Samurai Shodown Review

Richard Walker

Cast your mind back to 1993 (assuming you were born by then). The idea of owning Samurai Shodown in your home seemed like an impossible dream, SNK's Neo Geo console priced far higher than a SNES or SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis. For many, Samurai Shodown was a hazy memory from a smoky arcade, until SNK decided to start releasing its games across every console you could care to think of.

This brand new Samurai Shodown is an exciting prospect for 11-year old me, more than 25 years on since the first game originally released, and for any fans of the series, an eleven year wait for a new entry since 2008's Samurai Shodown Sen means anticipation for this one is presumably very high indeed. Happily, Samurai Shodown 2019 doesn't disappoint, staying true to the spirit of the original games with an eye-catching art style and measured, technical fighting mechanics.


If you're going in to Samurai Shodown expecting SoulCalibur, you're going to immediately come unstuck. This is no button masher and any attempt to randomly jab at the controller will inevitably prove fruitless – this is a fighting game where the tutorial is completely and utterly essential. There are a lot of different mechanics at work in Samurai Shodown, and if you're willing to put the time and effort in, mastering each of the game's myriad facets proves hugely rewarding.

Basic light, medium, and heavy slashes are simple enough, but counters and 'Just Defense' moves add a layer of complexity that's really only scratching the surface. Advanced players will learn how to sidestep attacks, topple rivals with a Stance Break, and bust out game-changing abilities like Weapon Flipping techniques to disarm opponents. Bouts in Samurai Shodown are swift and brutal, albeit slow and measured. Steaming in looking to pull off combos simply won't work; this is a game that requires patience and a modicum of strategy.

Looking for openings in battle is key, and gambling on landing a heavy strike can potentially leave you wide open if you're hit with a counter. Samurai Shodown isn't unlike a game of chess in its approach – every move you make is deliberate. If you want to block, you have to really pull back; if you want to counter, you'd better make sure you time it right, or you'll be primed for a sound kicking. All of these various facets combine to make Samurai Shodown a wonderfully complex weapon-based fighting game that grows increasingly enjoyable the more time you invest into learning its intricacies.

The game's succinct tutorial and practice mode provide ample preparation, teaching you mechanics like the Rage meter, which is attached to your ability to enter Rage mode and unleash a risky, but devastating, tide-turning Lightning Blade attack. This is Samurai Shodown's biggest paradigm-shifting manoeuvre: potentially leeching up to two thirds of an opponent's health bar in one fell swoop, but completely consuming your Rage meter and rendering it defunct for any ensuing rounds. It's something that can be used as either a last-ditch attempt at clawing back some ground or a spectacular finisher that turns the screen crimson, and sees your rival vanquished with a jet of arterial spray.

Super Special moves are equally flashy and deadly, though slightly weaker and less risky - missing one of these won't erase your Rage meter in the process. There's an awful lot to take into consideration in Samurai Shodown, but it's all presented in an uncomplicated, elegant way. All sixteen of the game's characters – three of which are brand new – essentially have the same inputs for their respective move sets, and the roster as a whole seems remarkably well balanced. From a content perspective too, Samurai Shodown delivers on all fronts; its innovative asynchronous online Dojo mode, in particular, offering endless replay value.


Of course, there's the usual Versus, Survival, Time Trial and Story modes, alongside the Gauntlet – in which you have to fight all sixteen characters in succession. But Dojo pits you against ghost data from players around the world, or you can challenge your own ghosts to see where any weaknesses may lie in your repertoire. You can take on the ghosts of other players of all skill levels, then save them to fight later, if you so desire. The Dojo is a neat feature, and a great way to ready yourself for some online competition, be it in Team Battle, Casual or Ranked Matches (although, at time of writing the Online portion of the game was unavailable). If you're feeling up for it, you can even take on an Ironman Challenge in the Dojo, taking on 100 successive ghost opponents. Madness.

All of the fighting game bases are covered and then some, but vitally, Samurai Shodown is a wonderfully accomplished affair, boasting just the right amount of depth to keep you hooked. The inky Street Fighter IV-esque art style too is fantastic, like a Japanese watercolour painting brought to startling life, Shodown is a gorgeous game to look at. But fundamentally, it's the quality of its composite parts that conspire to make this a startling comeback for a Neo Geo classic.

Samurai Shodown

An excellent return for an arcade classic, Samurai Shodown is a reboot that looks sensational, has a wealth of options, plays remarkably well, and possesses deep, hugely rewarding fighting mechanics. The Dojo mode is also superb, ensuring that Samurai Shodown doesn't just push the envelope, but slices it wide open.

Form widget
85%
Audio
85%

Beautiful strings and wind instruments on the soundtrack make for an authentic experience, as do the excellent Japanese voiceovers. Great stuff.

Visuals
90%

Bold and colourful, Samurai Shodown looks like a watercolour painting come to life. Backdrops and character models alike look stunning.

Playability
90%

The nuts and bolts of Samurai Shodown are utterly superb, seemingly simplistic mechanics quickly giving way to masses of depth and intricacy.

Delivery
80%

A plethora of options and features make SNK's game feel almost comprehensive. Story mode is fine, but nothing spectacular. The Dojo is fantastic.

Achievements
80%

A good, solid achievement list that has the perfect spread across practically everything Samurai Shodown has to offer. Fairly standard fighting game fare, though.

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