Samurai Shodown Review Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
During the arcade fighting game boom that exploded during the 90s, one of the best-known titles cherished by genre fans was the Samurai Shodown series. Created by legendary fighting game development studio, SNK, Samurai Shodown was a long-standing series that became known for its focus on heavy single hits while the rest of the competition placed more emphasis on combos and mixups. Now, with nearly 14 years since the last release of a mainline 2D iteration, Samurai Shodown returns to the fold with its core gameplay intact, solid online netcode, and a less than stellar single-player offering.
At its heart, Samurai Shodown embodies some of the most important fighting game fundamentals: spacing, positioning, and mind games. While most other titles, like Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat 11, are delivering spectacle through momentous offense, soul-crushing combos, and exhilarating mixup situations, SNK’s weapon fighter is all about big chunky damage from single hits delivered with precision at the right moment. It rewards strategic positioning and extensive knowledge on how to punish the various moves of the cast. Some combos are still possible but the game de-emphasizes them by making individual hits, especially medium and heavy buttons, deal big chunks of damage on their own.
Samurai Shodown’s control scheme is quite simple. There are three basic buttons for light, medium, and heavy attacks and another for kicks, which can be also used in conjunctions with some directional input resulting in additional moves, such as low-hitting slides. Two-buttons combinations can be used for additional moves and mechanics. Spot dodging avoids a single hit which is perfect for reversing a disadvantageous position. Throws in Samurai Shodown are called Guard Breaks which don’t deal damage on their own and instead open the open up for a big hit. Taking damage and Just Defending (guarding just as your opponent’s hit lands) builds up your Rage Meter. Once full, your character gains access to their Weapon Flipping technique, a super move that deals chunky damage and disarms the opponent, a 20% damage boost, and all specials become EX moves with new properties. The Rage Meter can also be consumed at any point by hitting all three slash buttons granting you the aforementioned buffs along with access to Lightning Blade, a devastating quick attack with a flashy blood-spray cinematic when it lands. Disarming your opponent can come from button mashing sword clashes and well-timed counters.
In a nutshell, Samurai Shodown’s mechanics and systems make for an exhilarating fighting game experience that rewards patience and precision with a heavy focus on counterplay. Reversing your opponent’s advantageous situation with a well-placed counter is extremely satisfying. Punishing attacks is almost always straightforward as the majority of attacks are quite unsafe. I’ve never found pleasure in using training mode to “lab out” setups and combos yet I’ve managed to get a lot of enjoyment out of discovering how I can punish the rest of the cast with my chosen character. In many ways, it’s a game that’s easy to pick up and play while still having tons of challenging aspects that make it a long journey to master thanks to the sheer depth of its counterplay. It’s a shame that the tutorials on offer are so shallow with nothing more than simple introductions to the various mechanics which can easily be learned through play and exploring character movelists. In an era where fighting games, such as Mortal Kombat 11 and Guilty Gear Xrd, are making their tutorials more and more in-depth, Samurai Shodown drops the blade.
Online play in Samurai Shodown is a solid and smooth experience wrapped in lackluster and clunky interfaces. Joining Ranked and Casual matchmaking queues was quite confusing for me at first as the game’s indicator that matchmaking is in process is static leaving me in doubt that it was even happening. I also couldn’t tell if I could exit to another mode while the game was looking for an opponent. Friend lobbies are also somewhat strange. There are two boxes that players have to place their avatar portraits in when they want to fight. There’s no automatic rotation or Winner/Loser stays on that I could find. It’s quite alright when friend groups just want to play around but the option of creating rotation rules would have been nice. Once in a match, however, the game feels almost like a local match thanks to its superb netcode with lag only occurring during matches against people with 1-2 bar connections. Another great feature is that rematching is infinite in Ranked and Casual so you can continuously play the same person over and over.
Beyond online and training modes, Samurai Shodown has a few options for single player but they are bland and uninspired. Story Mode allows players to take their character through a series of battles across Japan. There are a few short cinematics between a few fights including a de facto rival battle. The starting blurb for each character, however, doesn’t do much to explain why you’re fighting them and what is the deal with the game’s annoying final boss, Shizuka. As anyone who’s ever played an SNK fighter knows, the final boss is going to be quite the challenge but in Samurai Shodown’s case she’s more on the frustrating controller-smashing side rather than a challenge that encourages one to overcome it. Dojo mode collects data from other modes on how the player plays the game and generates a ghost AI that can be fought and also uploaded for other people to fight against. It’s an interesting mode with a lot of potential to help those who want to refine their game however it needs more time for further evaluation.
Samurai Shodown is a well-refined piece of fighting game goodness that is wrapped in a generic coating of single-player modes and clunky interface wrapping. Its greatest strength lies in its competitive easy-to-learn-hard-to-master mechanics and smooth-as-butter netcode, one that can serve as a great introduction for newcomers to the genre. Just don’t feel bad if you gave up on the final boss as the payoff for all your frustration won’t be worth the teeth grinding.
- Playstation 4
- Xbox One