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Samurai Shodown review for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch


Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 2
Online: 1v1, 2v2, Leaderboards
ESRB: T

Dormant since 2008, Samurai Shodown was one of those franchises that many wondered if it would get another entry, as SNK seemingly focused on releasing only new entries to the King of Fighters series during this last decade. Those waiting finally got what they were wishing for last September when SNK released a teaser trailer for Samurai Shodown during Sony’s pre-Tokyo Game Show event. Returning to its 2D roots, the game sports an art style that could easily be passed off as a Japanese ink wash painting.

The year is 1787. Japan is in turmoil as the evil is once again spreading across the land. 16 fighters from across the land with various motivations set forth to quell the chaos and bring peace to the land. 14 of these fighters return from previous entries, and a majority of them are series mainstays like the wandering ronin Haohmaru, the young shrine maiden Nakoruru, as well as the tuberculosis-stricken Ukyo. New to the series are 3 characters with some unique designs steeped in Japanese lore, like the Tengu Yashamaru, but also foreign concepts such as the Feng Shui practitioner Ruixiang and the shipwright Darli. While it would be nice to have more characters culled from the series’ vast catalogue of characters, these 3 are unique enough that they are a welcome addition to the game. Those lamenting the exclusion of their favorites can hold out hope as 4 additional characters will be added via season pass. In an extremely generous move, SNK has made the season pass available for free for the first 5 days after the launch of the game.

Samurai Shodown, unlike the latest wave of fighting games, isn’t a combo-heavy flashy affair. Matches have a slower pace and can end with a handful of attacks. I initially found myself using strictly heavy attacks until I realized that knockback when my strike was blocked left me wide open to losing huge chunks of life. Blocking as the opponent’s attack hits will reward skilled players with more rage meter. Building that rage meter can add additional hits to your special attacks as well as increase the amount of damage you can do. Disarming your opponent with a well-timed deflect or weapon flipping attack can secure an easy win if you manage to prevent your opponent from recovering their weapon. Each character has a nearly round-ending Super Special Move, but as a means of balancing them these move can only be executed once per fight. If you do manage to land them, you are treated to an awe-inspiring sight.

Fighting games nowadays live and die by the online communities they can retain. Samurai Shodown offers the standard modes which most fighting games offer. A ranked mode for those who wish to climb the ranks of the leaderboards as well as a casual mode for those who want to want to take on someone with a heartbeat. Another “online” mode is the Dojo mode, with ghosts of online players. While this mode was not available during the pre-release period, I decided to give it a shot before committing to completing the review.

Sadly the launch window might not be the best period to evaluate this mode. As of right now all the AI ghosts of players tend to be simplistic facsimiles of their supposed owner. Fighting these ghosts often feel like playing against someone who’s never played the title before. A lot of neutral jumping, mashing on the strong attack, unleashing their rage explosion without actually utilizing the lighting blade ability, which unleashing the explosion opens can be seen. If you had to assign a difficulty to these ghost fighters it would probably be comparable to the easiest difficulty.

The Dojo mode also offers an iron man mode, where you would take on a number of these ghost fighters up to 100 for those with too much time on their hands. Alas I made the mistake of taking on the 100 man challenge, often facing ghosts with the common prefix of “SNK_Ghost”. My reward for successfully conquering these AI fighters…was a title for my player card. So needless to say, the Dojo mode is probably the most underwhelming mode for the title.

Disappointment with the Dojo mode aside, Samurai Shodown is an extremely competent title. It is not a difficult title to pick up. Matches manages to capture the tension of a life or death duel, where one errant move can mean being cut down. Visually it is probably the most vibrant the series has seen, with some stages which are breathtaking. This release is welcoming to newcomers as well as veterans to the series. Hopefully this title will lead to a renaissance for this series and there will be many more ways to embrace death.

Grade: B+