It’s slow, it has little in the way of combos, the battle system in incredibly basic and it’s disappointingly short on features……oh, it’s also exceptional. Yeah, I should probably mention that it’s exceptional.
SNK’s return to the revered, Samurai Shodown series is an almost unmitigated success, one that proves, despite there being little in the way of actual change to the formula that was so successfully established in SNK’s mid-90s heyday, Samurai Shodown remains an utterly unique and relentlessly compelling fighter, one that embraces fundamental simplicity in order to create one of the most tense and unique fighters ever created.
More of a refinement than any sort of evolution, 2019’s Samurai Shodown will feel immediately familiar to fans of the series. Despite a handful of new moves and a subtle but successful change to the art style, this is still largely the same fighter it has always been. With basic low, medium and high attacks combined with a less powerful, but much faster, kick move, Samurai Shodown remains a fighter that is all about managing distance and carefully picking your moment.
Rather than the combo-heavy gameplay that fans of the genre will have become accustomed to, Samurai Shodown puts a much greater emphasis on single dramatic strikes. In fact, some single heavy strikes can take over a third of your life bar so, yeah, a big emphasis here is on timing. Few games have captured that genuinely intense thrill of armed melee combat in which a single strike can go so far towards deciding a contest. It lends the game a beautiful back and forth momentum and a fantastically realised sense of risk and reward
There are still special moves of course, and these do help to distinguish the games’ limited but impressively unique cast of 16 fighters, but like the rest of the game, they are all linked to the huge sense of risk and reward that comes from each and every attack. Ranged attacks do help to manage range, but showy, special strikes, while visually impressive and very effective, invariably leave you hopelessly exposed if they go wrong.
Adding to the drama is a well implemented but tough to pull off defensive parry, a smart dodge move that feels genuinely unique, and the incredibly difficult (for me anyway), disarming move which, if pulled off successfully, can completely change the flow of a match. The big draw though has to be the Rage Gauge. While little more than a special move meter for the most part, when full, this gives your fighter a brief period of increased power, but much more importantly, it also gives you the ability to pull off a single, utterly devastating and visually gorgeous Lightning Strike attack.
This attack, visually similar to Akuma’, Shun Goku Satsu, and certainly just as devastating, sees the screen briefly turn black before springing to life in a hyper-stylised, blood soaked fashion as you cut through your enemy and the vast majority of their health bar in a single, utterly brutal strike. More than any other ability, the successful implementation of this attack really can mean the difference between victory and defeat and adds yet another utterly unique element to its timeless battle system.
Like the gorgeously realised Lightning Strike attacks, Samurai Shodown is imbued with stylistically bold presentation throughout. It might not be the most technically impressive fighter from a visual perspective, but due largely to its commitment to both Japanese history and Japanese artistic design, it still manages to stand out from the crowd. Close to the strong lines and painterly style used in Street Fighter IV, Samurai Shodown’s visuals are bold, effective but immediately recognisable. The characters, while slightly updated, are still based largely on the classic 90s design, and honestly, it’s all the better for it. It might lack the visual wow factor of Dragon Ball Z or the technical prowess of Mortal Kombat 11, but by keeping things relatively simple, the visuals match the games’ ethos, creating a clean, easy to understand fighter and one that puts effective mechanics above all else.
The one area that the game is arguably lacking in is game modes. The basic but enjoyable arcade mode tells a simple story that thankfully forgoes the kind of narrative mess that can be found in many modern fighters, but other than that, it’s all rather basic. I’d love to say that the ambitious Dojo mode saves the day, but at the time of writing, the system, which works in a similar way to Forza’s, Drivatar system, seems to be creating an army of idiots – AI fighters that sadly have little in the way of actual AI. These computer controlled fighters that are supposedly based on real world opponents might well improve as more data is gathered, but right now, it’s not really up to much.
The same is true of the serviceable but largely underwhelming online options. The fact that they work for the most part is something to be celebrated I suppose, but there are occasional issues with lag, and in terms of actual options, it’s all rather bare bone. The exceptional gameplay makes online battles naturally exciting, but compared to the likes of Tekken 7 and Street Fighter V, Samurai Shodown’s online options feel comparatively basic.
It might lack game modes, and the slow, deliberate pace might not be to everyone’s taste, but for fans of the series, this will prove a hugely successfully return to one of the 90’s premier 2D fighters. Despite a handful of well-implemented refinements and a carefully considered change to the games’ art style, this is Samurai Shodown as you remember it, and it really is as fantastic as ever. It’s unique mechanics and truly devastating attacks make this one of the most approachable fighters on the market, but like the best fighters around, the simple mechanics hide a wealth of carefully constructed depth.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Samurai Shodown Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
It’s unique mechanics and truly devastating attacks make this one of the most approachable fighters on the market, but like the best fighters around, the simple mechanics hide a wealth of carefully constructed depth.