For those who like fighting games but wished there’d be a few more pointy bits in them, then you might want to take a gander at SNK’s Samurai Shodown. Shodown keeps it relatively simple and embodies a “back-to-basics” approach to combat, which is to say that there won’t be any super-fancy 35-hit juggle combos and suchlike here - you’ll still get to play the game even if your opponent catches you off guard with a well-timed punch.
Samurai Shodown’s narrative takes place sometime during Japan’s Tenmei era (circa 1787), which is between the events of the 1993 game and Samurai Shodown V. Insert your typical “world on the brink of destruction” theme here.
With most of the land ravaged by fire, famine, and ruin, the situation in Japan is already dire enough at it is, but an even greater evil in the form of Shizuka Gozen, a deceased young lady whose spirit is trapped in Yomi (or Eternity, as the game calls it), looms on the horizon, threatening to destroy the world in its entirety. So, as the various characters make their way across the land fuelled by their own curiosities and desires, they’ll eventually come face to face with Shizuka herself, with the fate of the world resting in their hands.
Yes, the plot is as cliché as they come, so on to the gameplay. My initial impression of Shodown’s combat was pretty good.
Aesthetically, I found the visual package rather solid. Everything from characters to audio and even weapon animations were satisfyingly rendered. There’s just enough “oomph” for you to get a kick out of your sword (or four, in Tokugawa’s case) cutting into the enemy, or when your Rage-empowered kick chunks the opponent for a good portion of health and sends them flying.
It does have a rather impressive roster of characters too, each with their own vibe and unique aesthetic style - I quite liked Yashamaru, Rimururu and Mina Ma-jikina in particular, and as a bonus, the latter is voiced by Yui Ishikawa too, who you might remember as Mikasa from Attack on Titan. There are a bunch of other interesting names on the payroll as well, such as...oh, pardon me; it seems I let my inner otaku out for a bit too long. Get back in there, you.
The mechanics are rather well-thought-out. For example, it’s not often you see a fighting game where you’re actually able to disarm your opponents, side-step dangerous moves and even counter while you’re doing so. I find it novel that SNK has accounted for both armed and unarmed combat in tandem with the rather satisfying visuals. This makes Shodown feel like it really rewards good technique and timing, rather than giving you the win because you know how to milk one or two powerful moves.
However, there isn’t much of a point in rewarding mastery if you can’t see it in action often. The combat system itself leaves much to be desired in several areas, and the complete inability to juggle opponents, or even combo moves in the first place, is one of them. I find it kind of takes away a fair amount of fluidity where combat is concerned, and it’s like watching a Pokémon battle unfold - things happen one thing at a time.
Essentially, most of the game involves you hitting your opponent one or two times and knocking them down, then waiting for them to get up again so you can repeat the process.
I also have a bone to pick with the variety of moves available to each character - the list is quite limited and most of the inputs are similar too. Once you’ve mastered one character, most of the others are going to be pretty much the same. Add that on to the fact that there’s only about 10 or so different combinations you can do, and suddenly Shodown is bordering on the definition of a flash game in terms of moveset diversity.
It is this general lack in variety, both in terms of the combat dynamics and playable game modes that holds Sam-urai Shodown back from being a true top-tier fighting game.
After all, apart from the Story, Practice, Online, and Offline battle - there isn’t much that Shodown offers players. I would say Samurai Shodown is like a stone that was poorly skimmed - it makes one or two big splashes across the pond, but then it sinks down to the bottom, easily forgotten.
AT A GLANCE
PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PC
THE GAME’S SIMPLICITY IS ITS BIGGEST PLUS AND BIGGEST FLAW.
The roster of characters you can play with and their stylistic depictions are pretty impressive.
Move input commands are reminiscent of Street Fighter, though they are severely limited and similar for all characters.