienced and skilled player to make it to the end without a lot of frustration or luck. A good 2-player mode bumps up the fun factor also.

So while King of Dragons will doubtless seem a little dated these days, it’s still a decent side-scrolling fighter, but disguised so well as an RPG that it can even appeal to people like me who wouldn’t normally like the beat ‘em up genre. Having five relatively unique playable characters makes for great replay value and many 2-player combos to experiment with. In other words, the game is worth the investment.

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Community review by alecto (January 19, 2003)

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