While I do love myself a good fighting game, I always shied away from the SNK titles as a kid. I was mostly intimidated by the high learning curve that games like King of Fighters displayed, and as such, I gave my quarters to things like Metal Slug instead. Flash forward to today, with SNK working with Athlon Games to release a reimagining of their popular title Samurai Shodown, which brings its eclectic cast of characters and unique gameplay system to current gen consoles. While it will appeal to core fans of the series, this game is still a great time for casual fighting game fans and veterans alike.
The game is mostly a weapons-based fighter, but you can also fight unarmed (either intentionally or by an opponent’s move). In addition, you have moves that can break guard, or surprise attacks that can confuse opponents. Also present is a rage bar, which will increase or decrease based on how much damage you’re dishing out or receiving; this can be nullified completely with an ill-timed attack. Once per battle, you can activate a rage burst where you have enhanced attacks and can do a special rushdown move; however, doing this will make your rage gauge unavailable for the rest of the match.
Samurai Shodown also looks gorgeous. Featuring an aesthetic not unlike Street Fighter V, the game does have a manga-inspired art style that flows pretty well in HD, and the game does run flawlessly in offline modes. Since the series is known for its bloody finishes, there are copious amounts of blood for the M-rated title, even if Mortal Kombat 11 contains more gore. You can splatter blood with heavy attacks, and doing certain techniques in your final round will cause your opponent to get dismembered (though they quickly fade away in the background). Blood spatters remain on your characters, and you can see how serious fights are in this universe. I really appreciated the attention to detail here, even if this is a little gorier than usual. (You have the option to turn off gore and dismemberment in the options, which is preferable if you’re squeamish at the sight of blood.)
Considering the cast has been pared down to fewer than 20 characters (though there is more to come through the DLC season pass), I was amazed to see how different each character was with movesets and personality. The main protagonist Haohmaru is the go-to character many will try out since he has balanced attack and range, but I ended up gravitating to Shiki (a faster character who’s a little frailer than others) and Charlotte (who has more straightforward attacks as she wields an épée). For those on the offensive side of things, Earthquake and newcomer Darli Dagger are slower but pack a punch (in the case of the latter, she was rather annoying to deal with due to her longer-than average range). Even animal wielders like Nakoruru and Galford are different in their approaches (the former has an eagle that specializes in aerial assaults while the latter has a wolf that specializes in ground attacks). Each fighter has a diversely different moveset and approach that is sure to appeal to anyone willing to try out the game.
I’ve unfortunately been spoiled with other fighting games in terms of mode selection, so this is where Samurai Shodown starts to be a bit lacking. Story mode is simply a series of battles with computer-controlled players, which is fine and dandy, but with the wealth of story content SoulCalibur VI provided, I can’t help but think the standard needs to be raised on this aspect. It’s sufficient enough for a game of this caliber, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more. The final boss is also rather unfair, requiring a lot of practice to take down (and even then, it isn’t enough). I can’t spoil anything too much regarding the boss, but let’s just say you’re in for a world of hurt if you can’t master just guards correctly.
You also have the Dojo, which is the game’s ghost battle mode; it’s an asynchronous mode where you can fight ghosts of other players and see if you can match their skill level. While I do appreciate this inclusion, I did prefer to just do the other offline modes instead of this one. You have the usual time trial and survival modes, but also a gauntlet mode where you have to defeat the cast in a nonstop series of fights. They’re run-of-the mill single-player modes, which isn’t too bad, considering multiplayer is where fighting games are at.
Featuring an eclectic cast of characters and some over-the-top gore, Samurai Shodown is a wonderful reimagining of the classic fighting series. The strategic gameplay and wonderful balance of risk and reward make this game a fine addition to the current generation of fighting games.