Can feudal fighting make it back to the future?
Samurai Shodown is one of those fighting franchises that resurfaces every few years in what can only be called a big fat tease. Apart from Street Fighter (and Soul Calibur, for the consoles at least), every contender for the arcade-styled video game brawler crown seems to have gone the way of the dodo, along with the entire arcade scene. Samurai Shodown Sen, the latest Shodown revival, tries to make good on its promises, but it merely plays on our nostalgia in a foolish guise to crack us on the head with a kendo stick.
[image1]With a bevy of characters to choose from, all of which are unlocked from the start (save two boss characters), Samurai Shodown Sen does a good job of giving the player a choice of whom to kick some feudal Japanese ass. Characters range from the traditional samurai, the mouthy samurai in training, the other samurai who is probably drunk, and another samurai in red instead of blue. If that's a little too much samurai for you, there's the usual fighting genre schlock like French fencers, nefarious ninjas, and violent Vikings, not to mention a blonde Japanese princess who would give even Cloud Strife sword envy. Some of the battlers might look alike, but SNK Playmore has done a good job creating some very different fighting styles across all those combatants. Players will find it easy to discover a new character to tool around with after growing bored with their current fighter.
Unfortunately, the bare mechanics of the game make every character boring very quickly. Samurai Shodown Sen has ripped the franchise from its cozy little 2D home in our nostalgia-laced heads and thrust it into 3D, a la another weapons-based fighter that rhymes with "Schmoul Schmalibur". It's obvious the series didn't get the polish it needed - the character models and backgrounds all look worse than even Xbox 360 launch title standards like "Schmead or Schmalive 4". Fighters seem to be smothered in bad textures, while arenas are populated with the same swaying grass model copy and pasted one hundred times over. Even Olympic synchronized swimming teams aren't this good (not that I watch synchronized swimming [okay, I do]).
Samurai Shodown Sen also suffers from control overlap confusion. You're supposed to be able to step into the foreground and background, but these movements conflict with crouching and jumping. The result is an unintuitive garbled mess. You expect to dodge a vertical slash, but jump right into one instead. Trying to duck that horizontal attack? Too bad. Samurai Shodown Sen is the only game where your opponent will be able to argue that you ran into his punch. No crying to mommy on this one.
[image2]Beyond that, single player modes are ruined by the typical unhealthy spike in difficulty and the absurdly difficult bosses. Tacked on to help the player combat the sheer killing ability of the computer is a one-hit kill system that I honestly never got any use out of. As you take damage you'll build up energy for this super-charged attack that requires you to hit a ton of buttons at once (or the RB button as I later found out). But if you're winning matches in single player, you're probably not going to be using this one-hit kill mechanic.
Online is a completely different story... in that there's no online community to speak of. I arranged an online match with someone else in a forum, but as far as searching for quick matches and creating lobbies goes, you're going to be stuck holding the phone. There are all the standard modes a fighting game should have, like Survival mode, and there are bloody finishes that leave your opponent handless, headless, or with a spurting chest wound, but none of those things are going to save the game.
Samurai Shodown Sen is a dojo of mediocrity that would have been better as an easy downloadable 2D revival. Fighting game aficionados will find this title lacking precise controls and mechanics, while newcomers who are bored with Street Fighter IV and need more to do with their expensive Tournament Edition Fight Stick should really look into other titles that are much, much better.