The Keenest Edge
HIGH Darli Dagger! Also, Darli Dagger.
LOW That last boss is woefully designed.
WTF An unarmed special attack removing 80% of someone’s health.
It’s been some time since the last noteworthy Samurai Shodown release. For many the series peaked with the exceptional Samurai Shodown II, and while subsequent installments weren’t bad efforts, the franchise failed to sustain momentum and slowly phased out of the collective consciousness over time.
That said, SNK makes damn good weapon-based fighting games – just ask anyone who’s played the Last Blade series – and when they decide that a revival like this one is in the cards, it’s time to sit up and pay attention.
While fighters have generally evolved with the philosophy that offering longer and more elaborate combos is the way forward, Samurai Shodown takes it in the opposite direction. Combos tend to be short and sweet, with individually destructive moves often doing the most damage.
Just one hard slash by itself can do upwards of thirty percent damage if it lands, and a well-timed super can wipe out the majority of an enemy’s health bar, instantly turning the tide of a match. This setup creates a more poke-heavy experience than many other titles, with each character attempting to coax the other into doing something foolish and making them pay dearly for it once they’re off balance.
Weak or medium slashes and kicks come out much faster than heavy ones, so they’re good for interruptions, though there are also riskier defensive options available for brave players, such as countering attacks to stun the attacker or smacking their weapons out of their hands to massively limit their combat options. Of course, a disarmed opponent can then catch their enemy’s blade with their bare hands to disarm them and… well, it gets pretty involved at times.
There are other interesting kinks here. Super moves, for example, can be performed at any time, but only once. They’re gone for the remainder of the match whether they land or not, and don’t replenish between rounds. Similarly, the Rage Gauge can be sacrificed to stop the timer and attempt a lightning fast strike that does obscene amounts of damage – and then it’s gone along with the Rage Gauge until the match is completely over. Obviously there’s a lot of risk-versus-reward in these attacks. They offer huge damage potential, but offset the destructiveness by removing tactical options.
In addition to these fresh mechanical tweaks, the cast is great too. Many old favourites such as Haohmaru, Galford and Charlotte return alongside some later entries such as Shiki and Yoshitora. Some oldies like Gen’an are absent, but there are three fresh faces, all of whom are high quality additions. Wu-Ruixhang is a clumsy scholarly type who loses her glasses and summons dinosaurs, which I swear I’m not making up. Yashamaru Kurama reminds me of a cross between a raven and a tengu, and he fights with a sword so large that he almost holds it like a spear.
The third addition, Darli Dagger, is awesome. Fighting with a transformable ship-building tool which changes into things like a giant saw, hammer and drill, she has many vicious attacks that tear into opponents. She can also walk up and punch enemies for roughly 80% of their health once she’s been disarmed, and drinks grog straight from a barrel after punching a hole in it… she’s great.
Online play is fine, and can be pretty slick when the connection’ s good. While obviously subject to the issues associated with network latency, peer distances and downloading fifty terabytes of porn while looking for matches, most of the matches from my region were playable, but the few I got from further afield didn’t perform badly, either.
As far as criticisms go, there are a couple. First of all, the package is fairly barebones. For example, the tutorial is basic as can be, simply running through the tools that every character has available to them. There’s an arcade mode and a versus mode, the usual online modes and not much else besides a small image gallery. The fighting is great, but this release of Samurai Shodown utterly relies on the strength of its gameplay to sell itself without any bonus modes or content that might tempt more casual players.
Also, the last boss, Shizuka, is a pile of repulsive, gimmick-laden garbage that spends all her time soaking up attacks with super armor while she chucks out annoying moves. Some faster characters won’t have much of an issue, but characters with multi-hit attacks will often get hammered before they can recover.
The dojo mode’s a little odd, too. It’s supposed to record how players fight, analyze their tactics and reactions, and then distill it into an AI ‘ghost’ version that fights in the same manner as they do. In practice, that’s not exactly what happens. Instead, it creates a psychopathic homunculi that randomly jumps around and attacks fruitlessly. I downloaded the ghost of one of the highest-ranked players soon after release, and it fought like a rank amateur — perhaps over time these ghosts will become more accurate, but right now they’re all messed up.
Ultimately, I enjoyed this Samurai Shodown revival. Its back-to-basics approach works, and the lack of long combos helps differentiate it in a genre filled with them. It plays well, looks decent, has a great selection of characters, and performs well online — and better, there’s a reasonable amount of people playing at launch. The slower pace and heavier reliance on pokes may turn some players away, but for everyone else, Samurai Shodown offers a fresh, satisfying twist on weapons-based combat unlike nearly anything else out there.
Disclosures: This game is developed by SNK Corporation and published by SNK. It is currently available on PS4 and Xbox One, with Switch and PC versions to follow. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 9 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 10 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, and Violence. Mature my arse, this is a Teen at worst. The death scenes are about as mild as it gets – sure, seeing Nakoruru get chopped in two is hilari… sorry, might be disconcerting for some, but she blinks out of existence in moments. Some blood sticks around mid-fight, and… eh, maybe I’m just desensitized. It doesn’t strike me as bad, in any way.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There’s no real issue playing the game without sound — audio cues generally come out alongside or just before attacks and important character movements, so relying on visuals alone is more than sufficient.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.