I still have fond memories of visiting arcades as a tearaway youth. Changing up notes for coins and wasting them on countless rounds on the Street Fighter Arcade machine. With much money lost, and many hours invested, you’d think I was an expert of these games. Unfortunately, I’m not. But, I love to play them in my living room, reliving my youth and keeping the notes firmly in my pocket. Other 2D fighting games have made it to be household names; Tekken and Mortal Kombat join Street Fighter as fan favourites, but one that may have slipped people by is Samurai Shodown.
Developed and published by SNK Corporation, this 2D side-scrolling fighting game is a well-established franchise, but hasn’t piqued the interest of gamers like the aforementioned big players. A bold story is told in a Japanese tongue, leaving us ill educated players to read the subtitles to fathom out what is happening. This is a title that is aimed at the massive Anime and Manga market, and fans will lap up its style.
Samurai Shodown is all about body language.
Whenever I think of arcade fighting games I picture; buttons being smashed, fingers moving at lighting speeds, and gamers pulling off remarkable combos. Samurai Shodown goes down a completely different path. Though you can simply smash your way through your opponents, this is ill advised. A skilled enemy will slay you in moments as they counter your heavy attacks and leave you unarmed and begging for mercy.
Short 1V1 battles comprise 3 rounds. Each character has a limited amount of health, and a set arsenal of moves at their disposal. Every attack that you perform can be countered, and each character has a distinctive tell to show the observant gamer the way to overcome their foes advances. Heavy blows are overcome by short, sharp jabs to the face. Kicks and punches will cause little damage, but will prevent fighters from overpowering you with pacey blows. It’s a tactical game that requires a fine eye for detail, and a meticulous level of concentration.
A bizarre story of Evil.
Samurai Shodown has a distinctly odd story that has your fighter traversing from location to location seeking his opposition. Fights occur in the weirdest of places, and your opposition ranges from; muscle bound men to slight and nimble women. You will complete many rounds before finally coming face to face with a being that is possessed by pure Evil. Unsurprisingly, this demonic force is the main boss, and you are expected to defeat her to save the realm.
As weird as the tale is, it leads to no massive surprises, nor does it stand out against any of its peers. I enjoyed the dialogue being performed in Japanese as it added an authentic twist. The translation wasn’t perfect, yet it does a sufficient job in setting the scene, explaining the plot and adding emotion. Its gameplay mechanics, and beautiful presentation drives you to love this, and the many game modes that are available to be explored.
Samurai Shodown has enough modes to last you a lifetime.
As much fun as it is to compete against the computer opponents, fighting games are all about hammering other humans into submission. Samurai Shodown offers a wide range of online and offline modes for you to explore. I spent most of my time playing offline, as my limited skills have faded somewhat since my youth, and being told to “Get Guuudddd!!!” by youngsters was as humiliating as losing every game. Yet, what I experienced was a friendly community. There were good lobbies that were a breeze to join and simple to navigate.
If you, like me fancy keeping yourself hidden from the online masters, then Samurai Shodown has you covered. You can battle in a traditional form with friends, or against computer players. You can also take part in; Time trials, survival or a score-driven gauntlet. Each is as obvious as they sound, and they don’t throw any curveballs or surprises. A practise setting allows you to hone your abilities and complete challenges, and finally you can hit the Dojo for some Ghost battles.
The Ghost battles aren’t as spooky as they sound, as they are simply the chance to challenge fallen players. The game will replicate the movement that they have made and offer a challenging enemy for you to fight against. In theory, this is great, but in reality it didn’t live up to the hype, and was my least favourite mode.
A cartoon come to life.
From my least favourite portion of the game, to my favourite. The art style is a thing of beauty. The level of detail is incredible, and the depth of colour makes it wonderful to look at. The crisp lines used to create each character and the amazing landscapes make this look like it’s straight out of a comic book. If you like a bit of gore with your fighting titles, you can opt to have a brutal experience. Blood spatters everywhere, and opponents can be dismembered. Victory tasted so much sweeter when your warrior stood above his opponent, covered in their claret.
Unlike many of its peers, this one plays out at a slower pace. Because of this you see the smoothness of the animations; the slicing of each weapon and the flash of each special attack. With so much going on, there could have been performance issues. This never occurred, and it was great fun to play.
It’s hard not to consider the soundtrack as clichéd, but everything screamed, “look at me, I’m Japanese”. From the distinct voiceover to the classic oriental audio, this plays out as you’d expect. Each fight has an upbeat tempo accompanying it to ensure that the adrenaline is pumping. And each of the characters has a sharp Japanese tone that is expressive, adding emotion to each cinematic. It was nice to listen to, but it had flashes of an 80s Hollywood martial arts film.
Much harder to play than its peers.
With so much riding on you understanding your opponent’s plans, Samurai Shodown is a challenging title to pick up, let alone master. If you reduce the difficulty to its lowest setting, then you can roll through the opposition like they don’t exist. But, if you play the game like it’s intended, then you will need to master all the finer points before becoming a champion. There is something truly wonderful about this when it clicks, but its tough learning curve will frustrate many gamers who are used to button mashing ways.
Fighting games are an odd genre. They offer some of the best replay value, yet the gameplay is repetitive. Of course, each fight depends on your opponent, and this adds layers of uncertainty and excitement. This, as expected, has plenty of replay value for both the offline and online player because of the many game modes, and the 16 different characters that you may select from. With a large and challenging achievement list to unlock, this will keep you playing for hours if you get hooked.
Is Samurai Shodown worth your time?
If you are a lover of the genre, then I think you will fall for its charms. It doesn’t follow the same gameplay principles of many of its peers, and simply smashing buttons will not help you progress. You must read the situation, understand each character’s finer details, and learn when defence is the best form of attack. For all these reasons, I recommend you buy it here! Beautifully presented with an odd story that allows many of its other fantastic elements to shine, Samurai Shodown is a fighting franchise that deserves more recognition.