Samurai Shodown Hands-On: Lookin’ Sharp

Believe it or not, it’s been about a decade since we’ve seen an entry in the Samurai Shodown franchise. When a game did last release…well, it didn’t exactly leave a favorable taste in our mouths.

That’s because the game in question was Samurai Shodown Sen, or referred to in some markets as Samurai Shodown: Edge of Destiny. Rather than following the blueprint that the Neo-Geo brawlers left, it instead forged a clumsy path into 3D fighting that became instantly forgettable. As a result, SNK shelved this series, instead opting to smooth over King of Fighters into a true champion.

Now that The King of Fighters XIV has proven dominant, the publisher has returned to bring back Samurai strong, and boy has it. While the game is still waist deep in development, leading into its summer release, Samurai Shodown is shaping up to be the fighting champion we’ve waited over a decade for. We need it now more than ever.

The Legacy Lives On, Even If Some Opponents Don’t 

For those unfamiliar with Samurai Shodown, the series originally got its start in the 90’s as one of SNK’s big competitors to Street Fighter II. However, unlike other games that tried to ape the style of Capcom’s champ, Shodown served as a weapons-based brawler in an ancient land, with a number of warriors stepping up to spill blood in a valiant effort to be called the best in the land. The original game became a cult classic, leading to several sequel releases.

The reason I bring up the original Shodown is because this reboot ties very close within its nature. Instead of relying on lame 3D tactics that brought Sen down to size, Samurai Shodown instead focuses on the wondrous 2D gameplay that made the series kick off in such a sharp way to begin with. It feels like the natural brawler it was meant to be.

It also gets back to the roots of the series competition wise. There’s no fancy tricks here, just a number of familiar competitors, and some new faces, going at it in a somewhat battle to the death. Using whatever weapon they have in their arsenal, they’ll cut through opponents and utilize deadly tactics- including a devastating super technique that leans on the cinematic- to get the job done. It’s really a remarkable sight.

The game’s story is still somewhat shrouded in secrecy, but we do know it takes place in the series’ original timeline. In fact, the events unfold between the original Samurai and Samurai V, though to what extend we don’t know just yet. But we do know that a few old favorites will make their return here, along with some newcomers insisting on spilling a little blood of their own.

So Who’s In This Party So Far?

Let’s run down some of the warriors that are thrown into the mix here. We’ve got Charlotte, a brazen female strongwoman who doesn’t hold back on her fancy sword skills; Galford, a loyal soldier that calls upon his dog from time to time to assist him in combat; Earthquake, a large warrior that uses a giant chain and sickle, as well as the power of some thunderous farts (no, really, don’t try to get too close); Genjuro, a devastating samurai with a nasty backslash and the ability to draw cards into combat; Hanzo, a ninja-like master who can draw his sword like no one’s business (note: his name is actually Hanzo Hattori, so we wouldn’t be surprised if Quentin Tarantino leaned on his legacy a little for Kill Bill, to some extent); Haohmaru, the powerful samurai that became a household name with the original games; and Jubei, a one-eyed wild man who can’t be stopped with his twin blades.

That’s the rundown of older favorites thus far. We do know that a new favorite, Darli Dagger, will join the cast. She’s a not-so-traditional battler that carries a very large saw blade, which will likely make her devastating both up close and from afar. As her official description reads, she’s “the most badass and shipwright to ever sail the seven seas.”More than likely, she’s got a pirating story to back her up, to an extent.

Also joining this party is the somewhat traditional Wu-Ruixang, who is far greater in strength than her initial looks let on; and the sexy and devastating Shiki, who brings a sleek look- and a deadly attack style to whatever fight she jumps into.

Other returning favorites that we haven’t been able to play as yet include the dying warrior Ukyo Tachibana; the unpredictable jungle warrior Tam Tam; the wily Yoshitora Tokugawa; the resilient Kyoshiro; and the beautiful Nakoruru, who will no doubt have her loyal hawk by her side once again. It’s unknown if we’ll see other favorites pop up, after all, what’s a Samurai party without the troll-like Gen-An, but there’s still more room on the roster for fighters.

Overall, there’s a great group here. But what good are they if the gameplay doesn’t back them up? Fortunately, fans needn’t worry about that department, as this Samurai feels just as good as previous games did, at least thus far.

 

Cutting Into the Competition 

The gameplay for Samurai Shodown really offers something special. It feels nostalgic enough that veterans that have played the series before can jump in without missing a beat. But there’s also room for new ingredients, stuff that will make matches unpredictable in some spots, and that’s a good thing.

One of these is the inclusion of Rage Mode. This enables you to not only pump up your strength during a match, but also get closer to executing the Lightning Blade move, or what essentially serves as your super.

To execute this, you simply need to hit two attack buttons when your opponent is within range. Once that’s done, you stand on the brink of possibly making a comeback, even if you’re somewhat down on health in comparison to your opponent.

