Let’s bring back all the franchises! We’ve got Crash Bandicoot back in both platform and racing forms, Spyro the Dragon’s flying around and grabbing gems, and even if those are great as remasters there’s an entirely new Battletoads coming out. As long as we’re raising the dead, why not call upon the soul of the samurai? Samurai Shodown is back. This time it won’t eat all your quarters (or cost hundreds of dollars for the authentic mega shock), which is good. Then again, you can’t immediately switch over to playing Metal Slug once it does so, which is bad.
Unlike most modern fighting games, Samurai Shodown focuses less on endless combos of death and more on powerful single attacks. A single solid hit has the potential to knock off a third or more of the recipient’s life guage, so it’s vital to play calm and study your opponent’s moves. On the other hand, a blocked heavy attack results in massive blockstun and an almost inevitable counter, so you end up waiting for just the right moment to punish a mistake. This focus on striking and mindgames results in a fighting game that feels uniquely retro; appropriate for the return of a classic franchise like this.
There’s a few new techniques that complicate combat even further. Lightning Blade allows you to perform a blazing-fast super attack but eats up your power meter when used, for instance, and there are numerous counters and specials that allow you to disarm your enemy. A big part of winning early on is simply remembering the wide range of options available to you so you can begin to use them properly.
You’ve got quite a few characters to choose from, one of which is bound to suit your playstyle needs. Classics like Genjuro, Galford and of course Haohmaru are joined by several newcomers: Darli Dagger is a shipwright who fights using a mechanical saw, Yashamaru is your typical edgy badass with a giant longsword and a crow theme and Wu Ruixang is a clumy shield-wielding girl who seems to win fights largely by accident. They’re all pretty neat, though you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you see a lot of Yashamaru when playing online. The range of characters is impressive, though I did find myself missing my favorite chain-wielding wraith Basara…who will eventually be sold as DLC. I suppose that works.
Mode-wise, there’s a story mode (with the expected overpowered boss battle), arcade options and, of course, online play. The latter is where I spent most of my time, though I found that it was somewhat difficult to find matches much of the time. This game doesn’t seem to have attracted the kind of fandom that other modern fighters have, which is a little unfortunate since it plays well and has a unique style.
That unique style really pops when it comes to the graphics. There’s no denying that plenty of TLC was placed into Samurai Shodown’s visuals, which combine a modern Guilty Gear-esque anime aesthetic with classic designs to make for a game that feels both old and new. On the technical side, there’s some pretty nasty issues with load times that will hopefully be resolved in future patches, but otherwise the game looks good and runs well.
The lack of players online hurts this one a little, but if you’re okay with that then Samurai Shodown is a solid fighter. There’s a lot going on and a lot to learn. It’s a bit of a shame that such a deep experience might not attract the kind of attention it deserves in an era when Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros, and even Dragon Ball have all released excellent – and popular – fighters of their own. Maybe show some love for the old NeoGeo brand and check this one out.