Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle (Available Exclusively on Neo Geo MVS, and AES)
ESRB Rating: NA
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Release Date: November 7th, 1996
There’s a debate amongst hardcore fighting game fans that challenge which came first, Kizuna Encounter or X-Men vs. Street Fighter. Why it even matters is because whichever came first would be credited as being the original creator of the tag team sub-genre. Release dates for arcade games are almost always estimates, but most people believe the first to the scene was XvSF. In the end it’s all semantics because both games were in development at the same time, and both brought something very unique to the scene. While X-Men vs. Street Fighter would go on to spawn a multi-million selling franchise, Kizuna Encounter would end up being the last entry in a short-lived series. That doesn’t make it any less special though.
When I received the Mega Pack Volume 1 for my Neo Geo X I was surprised to learn of this game. I was a big arcade fan back in the day, and yet had never heard of this one before. Knowing the X was nothing more than an emulation box, I knew I would have to hunt down an original cart for my MVS collection, and boy am I happy I did. This is one fantastic fighter!
During the mid-nineties 2D fighting games were starting to lose ground to 3D fighters. Companies like SNK and Capcom were looking for ways to spice things up, and decided to borrow a gameplay element from professional wrestling, namely the tag team match. Thus, the tag team sub-genre of fighting games was created. Instead of allowing you to tag your partner whenever you wanted, Kizuna Encounter featured painted areas on the ground. These areas identified where characters could tag in their partner. This one element adds so much strategy to the fights as you’re constantly trying to keep your opponent from staying within their tag border. On top of that, your partner character who isn’t fighting slowly regains health the longer they’re resting. This system makes fights so much more interesting.
+ Gone is the two-line battle system from Savage Reign, replaced instead by a much simpler and yet more diverse combo system. Players now have a weak and heavy attack that’s easy to perform by using the joystick instead of holding the button down for an extended period of time. Forward and attack is your heavy, just attack is your weak. Simple as that. D is your tag button, and then add a multitude of special moves for a really fun fighting system.
+ Dodge and sway moves are easy to execute and extremely useful. Pressing A and B together causes your character to doge an attack, and pressing forward with A and B together performs a dash away from your opponent, which is especially useful if you’re stuck in a corner.
+ While many character sprites from Savage Reign return, the graphics have been overhauled overall. Animations are smoother, and stages themselves look much more detailed. This was also one of the first games to use stage intros. Some feature birds flying into the screen, while others highlight an elevator and as the doors open the fight begins. Even little details like your character who isn’t fighting changes their stance as they slowly replenish health. This is what SNK is known for, and it goes a long way in helping to make Kizuna Encounter feel special.
+ Depending on which version of the game you play there’s even a co-op mode, which is really fun. Grab a buddy and play through the game, and if things get annoying, switch to competitive and beat the snot out of one another.
+/- The music is much better than what was featured in Savage Reign, but the sound effects and voice samples aren’t anything to write home about.
– By far the worse aspect of Kizuna Encounter is the way in which once one character is beaten the match ends. That sucks. It would have been awesome to have the second character continue on with the fight. Thankfully the characters have two life bars, but it still would have been better to have your second character playable after the first is defeated.
The final boss is one of the hardest, and cheapest bosses of all time. If you can get a couple of hits in on this guy you’ve got skills.
Whether you play the game via original Neo Geo hardware, or the Neo Geo X, Kizuna Encounter is one title fighting game fans should check out. It’s very affordable on the MVS (under $80 usually), but is extremely expensive on the AES (usually over $600). Regardless of how you try it, it deserves to be played if for nothing else than to see where the tag team sub-genre originated from.
Final Score: 8.5/10