The last time we saw an entry in SNK’s Samurai Shodown series, it was with Samurai Shodown Sen on the Xbox 360, and boy was that a low note for the series. The 3D brawler left a bad taste in our mouths and didn’t do the franchise any favors. It’s been nine years since we’ve seen any major action from Samurai Shodown, until now.
Considering SNK’s been on a revival roll as of late with its King of Fighters franchise (and in a way, its whimsical SNK Heroines), we figured it would be just a matter of time before Samurai would sharpen its sword again. Last year we got a trailer reminding us that it would indeed return and lo and behold, here it is, better than it’s ever been.
There are still a couple of things that keep it from being truly epic, but overall it continues to be a cut above the competition and a welcome return to the franchise.
This Blade Is Hardly Dull
Unlike other fighting games, Samurai Shodown doesn’t rely on quick combo-based attacks. It’s all about methodical, timing-based combat, in which you find the best way to strike and then strike deep. Samurai Shodown gives players opportunity and lets them take advantage of it. Whether it’s getting in some quick strikes first and finding an opening, or simply going heavy and taking that great risk at slicing into your opponent.
That’s not to say that newcomers won’t have a great time with it. The game does present itself as such, though we recommend getting started offline at first to grow accustomed to it. Fortunately, you can get in various sessions before hopping into story mode and other features within the game and get used to the special moves for both the returning and new characters introduced here. Once you do, you’ll find a wealth of moves that can really chip away at someone’s energy bar.
It’s not always going for the bloodshed either, though some opponents certainly know how to draw it right away. Sometimes playing defensively is the best way to go, allowing your opponent’s weapon to be knocked away. Then there’s the finishing touch, either creating an arterial blood spray or perhaps slicing an opponent in half entirely, provided you don’t tone down the violence once you get started. That’s the iconic Samurai way, just as SNK has done in the past. Granted, you can play however you wish, and tone down the difficulty if you want to get used to the system here.
The game features three different “blows” to get used to (low, medium and heavy), along with kick moves to throw opponents off. You can also execute special moves, throws and more, along with special techniques that can really devastate an opponent if you land them properly, with a dramatic finish. They’re remarkable, but they take a great deal of practice. Don’t expect to pull them off with each match right away though, they’ll take mastery.
The game play has some great balance to it. Some moves take getting used to and some defensive techniques can require practice. Overall, it’s classic Shodown through and through and I love that.
Someone For Everyone, Though Some Favorites Are Missing
Right off the bat, Samurai Shodown does have some great characters to choose from. There are a number of returning veterans that will fit the bill, such as deep cutters like Nakoruru, Ukyo (my favorite aerial blader), Haohmaru and Genjuro, all bad-asses in their own right. I would’ve liked Gen-an to come back, but with the possibilities within the season pass, there’s always a good chance for him to return.
Some oddballs show up as well. As expected, Earthquake is back with a vengeance, and isn’t afraid to deliver a toxic fart on a head or two if you get close enough to him. He takes a lot of getting used to, but he’s good fun once you try him out for a few matches.
Sadly, there are only three new characters within the game thus far but they’re terrific additions to the game, and there are more that will probably come with the DLC. My personal favorite so far is Darli Dagger. She’s a mean chick that can delivers a half saw-blade-ish weapon on a stick that can really bring the hurt if you let it. It’s pretty remarkable, and her speed adds to her skill in a number of areas. She’s as devastating as Haohmaru in her own special way, and I hope she sticks around for some follow-up sequels.
For good measure, the other new characters, Wu-Ruixiang and Yashamaru Kurama, are a lot of fun as well, and are sure to find some audiences somewhere down the road.
If there’s a weak character in the bunch, it’s probably the final boss, Shizuka; a spiritual demon that’s only exposed once she falls out of her robe. I’ve taken on some terrifying bosses in the past, and this one is a letdown. I understand her emotional devastation, but I expected a lot more powerful techniques from her than what she displays. Honestly, I think SNK would’ve been better off putting us up against a possessed Genjuro or something to that effect. He honeslty would’ve been far more challenging.
Otherwise, aside from that slight letdown, the cast is incredibly balanced, and SNK will continue to add to it from there. I like who’s on display here.
Modes Aplenty, But Some Could Use a Little Work
Samurai Shodown has a number of modes to be proud of, though some could use a little patching up now that the game has officially released.
First up, there’s variety to be found here, namely within the survival, time attack and versus modes. You’ll find a lot to be busy with, particularly if you’ve got friends coming over for match-ups. The game has a lot to offer on the competitive side, and even if you’re going solo it’s got plenty to help brush up your skills.
The story mode is good but there are some interesting twists with particular characters, like Galford and Haohmaru. That brings us back to that disappointing boss, and you get the idea. Fortunately, the other modes more than make up for this, so you can dive into those fairly easily.
That being said, the local versus modes fair a bit better than online modes. We tried out a few of the matches, and they were off and on in terms of quality. Some worked out pretty well, but others took a little while when it came to connection. We also tested a couple matches on the public front, and they weren’t bad, but there are times that the action can be a little slow, especially with the loading time. We assume that SNK will improve the netcode as time goes on, particularly now since the game’s out. Overall, it’s not bad, but don’t rely on it too much as a regular feature. Invite friends over whenever you get the chance.
