Back in the mid 2000s there were few games which kept my interest more than fighting games. Most were basic looking 2D titles since my PC at the time wasn’t much of a powerhouse. These games were simple enough to learn at the time and didn’t require much time investment. Back then local multiplayer ruled supreme and fighting games were among the best that gaming at the time had to offer. Among those titles were the Samurai Shodown games – a series which my mates and I heavily invested our time in.
Unlike its contemporaries, Samurai Shodown isn’t a multiple button combo heavy experience. It places great emphasis on each move, slash of the sword, or well timed parry. Standard light, Medium, and Heavy attacks still apply, but you won’t be comboing them together. Instead it’s imperative to make each move count. These are games where button mashing and rushed play is easily punished. It’s a defensive ordeal whereby you’re only as good as your ability to defend, counter and time your attacks.
So enter Samurai Shodown for the PS4, PC, XBOX ONE, Arcade, Stadia and Nintendo Switch.
This entry should feel fairly familiar to veterans of this franchise. It’s not exactly the same as what we played in the 90s, but the changes aren’t substantial enough to alienate the core audience. You can still do perfectly timed blocks, side step attacks, grapple, disarm enemies, and demolish their health bar in about three well timed attacks. Along with the three primary forms of attacks, you can also add kicks into the mix (which are quicker than the regular attacks but don’t deal much damage) or special moves with the help of specific directional inputs.
More than anything – Samurai Shodown is a game of ebb and flow. Every aspect of it is a careful balance of risk and reward, like the weapon flipping moves – Devastating moves that if landed can do a sizable amount of damage and even disarm your opponent. Executing them involves use of the Rage Gauge located in the lower corners of the screen. This builds up slowly when performing timed blocks or receiving damage. Since perfectly timing either a low or high block is obviously challenging, it places a lot of pressure on the defending player. As more damage is dealt the flow of the battle sways in the favour of the player being damaged and thus keeps both players honest throughout each round.
The Rage Gauge can also be used for a Lightning attack once per match. When used it drains your entire Rage Gauge for a single attack which if landed deals a significant amount of damage in relations to how low your health is. The lower your health the more damage you’ll do. The big risk to using this though is that it will cost you your Rage Gauge for the rest of the match. So using it in the first round will leave you without it for the second or third. You’re also able to use a Super Special move once per round which doesn’t cost any Rage Gauge requires a complex input.
Every move in the game is blockable so none of the playable characters feel overpowered – further emphasizes the risk and reward nature of the game. Even when disarmed a player can even the tide of battle by grabbing the opponent’s weapon while kicking them to the ground.
Visually this is a good looking game. It’s not going to blow your mind like Blazblue or DragonBall FighterZ, but what SNK has here isn’t too shabby. With its use of 3D models with a 2D perspective we get a game which looks visually similar to the likes of Street Fighter IV and V. Yes there are some lower res textures upon closer inspection, but it’s not likely you’ll be focusing on them while trying to perform during the excellent unforgiving battles. Backgrounds are also 3 Dimensional and feature a decent amount of detail in both docked and Handheld play. In fact the game holds up pretty well on the Nintendo Switch no matter the configuration you prefer to play in.
All praise for this title aside, there are some issues with this game which require closer attention.
Despite its excellent gameplay experience, Samurai Shodown sees itself falling into the same pitfalls that most modern fighters adhere to now. That being artificial limited character roosters, then included the missing ones as DLC in a Season Pass. Since most fighting game players blindly buy into such garbage practices, developers keep doing them to the detriment of the genre. At this rate we’ll soon have games with just 2 characters for full-price with multiple $20 multi-season passes. With a measly cast of 16 playable characters (3 of which are new) and 6 others listed as DLC, it’s difficult to not be disappointed.
Like other fighting game devs, SNK are drip feeding players new characters at a premium and that’s not even the half of it. You see none of the DLC characters are new, none. They’re all from the previous Samurai Shodown entry – a game which had 41 playable characters, while now we’re being drip-fed those same characters for $4.99 a pop or $14.99 for 4. For those who’s favorite character is already in the game they’re fine, but everyone else is manipulated into going along with this nonsense if they’re hoping to play the game.
Now I don’t mind DLC when it’s done right, but when it’s in such an egregious form I can’t help but feel a sense of disgust. Back in the day devs used to take pride in giving us more content while expanding on their previous outings. Now it’s about how much they can take out and sell back to us. A practice that’s no more apparent when you get a game and see characters in game but locked off behind a paywall. That’s not added content, it’s artificial exclusivity at its worst.
Samurai Shodown also has a decent amount of modes to keep the player occupied, however most are not fully fleshed out. Story mode is basic with only 6 cutscenes, 4 of which are repeated for each character. There’s nothing to unlock except for artwork, and cutscenes. No color swaps or characters. Everything else is your standard fighting game affair with DoJo being the outlier – an asynchronous battle mode where you fight CPU ghosts created from player data, but it doesn’t work. The Ghosts lack any skill and seem like a 5 year old mashing random button inputs out of frustration.
Samurai Shodown for the Nintendo Switch is a game that I actually like playing but unfortunately can’t recommend in its current version. I’m genuinely happy to see the series return and hope it sticks around for many years to come, but I can’t condone the lazy DLC practices of the developer. It’s a good looking title which runs well, and plays even better, but should be only picked up when there is a special edition with all the characters for the standard price tag, and there will be so be patient and wait.
The Copy of Samurai Shodown used for this review was provided by it’s publisher, SNK.