Game review: ‘Samurai Shodown’ makes sharp return 1

First arriving during an era where every gaming publisher was churning out one-versus-one fighting-game titles almost monthly, developer SNK’s Samurai Shodown remains one of the most memorable entries to the early-mid 90s fighting game boom.

Though never reaching Street Fighters or Mortal Kombat heights of popularity, the 18th-century Japan-focused game introduced gameplay that relied less on combos and more on laser-focused attacks, counters and quick reflexes, alongside a reasonably colorful cast of characters.

It may not be as fully-formed as the two gaming phenomenon mentioned above, but it also didn’t feel like the unbaked attempt at cashing in that fighting “games” (using the term liberally) like World Fighter, Kasumi Ninja, Ultra Vortek, The Way of the Warrior and the sublimely horrible Shaq Fu.

The newly released 12th entry of the game is titled simply Samurai Shodown. As that title suggests, it acts as somewhat of a reboot of the series, though that doesn’t really mean anything as the narrative was never the series’ strong point.

Still, for continuity sake – this new title takes place narratively between the first Samurai Shodown, released in 1993 and Samurai Shodown V, which was released in 2003, and was actually a prequel to that first title. This makes it relatively easy for first-timers to the series to understand the basic grasp of what’s going on.

Colorful choice: Samurai Shodown's gallery of characters remains intriguing as ever.Colorful choice: Samurai Shodown’s gallery of characters remains intriguing as ever. (Courtesy of SNK/-)

As a follow-up to 2008’s abysmal Samurai Shodown Sen, this new entry certainly succeeds to at least up the ante.

What gave the series and this new entry its unique character is how differently it treats the fights itself.

Instead of the fighting genre’s usual mix of attacks and combos used to beat opponents, the Shodown series is mostly about focusing on defenses and careful planning of attacks and counters – it is a game where studying the opponent’s moves and moments of weakness truly pays off.

Not that combos or the usual fighting game approach are completely absent, but with each hit resulting in a significant amount of damages, it is very much a mindful take on the genre.

This stripped-down approach to the fighting genre means a lot of deep mechanics, and patient players will be rewarded, while button mashers will very likely make one want to put down the controller after dying in battles continuously.

Fluid: The game looks good, graphically, with the fighters moving in lively motion, detailed in their visual uniqueness. Fluid: The game looks good, graphically, with the fighters moving in lively motion, detailed in their visual uniqueness. (Courtesy of SNK/-)

This new Samurai Shodown would have greatly benefited from a tutorial that is far more in-depth than the one it offers. As the game is about understanding each character deeply, the shallow introduction to basic moves and moves list it serves is a disappointment.

Graphically, it should not be a surprise that the game looks good, with the fighters moving in fluid, lively motion, detailed in their visual uniqueness.

As in previous entries, the game takes place in the 1700s (1787 in the case of this specific title). Naturally, there is a looming threat – here in the form of a young woman’s trapped spirit might just be the end of Japan.

The game’s cast of warriors have come, not necessarily together and certainly not unselfishly, to make sure this does not happen. It’s as basic as a background story can get.

The single-player storyline is therefore pretty basic too, leaving little to be inspired. A seemingly random series of player versus computer-controller character battle, the story rarely explains itself well enough to give an understanding of why we’re fighting each specific opponent. By the time the final boss makes an appearance, players might feel a hint of excitement; but again it feels like a drag rather than an exciting challenge.

The 16 fighters that are available to use are where another one of the game’s strength lies, thankfully. They are each brimming with almost-cartoonish gimmickry; from a ninja from Texas named Earthquake; Yoshitora with his numerous swords; to Wu Ruixiang, a Chinese martial artist who awkwardly fights her way through – fumbling for her classes and tripping to summon her secret weapon, a dragon.

Each of them are given strong details that make them each a worthy character to try. The popular character Nakoruru is able to hang on to her bird and attack her opponents from above, for instance.

As a reboot, Samurai Shodown certainly could have used a lot more upgrades. But as an introductory title, it succeeds in showcasing what made the game work: the unique gameplay and its set of eclectic warriors. Not a must-have but a worth-to-try. (ste)

 

Samurai Shodown

Developed by SNK

Available on Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Arcade game, Xbox One, PlayStation 4

Reviewed on PS4