It makes sense to be skeptical whenever a company decides to bring back a dormant franchise. For every game that keeps the spirit of the original intact, there’s a Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry or the Commander Keen mobile game that are either pale imitations or disgraces to the name. Thankfully for fighting game fans, SNK’s new entry in the SAMURAI SHODOWN series is a triumph all-around as it offers up the dramatic gameplay of the original titles with a fresh coat of paint. It also manages to fill a niche since there simply isn’t another modern fighter quite like it.
While many fighting games are built around combo attacks and rushing forward, that isn’t the case with Samurai Shodown. SNK has instead created a title that doesn’t rely on fatal, punishing combos. Since we’re dealing with swords rather than fists, nearly every attack is highly damaging if it lands cleanly. Entrances are dangerous and it rewards patient players that know when to attack and when to defend. Although much more complex than Divekick, it shares a design philosophy in that it’s a game that is based upon nailing the basics of the genre, knowing how to play “footsies” and gauging distance. If you become good at SamSho, then you’ll be able to use those basics to excel in other titles as well.
Gameplay may be focused around distance and single strikes, but it absolutely is not to be conflated with this game lacking depth. Contrarily, there are a number of different counters and parries that can be deployed that make it deep enough for experienced fighting game players. If an opponent is predictable and keeps going for heavy attacks, then they can get countered and their sword deflected into the air, leaving them temporarily without a weapon. Every moment in Samurai Shodown matters and a player is just one mistake from losing a round.
Samurai Shodown Review | Characters that matter
As far as a feature set goes, Samurai Shodown is a pretty basic fighting game. Players can get acquainted with the game’s 16 different playable characters (three of which are new to the series) in the story mode, which is essentially an arcade ladder with some brief story interludes that bookend the mode. The final boss can feel a bit cheap (if only because of how much damage a single strike can do) and the story is light on details, but what is here is written well. From the tragic romance of Ukyo Tachibana, a tuberculosis suffering swordsman searching for the perfect flower to give to the woman he loves, to Haohmaru’s battle against destiny itself, many of the characters are based upon real figures of Japanese history and provide an interesting glimpse into that time period.
The biggest addition to the series is the ability to download the ghosts of other players that you battle online. These adaptive computer-controlled opponents learn from battles with the player and adjust to combat their playstyle. Rely too much on heavy attacks and they will start to deflect them and force the player to change up their attack patterns. Playing these battles repetitively is a great way to learn what your bad habits are as a player and where you need to improve. There probably isn’t much appeal to casual players, but this is a fighting game that’s clearly aimed at a hardcore niche so that might not matter.
As far as other single-player modes go, Samurai Shodown only has the basic necessities. There is the ability to take on dozens of ghosts in a row and then fighting game staples like time trial, survival, and gauntlet modes. These are all nice inclusions but there isn’t much to do once you defeat story mode with all 16 players other than to go online and test your own skills. So, those looking for a more robust solo experience on par with any of NetherRealm’s recent games will likely be sorely disappointed.
Samurai Shodown Review | No honorable deaths
It’s online play is also fairly basic. There are ranked and casual matches, the latter of which allows for players to have team battles rather than just the one-on-one challenges that SamSho normally consists of. The netcode seems solid from the dozens of matches I’ve played as I haven’t run into any issues in terms of lag or disconnections. Although the casual lobbies don’t have an instant rematch option like ranked matches. It would make more sense there and adds in unnecessary loading screens, which winds up being one of the game’s bigger annoyances, as players have to go back to the lobby and then start a battle again.
While undeniably true to its roots, there are a few aspects of the series that sadly didn’t return like the ability to commit a ritual suicide during a match. It would understandably be a more controversial inclusion now compared to when Samurai Shodown 4 introduced it in 1996. However, it added an interesting layer to depth to the gameplay as players could sacrifice a round gone awry for an advantage in the next frame. There also aren’t any real taunts in the game besides voluntarily dropping your weapon. Although if you think about it, that is pretty much the biggest taunt of all.
SNK has a lot to celebrate with the release of Samurai Shodown as it’s a triumphant return to form for a series that hasn’t had a mainline release in over 15 years. Not only does it keep the calculated and punishing gameplay in tact, it manages to offer up a great tutorial that allows for newcomers to understand the nuance of its depth. Whether you’re a hardcore fighting game player wanting to have some classic samurai battles or a more casual player looking to better your basics, almost everyone will get plenty out of a few hours in the latest SamSho.
GameRevolution reviewed Samurai Shodown on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.