That leads into the Lightning Blade move. You can execute a spectacular attack, where the freeze frame looks like something out of a classic kung fu film. You basically pull off a powerful enough technique to slash away at half of your opponent’s energy, while striking a beautiful pose all the same. This can take a little bit of practice to execute, but it’s oh so worth it once you actually do. Think of it as a reward for putting some effort into your Samurai Shodown matches. Just remember, there’s a negative to it as well. If you build up your super meter (which is charged by attacking within the game) and miss with the technique, it empties out and you have to fill it again. Risky? Sure, but, again, worth it if you can time it just right.

However, it’s not always about offense. The game also brings something into the fray when it comes to the defensive side of things. For instance, you can actually deflect some attacks, and this proves useful for not only saving your precious health, but also disarming your opponent for a few seconds. This is crucial to landing as many hits as you can, as they won’t be able to block much without their precious weapon. So make sure you master the technique if you can.

There is another way to disarm your opponents by getting into a clash. This is essentially a contest where the two of you go blade to blade in a strong-arm battle. The one that mashes the attack buttons the quickest will come out on top, and may even be able to land a blow or two before your opponent quickly tries to recover their weapon. This is an ingredient that was in previous Samurai Shodown games, so we’re happy to see it back in action.

This, combines with weak slashes, strong slashes, other super techniques and even kick and throw maneuvers, make Samurai Shodown a well-balanced game. Obviously it’s built with pros in mind, but it feels accessible to newcomers too, especially those eager to learn the mastery of certain characters. We can assure you that favorites like Haohmaru and Genjuro are worth it.

Looking Like a Champ

Next up, we have the game’s presentation. And if you’re familiar with the way that King of Fighters XIV looks, you’ll feel right at home with Samurai Shodown. That’s because it utilizes a similar engine, with 3D visuals and 2D gameplay combining together into a nearly flawless experience.

We only saw a handful of the stages that will be available within the final game, but the one that stood out for us the most was a seaside battle, which we nearly got distracted by the waves that came crashing up onto the shore. That, combined with the beautiful lighting effects in the sky, really set the stage for the battle that lied ahead.

And that leads us to the animation, which is jaw-droppingly gorgeous thus far. The characters move with great precision, just as their old counterparts did. For instance, if you launch into an uppercut-style slash with either Genjuro or Haohmaru, you can actually see where the differences between the characters lie, as well as the impact of the blade hitting into the skin of their opponent. It continues to impress- and is definitely a step ahead of the weak character models that were present in Sen. What a difference a decade makes, yeah?

On top of that, the game loads pretty quickly, so you don’t have to worry about waiting too long for matches to begin. We’re big fans of the cinematic style presentation, especially once you execute those slick Lightning Move maneuvers. Yes, as with games in the past, you can totally cut someone in half if you land the fatal blow just right. Talk about making your point in a fight.

As for audio, so far we’ve only heard Japanese voice acting within the game. But that’s a sign of loyalty for the series, as that’s how it’s worked in the past. It’s quite fun to listen to, especially with old-school favorites shouting out taunts. And the music is excellent as well, with traditional tunes that are loyal to the Samurai brand. Again, we haven’t heard everything that’ll be offered in the final version, but thus far, we like what’s been presented.

 

More Samurai Than You Can Shake a Stick At

The Samurai Shodown reboot is set to get a large amount of traction this year. The game will be present at this year’s EVO 2019 event in Las Vegas, as one of the key competitive titles. Not only that, but SNK also confirmed that it will be coming to all platforms. It’ll initially debut on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 over the summer, but later this year, it will also arrive on PC and Nintendo Switch. That should make it a key title for on-the-go battles, provided you bring a couple of Pro Controllers instead of those dinky little JoyCons. Trust us on this.

Not only that, but SNK will tip its hat to the past as well with the forthcoming Samurai Shodown Neo-Geo Collection, which will debut later this year. The game features six classic titles from the series, including the original all the way through Samurai Shodown V: Special; and will be handled by Digital Eclipse, the same emulation team that previously worked on SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. It’ll be jam packed with extras, including full game soundtracks, a fun Museum mode, and, of course, the ability to challenge others to online matches. No doubt there will be more than enough Samurai action to jump into this year.

This Blade Still Cuts Deep

While it seems like an eternity since we’ve seen Samurai Shodown in action, and even longer since we’ve seen it in a good way, it’s great to see that the series is set to return to greatness in 2019. The reboot alone looks to be worth its weight in gold, with exquisite visuals, dedicated sound recreation and razor sharp gameplay. But the fact we’re also getting a Nintendo Switch version is a bonus. And let’s not leave Samurai Shodown Neo-Geo Collection out in the cold either, as fans will no doubt snap that up faster than Earthquake picks up someone to fart on them.

It looks like this series is back on track. We’ll see just how deep the cut gets when Samurai Shodown launches this June for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and later in the year for PC and Nintendo Switch.

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