- Total Score - 8/108/10
Samurai Shodown’s gameplay cuts through it’s flaws to deliver a worthy follow-up to the original.
Developer – SNK
Publisher – Athlon Games
Release Date – June 26th, 2019
Platforms – PS4- Reviewed, Xbox One
Samurai Shodown represents my earliest fighting game memories. I didn’t play Street Fighter 2 at my arcade, it was always too packed. Mortal Kombat was an easy way to guarantee my handful of quarters would be wasted against Scorpion’s nonsense. That’s still happening in Mortal Kombat 11 by the way.
Samurai Shodown was the one for me. It was the game that I first got a chance to play seriously in the arcades. The first fighting game where I was learning how to compete against other players and watch others put up quarters up to try and take me out. It didn’t have the fantasy or fatalities of Mortal Kombat. It didn’t have the flash and mass appeal of Street Fighter 2, but it didn’t need it. What it had, nobody else did. Fantastic sprites, that referee, sparse music and what felt like the pixel perfect representation of all the great Kurosawa flicks my grandfather had on VHS.
Samurai Shodown may not be as big as some of it’s peers but it’s just as worthy. It’s reach and inspiration can still be seen and felt in games across different genre’s til this day. Some games like Soul Calibur probably wouldn’t even exist without Samurai Shodown paving the way for weapons based fighters.
Samurai Shodown arrives during this fighting game renaissance that has fans spoiled. After trying their hand at numerous sequels of varying quality, and a 3d game of questionable quality, they’re now completing the modern fighting game revival. A brand new title, with it’s gameplay rooted in the 2d style, and the classic action the franchise is known for.
Samurai Shodown for the uninitiated is not a fighting game about flash. You don’t pull off magic strings or air launchers into super moves. In this game it’s rare to even combo a normal into a special move. Samurai Shodown was, and still is a game about the very fundamentals of fighting games.
Concepts and terminology that have crept into the more casual players vocabulary is what this game builds it’s entire core around. Footsies, spacing, defense, mind games, these are the core of what separates Samurai Shodown from other fighters.
Now don’t get me wrong, these concepts are core to every fighting game no matter how casual you think they are. However, Samurai Shodown emphasizes these techniques because it’s gameplay revolves around patience, instead of flash. Most fighting games of the last few years have made moves to bring in the more casual audience. Whether it’s via easy super attacks, auto combo’s, and more comeback mechanics than you can throw an X-Factor at. You can absolutely pick-up Samurai Shodown and mash some buttons, and in a lot of ways it’s pretty great as a pick up and play game. Like I said earlier, combo mechanics are pretty simple, and move-lists are pretty small in comparison to most other games on the market. Anybody can just have a go of it and start slashing each other left and right.
Each character comes equipped with three “Super” attacks if you will. One, will guarantee disarm an opponent if it lands. The other will expend all of your rage and is probably the flashiest attack in the game, the Lightning attack. Lastly, each character has one big super move that hit or miss you can only perform once per fight. Regardless of which character you use, these super moves share the same input so once you learn them, you learned them for everybody.
However the real depth comes from the using the tools at hand to best your opponent. The life bars in Samurai Shodown have always been a scam. They exist, but don’t be surprised to see gigantic chunks of it vanish in a handful of strikes. A handful of counter hits can end the fight before you knew what hit you. If you get hit with a clean super attack, it’s not uncommon to see a clean 70% of your health gone.
The focus on fundamentals in the absence of flash, high damage counter hits rather than 30 hit juggles, and footsies and spacing instead of a comeback mechanic create a much more tense and satisfying experience.
As for the rest of the package, Samurai Shodown goes for a stylized look looks fantastic while still managing to maintain the spirit of the original. Music is sparse, and used to accentuate the tension and danger that combat can bring.
As for the rest of the package, it’s unfortunately one area where they held on to the roots of the franchise a bit too much. The game features a standard arcade mode, along with survival and time attack modes. Each character does have their own story, and it contains a surprise or two that I won’t spoil here waiting for you during the climb to the final opponent.
Dojo mode promises to take the AI learning mode from Killer Instinct, Shadow Lords, and implement it to help you train against your own habits and your friends styles. In the limited time with the mode, it actually seems to work as advertised. Facing off against my own Galford was eye opening, and I quickly learned how bypass my set-ups after a few matches.
Training mode is pretty bare-bones by industry standards, and the tutorial will teach you all of the basic game mechanics but doesn’t go past that.
The online is the true meat of the package, as the single player offerings are minimal at best. Outside of a gallery, the game features very little in the way of unlocks. Online also comes with a pretty standard selection of modes. You have the ranked mode, which is standard fare. Lobbies for casual matches are present and pretty much the same as most other fighters as of late. It unfortunately doesn’t feature a rematch options so after each fight you’ll have to load back into the lobby each time. It’s a bit rough, because the load time are pretty slow.
The true highlight of the online offering, is the team vs mode. You can choose several options, and even if you’re only playing against one person you can still have a full blown team battle, single elimination fight. Playing this mode and selecting three vs three almost turns this game into King of Fighters. It’s by far the most fun I’ve had online and it’s a ton of fun.
However, the fun you have will differ greatly depending on who you play with. Unfortunately the incredible roll back net code featured in the PC port of Samurai Shodown V Special is nowhere to be seen. Even playing against a friend who lives close by didn’t make it better. The entire fight almost feels like it’s several frames below 60. It feels like the fight is happening underwater. It’s a bummer and really hurts the overall package especially when you factor in a pretty bare-bones single player selection of content.
However if you have a good local scene, or some friends who don’t live too far away, the core combat Samurai Shodown brings back is top notch. The amount of mind games and back and forth defensive battles have been some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time, and it’s a great change of pace from how combo and juggle driven most newer fighting games have become.
Samurai Shodown is a stellar reboot. A refined and straightforward return to it’s roots. En garde!