When it comes right down to it, video games have developed families and houses that cross the simple boundaries of knowing what a video game is. Children whose parents forbid electronic gaming are still able to recognize Mario, Pikachu and Sonic on sight. Resident Evil has certainly gained notoriety through the films as well as the games, and McDonalds would have never achieved the sheer volume of stores if not for Burger Time (there’s no way that’s correct). But the journey to an everlasting legacy begins with a single installment. And the Nintendo Switch is blessed to finally receive one of the godfathers of modern fighting, Samurai Showdown.
Developed by SNK and made popular by sheer awesome, Samurai Showdown is a 2D fighter with several unique aspects that set it apart from the rest of the crowd both back in the hayday of the 90s and even today. For one, nearly everyone is wielding a bladed weapon, which results in a fantastic amount of bloodshed throughout the fight. Sure, it may not seem like a lot compared to what stomach lurching effects Mortal Kombat X provides nowadays, but, at the time, it was borderline pornographic to see how many red pixels filled the screen when a weapon hit.
Additionally, Samurai Showdown is true to its name (and, given that it’s called Samurai Spirits in Japan, there isn’t a lot of “lost in translation” that could have happened). The entire motif of the game seems to take place in the older Japanese era, possibly Edo or older, and the levels, characters and weapons are lifted and inspired by the time period. Sure, Street Fighter II’s Ryu and Ken wear gis, but they still fight on the modern streets of Russia and America. Samurai Spirits felt like watching a noh play unfold, only with an insane amount of violence and some dude randomly throwing shit into the battle that could affect the outcome/your score.
As this is the first installment of the game, some of the more popular mechanics haven’t been introduced just yet. Your weapon won’t break, nor will it luck out and kill your opponent in one hit. But Samurai Showdown does have a fluidity to it that is exceptionally hard to believe came out of a game that came out in 1993. Samurai Showdown moves lightning fast, and gives Street Fighter II Turbo (which came out the previous year) a serious run for its money.
There’s definitely enough variety in whom you can choose to play with and how your master your style to make Samurai Showdown an interesting take for both new, experienced and hardcore veterans of the fighting genre. For example, several fighters seem to benefit from ranged attacks acting primarily as coaxing mechanisms: that is, the purpose of flinging an energy wave isn’t to hit the opponent, but to make them choose between minimal damage and getting out of the way, potentially landing themselves within arms reach with a fresh combo in tow. These sort of strategies had only just begun being explored in the early 90s, but Samurai Showdown utilized them as a legitimate reason on why you wanted to be the freak in the kabuki makeup instead of the samurai dude with the sweet mane of hair. Yea, sure, he’s got a massive freaking katakana, but kabuki dude has the potential to string together a massive combo that can effectively end the game after a couple of initial hits. You simply didn’t see this kind of thinking with Street Fighter II. I’ll never speak badly about the grandfather of modern 2D madness, but I won an entire tournament with E-Honda and the low punch button being mashed like crazy. Did the other players suck? Probably. But dammit, if all you need to win the game is ONE BUTTON, then I think you can decide which of the titles may incorporate a bit more thinking.
I’m pleased to announce that Samurai Showdown appears to be one of the most successful ports onto the Switch from the NEO GEO experiment to date. I experienced zero frame drops during the play, even when using some of the zippier characters. After discovering how to pair for two players, I haven’t had any issues in local multiplayer, and the online leaderboards are absolutely lit up with everyone trying to overtake the top slots in both Caravan and Time Attack mode. In fact, I found myself playing this game well beyond the normal amount of time that I allot myself for trying out a title, even a NEO GEO title.
Why, you may ask? Because Samurai Showdown is a goddamn treasure. People laud and praise games of yesteryear, and use emulation as a litmus test for if a game can still be viable and interesting years afterwards. Most, sadly, don’t really do themselves justice unless nostalgia is involved. Uniracers really isn’t that spectacular, no matter how I may try and convince myself otherwise. Samurai Showdown, however, plays like it came out last week, not last century. The controls are intuitive and familiar without being too boring and hackney. The characters have spark and spirit and interest without needing the Voldo effect that creeps you into curiosity. There aren’t cheap moves and cheap juggles, just skill and speed and a ton of effort going into finding which persona suits you best. There’s a reason the franchise went on for a decade, and that’s because this first installment blew your head to the back of the auditorium.
NEO GEO doesn’t have a ton of titles that I insist appear on the Switch, but this was a huge item on my list and I’m thrilled to be able to cross it off. Without hesitation, I strongly recommend that anyone interested in 2D fighters should get Samurai Showdown, despite its age and lack of online fighting (due to it being coded before Windows 95 existed). If you have even a shred of respect for how modern fighting games look and feel, then you owe it to yourself and the groundwork laid by titles like these to get Samurai Showdown and have some bloody good samurai fun.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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