The first couple of years of the NEOGEO’s life were some of its most interesting ones. Once Street Fighter II hit like a megaton and SNK figured out one-on-one fighters were the way forward, we saw fewer of the odd experiments that characterized the platform’s early life. One of the more successful ones was King of the Monsters ($3.99), a wild fighting/wrestling game featuring giant monsters. It allows players to battle alone, against each other, or against the computer in destructible arenas. Hamster has now brought it to mobile as part of its ACA NEOGEO line, which has certainly seen its swings and misses thus far.
Anyway, we’re looking at the usual things here. The general features of the ACA NEOGEO line are well-established now, and King of the Monsters is no different. You can play the original or overseas versions of the game, play in arcade mode, and challenge a score attack or timed caravan mode with online leaderboards. You can play with touch controls or use an external controller, and if you have more than one external controller you can play in multiplayer. A wide array of options are available, including difficulty, audio/video, save states, and more. Really, apart from implementing some kind of online multiplayer and maybe including the MVS version for kicks, you couldn’t really ask for more from Hamster here. Nothing unexpected there.
As to the game itself, it’s a fun one. It’s more of a wrestling game than anything else, which makes sense for when and where it released. You can choose one of six different monsters, most of which are pretty clear in their source of inspiration. Geon is a big dinosaur-like creature, Woo is a massive ape, Astro Guy is a giant-sized superhero, and so on. If you’re playing in single-player, you’ll battle the five monsters you didn’t pick as you make your way through a number of Japanese cities, ultimately doing a mirror match against your own monster. You then battle all of the monsters again but with the cities shuffled. Complete that, and congratulations: you’re the King of the Monsters.
Each character has an assortment of moves at their disposal, and you’ll need to use them to wear down your opponent before successfully pinning them. Yes, the giant monsters battle to a three-count fall. I guess everything has its own rules. Simple enough, and more than a little button-bashy, but it works. Unfortunately, like many other wrestling games of the era there really isn’t a whole lot of depth to the thing. A sequel would follow the next year that added a few new elements, but at the end of the day this series is more about immediate cheap thrills than long-term engagement. A rough proposition for a $150 cartridge, but not the worst thing for a few quarters here and there, or perhaps a few bucks on a mobile device.
It is, however, a game that benefits greatly from being able to play with other humans. Being realistic, most players who pick this up on mobile aren’t going to be equipped to do that. Most people playing on mobile will be enjoying it as a single-player affair, and I don’t know how long it’s going to leg out in that context. If you enjoy giant monsters and are fine with a glorified 1980s wrestling game with some of the most awesome set dressing ever, you can probably find four dollars’ worth of entertainment out of it. Something to fire up every so often when the memory of its repetitiveness fades and enjoy a bash or two.
All that said, the game isn’t too bad to play with touch controls should you have to do so. This isn’t a combo-heavy game with a bunch of tricky motions to bust out. The pace is deliberate enough and the controls simple enough that the touch controls are more than capable of keeping up. So if you happen to have fond memories of playing King of the Monsters alone or watching kids play it on Nick Arcade, you’ll get a decent enough experience here even if you don’t have a controller.
King of the Monsters may not be the best NEOGEO game, but it is assuredly an iconic one. The concept of taking a wrestling game and mashing it up with giant monsters is an entertaining one, even if the reality doesn’t quite match up to the image. It’s a game at its best when you have someone else to play with, but that’s not an easy thing to manage on mobile even if it is technically possible. Still, as a corny bit of action to fire up now and then, you could do a lot worse than this.