Wake Up, Samurai – It’s a Solid Presentation
As for the game’s visuals and sound, SNK delivers a Shodown that’s well worth paying attention to. The in-game graphics pay a fine tribute to the classic SNK Neo-Geo game that most of us grew up with. The original animated intro has been lovingly recreated with 3D models, and although some of the reanimations are a bit cheesy, it’s still cool to watch. Sure, some of the character mouth movements are a bit weird, but overall they’re entertaining to watch in battle. Especially as some special moves come off as fluidly as, well, water.
On top of that, the backdrops are insanely cool. One in particular has you battling in a field in the midst of night, with the moon hanging in the distance. It’s absolutely jaw-dropping. Another backdrop features the coastline of a beautiful village with water splashing up on the rocks. Even the non-detailed stuff is fun, like Galford’s ship, with his mates either cheering him on, or wincing as he’s losing a match. Overall, the background settings really tell a story which is something you don’t see often in a fighting game like this.
As for the audio, it’s very cool. The music in itself sounds terrific, just like the classic game soundtracks, but bumped up a degree. The voicework, while in Japanese (mostly), is still spot on with the tone of the Samurai theme, right down to the moodiness of some characters. Sure, the final boss hams it up a bit too much (like, Godzilla level too much — calm down), but overall it’s got a pretty good level to it. Fans will be right at home, and man, does Haohmaru sound like a bad-ass or what? Then again, so does Genjuro. Don’t ask us to choose between the two, please.
Gameplay: 8.5 out of 10.
Overall it feels like classic Samurai Shodown. There are a few things that may require some getting used to if you’re a rookie, particularly some of the more spectacular special moves. In general, this is vintage SNK stuff, right down to the feel. It nails some of the awesome techniques that each character packs and which delivers the classic feeling we’ve been waiting years for.
Innovation: 8.0 out of 10.
Although Samurai Shodown doesn’t go the extra mile when it comes to innovation, it does offer a lot of fan service. There is more than enough mode variety to go around, though some fare better than others. When it comes to match-ups the game offers service galore, as players can go up against one another and kick each other’s butts for hours on end. The netcode isn’t too bad either, though obviously there’s room for improvement in some places.
Learning Curve: 8.5 out of 10.
There’s a lot for rookies to learn here. Though there are a few humps that could take a great deal of time to get over, fortunately the game provides a lot of room to learn, with modes in which players can test their skill. Plus, they can adjust the difficulty however they see fit, should they need to stretch their legs. The best thing you can do is test your skills against the AI before trying your luck online because some of the players really are experienced. See how you fare and maybe find a favorite or two before you try and take on the world.
Graphics: 8.5 out of 10.
A smoothly polished experience that pays loving tribute to the classic games of old without going overboard. Some of the animations get a little weird, and the final boss design is a bit disappointing compared to what we’ve seen in previous games, but man! The backgrounds are astounding, the animations are smooth, the detail is impeccable and the fights are simply a joy to watch. Everything comes together smoothly overall.
Sound: 8.0 out of 10.
This game nails the classic Samurai essence when it comes to sound. The music is purely authentic to the old-school soundtrack, and the voicework is second to none, though some character voices are a little cheesier than others. In general, it’s pretty well balanced.
Value for Money: 8.5 out of 10.
You’ll get more out of Samurai Shodown if you’re a seasoned pro of the series. You’ll find it on the approachable side compared to fighting games like Street Fighter. That said, it does have something to offer for everyone. It may not have the biggest roster out there, but it’s packed with modes, great gameplay, and a presentation that shines brightly. There’s a lot to like here if you bring friends over for a few rounds.
Overall: 8.25 out of 10.
After the somewhat huge step backward that was Samurai Shodown Sen, I’m happy to report that the series is back on track – and how – with this lovely reboot. While there are some things I wish could be fixed (again, where is Gen-an?!), Samurai Shodown gets a whole lot right. The gameplay feels just about perfect, and takes some time to master; the modes have a lot to offer, though story and online mode could use a slight bit of tweaking. The presentation can’t be beat when it comes to authenticity and it nails the old-school vibe of the original series. Everything truly feels like vintage Samurai, and fans will be in love with it. Rookies will love it too, even though some things will take getting used to. This is one series that has made a welcome comeback, and how.
+ Strong gameplay, which feels just like the classic Neo-Geo games.
+ Solid presentation, with graphics that truly bring the Samurai legacy to life.
+ Lots of modes for you and your friends to play around in.
+ Not as many characters thus far, but the new ones offer just as much as the classics.
– The final boss is somewhat of a letdown.
– Some fan favorite characters, like Gen-An, are missing at the moment.
– Online netcode can be unpredictable currently.
– Some gameplay features may take getting used to for newcomers.
(A review code was provided by the publisher for MMOGames.com.)Related: PC, Playstation 4, Review, Samurai Shodown, SNK, Xbox One