This is the second part in a series on notable kaiju video games. Giant Japanese-style monsters and games are two of my favourite things in life, so to cross them over like this was only natural. I’m going to highlight classics, hidden gems, and everything in-between.
King of the Monsters 2: The Next Thing
Genre: Fighting, Beat-em-up
Players: 1-2, Co-op and Vs.
Release date: May 25, 1992 (Japan)
Platform: NEO GEO, NEO GEO CD, SNES, Genesis, Wii (Japan), NEO GEO Mini (international), PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Director: Hamachi Papa (aka H. Hamachi)
Publisher: SNK, Takara (SNES, Genesis)
3 YEARS LATER
ONLY 3 MONSTERS SURVIVED.
EVERYONE BELIEVED THEY WOULD RULE THE EARTH,
SNK followed up their initial kaiju brawler with a title that succeeds in furthering the kaiju aesthetic while also developing the characters and enemies into something less derivative. It oozes charm and revels in 90s comic book excess, but the gameplay takes some unexpected turns- for the better and the worse. And it has, hands-down, the best subtitle of any video game ever. Like, hot damn. Everyone else is kicking themselves by not thinking of that first.
King of the Monsters 2 is no longer structured like a fighting/wrestling game. You only have three playable characters (compared to the original game’s 6), and play across 7 stages, each with unique obstacles, enemies, and boss fights.
The game plays almost like a beat em up before you reach the boss, but these non-boss-fight sequences are fairly short. You can destroy and pick up buildings and military units, and fight some bizarre creatures like shark fins that swim in sand and giant noses with single eyes. The enemies are fairly easy to beat, and there isn’t much in the way of platforming obstacles but they offer decent variety (there are some crevasses you have to swim over in the underwater sequence). It’s unfortunate that these elements are so short as they would work pretty well as a kaiju beat em up in their own right. These merely serve as brief interludes between boss fights- the real meat of the game.
The boss fights are one on one (or two on two in co-op) with each of the game’s boss characters. Since these are not playable characters (in this version at least!) they have a little more freedom to do unique attacks and have interesting gimmicks. For example, Huge Frogger can teleport around the stage and Eiffelyte grows in size over the course of the battle (then becomes a disembodied head. . . and then two disembodied heads). However, the battles themselves can be brutal quarter munchers and while winning grapples seems somewhat more consistent, it is still an opaque system. The key to winning battles is to really watch your spacing and chip them away with normal attacks as much as possible. Either that or abusing Super Geon or Atomic Guy’s level 3 special attack.
Enemies no longer need to be pinned and when their health reaches 0 they simply die. Same goes to you. This actually nicely cleans up the combat system and makes it closer to a traditional brawler or fighting game.
The characters themselves all play similarly, but each character has three unique special moves. This is a great change of pace from the original game where the only differences were purely aesthetic. These special moves are pretty interesting, too! Geon can pull a horn out of his head and use it as a weapon, Atomic Guy can summon bolts of lightning, and Cyber Woo can detach his torso from his body and fly around!
The power-up system returns, but in a much more useful and streamlined manner. As you destroy buildings in search of health packs you will come across boxes emblazoned with a giant “P.” Once collected, these change your kaiju’s color scheme and give them access to a new special attack. Watch out, though, as if the “P” is backwards then it is a “power-down” and will reduce you to your base state.
The game also has some mildly entertaining minigames between stages that pit you against your friend (or a CPU when playing alone) and offer you points and powerup items. One is a wrestling match in the grand canyon and the other is just the both of you falling from the sky collecting points.
As the game nears its climax, however, it becomes quite a slog. Pulling the classic “fight all bosses over again” trope doesn’t help when the last few bosses are barely interesting and all of the fights result in plenty of lost quarters. Add on top that the final boss is notoriously hard and can really only feasibly be defeated through exploits that suck the fun out of the game and you’re left feeling a bit empty by the time the credits roll.
The game’s story is that the end of King of the Monsters 1 led to some kind of cataclysm leaving Geon, Astro Guy and Woo as the only ones alive. Well, at least that’s what the intro says. The truth is that Geon mutated after eating the other monsters to become Super Geon, Woo was destroyed and his brain was transplanted into a robot body by “the government”, and Atomic Guy is just Astro Guy but with enough nuclear radiation absorbed to make him younger and stronger.
An alien force invades Earth and a floating brain announces they are “taking control” and “all Earth creatures will be under our command”- but our trio of kaiju seem to have something to say about that.
The visuals this time around are much more rich and cohesive than the previous one. Everything takes on a more vibrant, almost comic-book-style look. The character sprites are larger and more detailed, the backgrounds have more variety thanks to a more global approach to stage design (Grand Canyon, Paris under the sea, a volcano, etc), and characters have glorious death animations (characters crumble, burst into pieces, melt, etc). The violence and rapid-fire pacing make this game feel quintessentially 90s, in a way that seems almost like a fake game you’d see in a simpsons episode. And that’s a great thing. The aesthetic package comes together nicely and shows how far SNK had come in only one year.
The sound effects are fitting, and more clear than before, but the music takes a bit of a hit. The themes aren’t as catchy and end up being a bit cacophonous. It’s not terrible by any means, but the original clearly takes the cake.
