America - Front
America - Back
By Paul Broussard 15th Jul 2019 | 3,737 views
Like many other once dormant series in recent years, Samurai Shodown is making a comeback of its own. A creature of the early 90s fighting game boom, Samurai Shodown has been without a new entry for over a decade, and it’s been nearly 15 years since the last entry that SNK likely wouldn’t like to erase from history entirely. So how does this reboot/return to form stack up with the advances in fighting games since then?
From an aesthetic standpoint, the game has benefitted a lot from its time away. It's quite pretty to look at and the over the top visual flair contrasts nicely with the generally serene backdrops of the stages. The 16 playable characters at launch are nicely animated as well and pop out from the stages in a visually pleasing way. If nothing else, it's a solid game graphically.
Mechanically speaking, Samurai Shodown’s control scheme is relatively simplistic when compared to other big fighting game series. Each character has a light, medium, and heavy attack, along with a kick that’s used primarily for quick pokes. Blocking is performed by holding back, and grabs/dodges are performed by pressing multiple buttons at the same time. As a result, each character’s moveset is relatively small when compared with other big name fighters like Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom. While there are a few notable exceptions, most characters only have about 5-6 additional moves beyond the standard light, medium, and heavy attacks, usually performed by inputting a direction, quarter circle, or shoryuken motion along with a button.
As a result, it isn’t as technically demanding as many other fighting games, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Much of the appeal of Samurai Shodown - both the reboot and its predecessors - lies in how quickly battles end, and even at very low level play any mistake can be extremely costly. Even light attacks will take out notable chunks of a player’s health bar, and the few strings that do exist will absolutely tear through it. Partially as a result of this, and partially due to a relative lack of moves that are safe to block, fights are less about applying pressure on an opponent and waiting for them to crack by failing to block properly or tech, and more about trying to bait out punish opportunities or read an unsafe attack. This isn't necessarily a bad thing by any means: if you enjoy slow paced, deliberate gameplay, then this could very well be the fighting game for you, but if you’re looking for a fast paced fighter, it may not be your cup of tea.
It also likely won’t be a favorite if you’re significantly interested in single player content, because what’s here is extremely bare bones. The main menu advertises a story mode, but “story” it is not - it’s simply an arcade ladder with a couple of disconnected cutscenes tossed in at the beginning and end. There isn’t much else for single player content beyond a couple of variations on a survival mode. Don’t expect to have much fun with it if you’re someone who likes to get invested in fighters for a variety of challenge modes, cosmetic unlocks, or anything beyond actually fighting other people. The aforementioned 16 fighters may harm your interest too, if you're looking to play a variety of characters - a roster only 16 strong is rather small for a $60 fighting game with such barebones content.
Additionally, the online for this game is inconsistent, with the latency in matches varying wildly even on a wired connection. I suspect that the netcode doesn’t actively prioritize distance when matchmaking, resulting in some matches that feel quite good and others that are horrendous, with nothing that you can really do to improve things. Again, like the single player content, how much of an issue this is to you depends really on what you plan on doing with the game; if fighting online is your thing, this could be a notable nuisance, but if you’re planning on primarily playing it locally with friends or competitively, this may not be a particular issue of note.
And the local multiplayer is quite fun; the slower paced, deliberate style of gameplay, along with the relatively simple control scheme, lends itself to that “easy to learn, difficult to master” sweetspot that so many titles aspire to. Samurai Shodown is a game that does a fantastic job of encouraging you to get better, partially because the technical barriers to entry are rather small and partially because it’s very easy to see tiny improvements make substantial differences even at low level play. Assessing the competitive potential and future of the game is difficult, if not impossible outright, in the two weeks since launch, but if nothing else it seems like it could be a game that sticks around for a long time both as a casual and competitive staple.
But then again, this is part of what makes fighting games difficult to assign scores to; not only are the competitive mechanics, which are likely to only seriously develop after years of the game being released, difficult to accurately assess upon launch, but how much the various shortcomings or strengths of the game matter is largely dependent upon what you want to do with the game. With that in mind, I think I can, at this point, fully recommend Samurai Shodown if you’re looking for a fighting game to play with other people locally, be it casually or competitively. It finds that nice sweetspot of being easy to learn but difficult to master, and it’s been fun for me every time I’ve played it offline. On the other hand, pretty much everything else is a mixed bag, and if you’re primarily searching for a game to play online, or if you want to sink a lot of time into single player challenges in a fighting game, then this may not be the game for you.