The first thing that many will notice when playing Samurai Shodown on Switch is that it is exactly the same as the one released on Xbox One and PS4 a few months back. I’m sure somebody with more technical knowledge than I could run you through some of the minor differences behind the scenes, but to my untrained eyes, this is the same game that I played on Xbox One which is great, as, well, it was fantastic then, and it remains largely fantastic now.
In fact, by the strength of it being on Nintendo Switch alone, this has to be the best version of the game to date – sure, it doesn’t look any better than it did on PS4 or Xbox One, it doesn’t run any smoother, and rather criminally, it doesn’t include any of the Season 1 DLC, but by being on the Switch, that means that it’s portable, and Samurai Shodown on the go is awesome. Everyone has their own preferences in regards to how they prefer to play games of course (I generally prefer to be sat on the sofa in front of a giant OLED LG), but fighting games feel absolutely ideal for on-the-go gaming. Sure, a giant cabinet and a quality arcade stick can’t be beat, but given the relatively limited living room-based gaming time I have nowadays, being able to practice the finer points of Samurai Shodowns’ fantastic battle system on the way to work feels like a genuine god-send and a very real opportunity to get slightly better when it comes to online battles. I still stink of course, but thanks to the game being on Switch, I stink a little less than I did last month.
As for the game itself – 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, and 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, this modern interpretation of the Samurai Shodown formula 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 (with plenty more available via the aforementioned, but sadly not included Season Pass), 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 (something that has obviously allowed for a relatively straightforward Switch port), 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.
There have been no changes of note for the Switch release, but the fact that it is now playable on the go arguably makes this latest version the best way to experience this fantastic re-imagining of a genuine 90s classic. 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 game’s 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 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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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
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.