While the most famous example of SNK Boss Syndrome is Rugal Bernstein from The King of Fighters '94, overly-cheap SNK bosses can be traced all the way back to Geese Howard from the original Fatal Fury.
Combining a relatively tame single-player with a nigh-impossible boss is an ingenious way to make extra money in the Arcade business; many players will experience dissatisfaction by reaching the last fight only to be defeated by the boss, and thus will sink more change into the machine in an attempt to finish the game. SNK continues to use this tactic even now, and some developers have taken notice and decided to follow in their footsteps.
While there are many ways to make a boss impossibly cheap, there are a few traits that seem to be shared amongst those with SNK Boss Syndrome. These include:
- They either take less damage or are much harder to hit (often times both). Damage scaling is understandable in the King of Fighters series (given that there are three characters fighting one boss), but the fact that they regenerate some health after each round makes them unfair. On the other hand, Shin Akuma and Ultimate Rugal take more damage in Capcom vs. SNK 2 than most characters, but are so mobile that it is difficult to take advantage of this weakness. Goenitz from King of Fighters '96 combines these, as he enjoys King of Fighters' damage scaling while also having an attack that can keep the player away from him.
- Their attacks deal more damage, with less recovery time.
- They read the player's input and respond accordingly. As opposed to most fighting game AI, who generally follow preset patterns or feature more humanlike reactions to the player, AI suffering from SNK Boss Syndrome will time their counterattack immediately after the player performs a move, usually creating a non-escapable situation for the player.
- They have easily-spammable projectiles. While not a feature that every cheap boss shares, many bosses feature fast, highly-damaging, low-recovery time projectiles. The two biggest offenders in this department are Goenitz from the King of Fighters '96 and Magaki from the King of Fighters XI.
- They use extremely-brutal anti-air measures. Whether it's a Dragon Punch on steroids, a reversal that catches the player and sends them crashing into the ground, or an all-purpose, easily-spammable projectile, most bosses have a way to punish the player if they try to jump in. Rugal's legendary Genocide Cutter is the best example of this, and is most of the reason that Rugal is the posterboy of SNK Boss Syndrome.
- Screen-filling Super Moves. This is a symptom that never really left SNK, but is notable regardless. These Supers have little-to-no startup and hit the entire screen, catching the player no matter what they are currently doing, and dealing massive chip damage to opponents who manage to block. Orochi is the first boss to use this type of attack, while Original Zero's is the most dangerous due to using an unblockable attack to set up the move.
Defeating a boss with the syndrome
Even though bosses with SNK Boss Syndrome may seem impossible, there are indeed ways to beat them. However, there are generally only two ways to accomplish this:
- Bait an incorrect reaction from the AI. As mentioned above, bosses react to the player's input, but it is impossible to program a proper reaction to every move in the game. Therefore, it is the player's job to find an attack that causes the AI to react incorrectly, and spam that attack. Often times, this solution is absurdly simple.
- Time Over. If you have dealt a sufficient amount of damage, perhaps the smartest thing to do is turtle until the round is over. However, most bosses are programmed to anticipate this strategy, and will resort to throws if neccesary.