Can China save SNK, the developer of 90s smash hits The King of Fighters (KoF), Fatal Fury and Metal Slug?

That’s the question on the minds of many gamers ever since a group of mysterious Chinese companies (which appeared on paper as a former chicken meat supplier) quietly acquired the Japanese company in 2015.

Today, The King of Fighters has an anime series produced by a Chinese studio and a mobile game developed by Tencent.

The King of Fighters: Destiny is one of the major titles announced by Tencent this year. (Picture: YouTube/고금아)

While many gamers in the West grew up with Super Smash Bros., Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, to my generation of gamers in China, The King of Fighters is all of those combined and more.

The reason? SNK games were among the few that we got to play.

For 15 years until 2015, home consoles were banned in China -- which means many foreign games were unavailable. But SNK games were different: They were easy to hack and bootleg. That means many of China’s gamers could play them on their own computers or in underground arcades.

Chinese companies finally acquired the rights to the King of Fighters franchise after SNK fell into debt in the early 2000s and was acquired by Leyou Technologies in 2015.

Last month, Tencent debuted a new KoF game for smartphones titled The King of Fighters: Destiny.

Available only in China for now, the game features a number of upgrades from the original. For instance, it’s gone from strictly 2D to 2.5D, where characters can move laterally. Also, the attack moves have been simplified, with each tied to a single button. And cooldowns were introduced.

Plus, while the original KoF had a classic PvP mode where two teams of three characters fight each other, the new game also features a beat’em up mode and a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) mode.

In the MOBA mode, each team has two turrets and when characters die they will be respawn. (Picture: YouTube/고금아)

In the beat’em up mode, players fight street gangsters and other villains, progressing through the storyline between the 1994 and 1997 versions of KoF.

The MOBA mode puts two teams of three in a single lane arena. One team wins by destroying the other team’s turrets.

The game was an instant hit in China. On the day of its launch, it dethroned PUBG as the country’s number one game. It has since fallen a bit, but still ranked 14th when I last checked.

Tencent has a live-action commercial for the new game. (Picture: Tencent)

Ahead of the game’s release, Chinese animation studio iDragons Creative launched an animated series under the same name.

A total of 24 episodes were rolled out between August and January on five major streaming sites in China, as well as SNK’s YouTube channel. The anime will return for two more seasons, culminating in a feature-length finale movie.

This is not the first time a modified KoF game has been introduced in China. SNK published a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) version in 2009, which has since fallen into obscurity.

Undeterred, SNK recently said it's set to roll out a new action RPG on mobile titled The King of Fighters All-Star