Tuesday, July 9, 2019.
by Brent Roberts

SAMURAI SHODOWN Box art Being a child of the 80's had its advantages when it came to video games. Sure, the games weren't as advanced graphically and there was no internet connection gameplay, so playing online was out of the question, however there was a system that became mythical in terms of status; Neo Geo. While others had their Sega and Nintendo, Neo Geo pushed the boundaries of what was possible in gaming back then. SNK had prided themselves in developing an iconic fighting game called Samurai Shodown back then, and when you saw it, and then saw games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, you wondered what these people at SNK knew that others didn't. Samurai Shodown became a staple on the system and held its own fighting crown because no other system could touch it. Now though, times have changed.

Gaming platforms are exponentially more powerful today, and while we have seen groundbreaking revitalizations in both the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter series, the gaming world had heard of nothing from Samurai Shodown since 2008. Since then, we have seen beautiful, fluid fighters from Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur, to completely new mechanics in games such as Mortal Kombat. How can a game that hasn't been seen in over a decade be now worth full retail price? Can Samurai Shodown come back and deliver the same performance that left it light years ahead, decades ago? With the hardware being relatively equal, it comes down to the game itself. Let's take a look at SNK's latest version of Samurai Shodown.

Right off the bat I should make this a point. Samurai Shodown was never a controller destroying button mashing fest, but rather a more tactical "chess" style of fighting. Rather than beating someone repeatedly with a stick, you look for the slightest opening (or make one yourself) in your opponent's guard and deliver unrelenting brutality with every swing of your weapon. Samurai Shodown delivers a type of fighting that is less hectic and more strategic, but once your opponent has an opening, you can guarantee that a lot of pain is coming your way rapidly. Because of this, I can't stress enough how important it is to go through the tutorial. While going through the actions is OK to get you through it, I would recommend repeating these short exercises until you feel comfortable with how the mechanics of Samurai Shodown are.

I say this because Samurai Shodown's gameplay involves intricoes that can literally turn the tide in an instant. For example, one of the methods of defending is to dodge your attack. Dodging an attack takes your character and shifts them into the background for a moment which then allows the opponent's attack to miss entirely. Benefits of learning how to do this effectively will not only keep you alive and provide you no damage, but also create an opening that you can exploit for massive amounts of damage. This simple little mechanic provides a whole new dimension of fighting as you could be getting demolished, then dodge one attack, trigger your rage meter with Left Trigger and do a lightning blade attack with the trigger again; and if the enemy's health isn't full, then you stand a good chance of winning the match. All of this happens within mere seconds, just like how a sword fight in reality is like.

Samurai Shodown's mechanics ride on an edge that’s as sharp as the swords in game. While dodging is an invaluable skill to learn, trying to open up counters requires timing that would make you the master of any dojo. Counters require you to perform your move within the window of movement of your opponent's attack. So, if your opponent is winding up for a massive heavy attack, getting in close to land a light or medium attack can counter with some bonus damage applied. If you miss however, you're going to be cleaved in half, but what is life without a little risk right? You can find similar techniques used in timing your character's blocking ability. While you can block attacks and stave off tremendous damage, you can time your block which will cancel the attack of your opponent and give you an opening to counter. Again though, if you block to early, you'll defend the attack, but if you block to late then you're going to be annihilated.

This approach to Samurai Shodown's gameplay mechanics is just one example of how it's more of a thinking game than wildly slamming buttons, and why I must stress again how important practicing your timing can be for your survival. What's more interesting is that while every character has their own style of attacks, they also each have their own style of attack if they are disarmed as well. Samurai Shodown offers you ways and techniques to disarm your opponent, and in the heat of battle, a quick disarm can confuse your opponent who would normally rely on their weapon attacks and is now resorted to attacking with punches and kicks. I know now you're thinking if I'm unarmed and my opponent has a massive sword how can I block it? Well, if you time your block correctly, you can actually catch the blade and disarm your opponent. This will create either a balanced playing field or an opportunity for you to get to your weapons and pick them back up.

I keep harking about this I know; however, a fighting game is as only good as it's gameplay mechanics, and Samurai Shodown practically demands a more cerebral approach. This type of gameplay though is split between a few modes, such as online fighting, story modes and even the dojo. The dojo is probably my most interesting mode outside of story because it puts you against the ghosts of real opponents. You can have multiple difficulty level,s but fighting against someone who is better than you will condition you to improve yourself, figure out what areas you need to work on and formulate a strategy for victory.

There is, however, a minor knock against Samurai Shodown which involves the story. I'm sorry, but there are elements that seem to be directly ripped off of other fighting games (I'm looking at you DoA glowing blue energy boss character). To me this has always been the biggest gripe about fighting games, that being that the story doesn't always fit the narrative. When you have a roster of over 15 characters, writing story arcs for each has to involve something more than an opening splash scene with some text to read and a final ending sequence. With all that has been created here, it feels like the story itself got dealt the short straw.

Despite the ding, that doesn't stop Samurai Shodown from delivering absolutely beautiful graphics that equate to a beautiful piece of evolving artwork. Remember when Street Fighter IV came out and the new art style took the gaming world by surprise and people fell in love with it? This is another one of those moments. The levels to compete in are absolutely stunning, and when you start getting into these super special moves, the screen becomes ignited with various colors and effects to compliment the weapon's use. I also must touch on the audio, as it made me feel like I was in Japan and going through these different levels. Upfront, I'm already a massive fan of wind and string instruments from Asia, and the sounds they make in Samurai Shodown felt like I was transported elsewhere, and I loved every moment of it. Speaking of moments, I need to take this moment to say thank you to everyone at SNK who worked on making this game possible because you delivered a graphical masterpiece for fighting games.

Thanks to the hard work of SNK, Samurai Shodown has become the emperor of the fighting game empire. Breathtaking graphical deliverance of tactical, cerebral fighting that can be over within the blink of an eye, thanks to the balance and content of Samurai Shodown's gameplay mechanics. I do wish there was more in terms of content that would keep me drawn into their world, but what is there is nothing short of mind blowing. I tend to base my reviews off of value for money, and at $59.99, Shamurai Shodown is worth every penny, and for a limited time, the season pass is FREE to download, so make sure you pick that up as well. Who knows when, or if we will ever have games that have free season passes (looks around at all the other gaming companies and developers)? For an unbelievably entertaining fighting game experience that is far beyond simple button mashing, Samurai Shodown is where the real fighters can be found.

Provide better story content that is unique to each character and have it evolve throughout the story mode. It will take time to do it right but will be better in the end.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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