King of the Monsters 2 shows SNK taking more ownership of the IP, with the monsters having more unique features and silhouettes instead of being straight up homages to classic monsters. This is especially true of the bosses, which are so bizarre even a Kaiju nerd like myself struggles to trace their genre lineage. Despite this, the game still feels like you’re playing a 16-bit kaiju movie.
And there are still some nice aesthetic winks and nods to kaiju and tokusatsu media. For example, each level starts with an Ultraman-style silhouette of the stage boss, and one of the military vehicles functions like the Super-X but is a pretty clear homage to Thunderbird 2, from the Gerry Anderson series (the Genesis manual calls this the Thunder Hawk 2, if it wasn’t obvious enough already). Clawhead is somewhat reminiscent of Twintail from Return of Ultraman, Atomic Guy looks arguably more like Ultraman than Astro guy did (and he’s sporting a nice Ultraseven-styled Eyeslugger on his head that he can use as a weapon), and Geon gains an appearance reminiscent of Earthtron or Gomess, but still his own. It would be easy to point at Cyber Woo’s design as inspired by Mechani-Kong, but again it’s so unique and well-executed that it is iconic in its own right.
All in all, King of the Monsters 2 offers a more varied, better-looking, and unique game than its predecessor, but some issues with difficulty and AI hold it back. What could’ve been one of the best beat em ups of the 90s (and one of the greatest kaiju games) ends up being only ‘OK.’ It surpasses the original in many regards, but stumbles in others. Still worth playing, but keep expectations in check!
I don’t have any sales data on KotM 2, but I can only assume it did ‘Just OK’ – probably a disappointment after the success of the first game. Which is a shame as I feel a third entry would’ve given SNK the opportunity to really reassess what was important about the series and either offer a great new fighter or a solid new beat em up, instead of an awkward mish-mash of both.
The Super NES port from Takara has some interesting changes to it. You no longer have to hold an attack button to execute your special attack, grapples are clearer and easier to understand, and a few other QoL changes (like the addition of blocking!) make it a much easier version of KotM2. However, the graphics and sound take a pretty big hit. The game also got a version released for Genesis from Takara, but that’s worth a whole article unto itself!
King of the Monsters 2 has been largely forgotten, which was exacerbated by its very limited availability. It received a release on the NEO GEO AES (with memory card saving, making the game beatable), a NEO GEO CD release, and a release on Wii Virtual console in Japan only. It is included in the NEO GEO Mini International version (and the Christmas Limited Edition), and is now available in Hamster’s Arcade Archives collection on Switch and Xbox (but oddly not on PS4 in North America) however it has not been included in any compilations for home consoles or PC. It doesn’t even have a GOG, Humble or Steam release.
It’s also worth pointing out that despite the relative obscurity of KotM 2, Super Geon, Atomic Guy and Cyber Woo are the only KotM characters to appear in games outside of the mainline series. Super Geon and Cyber Woo appear as a rusted robot and a giant skeleton in the background of a post apocalyptic arena and Atomic Guy appears in a special attack in NEO GEO Battle Coliseum (as Atomic Guy Neo, after two characters perform a sort of. . . Ultraman Ace-like transformation?), and all three appear as cards in SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters DS. You could also snag KotM1 and 2 logo keychains from the NEO GEO Land limited store in Japan, alongside some stickers and vinyl standees in blind bags/packs. It’s a shame we never got a third entry in the series, but seeing the characters pop up every now and then is nice. Except. . . We kind of did get a third entry! More on that in the next episode of Kaiju Video Games!
I’ll end the article with the rundown of our characters. The information is sourced mostly from the Genesis and Japanese NEO GEO manuals as they are the most informative. I’ve also included the list of bosses for the sole purpose of sharing the incredible Japanese names for them in brackets. Long live Eat Wow:
Geon was one of the most powerful monsters that emerged victorious after the 1996 event. After eating the radiated meat of the other monsters (presumably Beetlemania, Rocky, Atomic Guy, and Poison Ghost), Geon became irradiated and transformed into Super Geon. Still sporting his mane and horn from the original game, he has gained the ability to grow spikes and pull them out of his head as weapons, and a big ankylosaur-like tail club.
Now, there is some erroneous information out there stating that Atomic Guy is a mexican wrestler who was exposed to radiation. I can’t find any source to this information, and the Japanese NEO GEO manual states that this is the same old man as Astro Guy in KotM1, just that he’s been destroying nuclear power plants and absorbing the power to become stronger and it has made him look younger.
It also points out that the “armor” he is wearing is actually an exo-skeleton. Kind of gross, when you think about it.
According to the Japanese manual, before the 1996 incident Japan was planning to arm itself with giant robot weapons to become a dominant world super power. A top secret organization managed to build an incredible robot with unmatched power but they didn’t have a computer powerful enough to operate it, so they picked up some monster brains after the 1996 battle (presumably Woo’s) and put those inside of their robot.
While they thought they had erased the memory of the monster, its strong will brought its memories back and it broke free of its control, leaving its captors behind.
Hmm… a government-built robot inspired by a giant monster and using its “DNA” as a “computer” to operate it? Where have I heard that before?
Boss names with Japanese names in brackets:
Huge Frogger (Huge Keal)
Eiffelyte (Horn Du Out)
Clawhead (Yam A Mordon)
Aqua Slug (Sack Eyes)
Lavicus (Eat Wow)
That’s all for now, tune in next time for more Kaiju video game madness!