Samurai Shodown, aka Samurai Spirits in Japan, is one of SNK's hallmarks. The series debuted back in 1993 and soon proved itself to be one of the most interesting takes in fighting video games. Contrary to other, more popular titles in the fighting genre, Samurai Shodown is all about a more technical approach, with incredibly powerful combos that depend on perfect timing and not just random combinations of buttons.
For this reason, don't come to Samurai Shodown expecting easy combos, cheesy special attacks, or characters based on always abusing the same moves. To be honest with you, some casuals might have a hard time trying to survive a fight if they're not used to this kind of mechanics, and even the more experienced players may need some time before being able to unleash a character's true power.
What to Expect
Other than fast-paced fights based on timing and strategy, there are two things that you should expect in every Samurai Shodown game: the use of different kinds of weapons, and the ultra-Japanese atmosphere. Almost all elements related to the characters and their backgrounds are highly related to classical Japanese culture, and the same goes for the soundtrack and the different stages you'll fight in. Oh, there will be blood and dismemberment too—although you can turn it off—and a lot of dramatic encounters!
Well, this is awkward. First things first, we need to say that Samurai Shodown looks great, and we really like the whole aesthetics. It's a great example of how you can keep things simple and still make an impact, especially because most characters look mostly the same as they did in previous games, so there's no need to use alternate skins (although there are some) or stupid costumes as a gimmick. Another thing we want to say is that the moment we tried this game for the first time (the console version) we fell in love with how gorgeous some of the stages look, like Kamuikotan or Green Hell, for example.
On the other hand, it's extremely sad to see that there's no difference between the PC version and what we can see on consoles; for example, the best resolution you can get is 1920x1080, so there's nothing you can do if you want your amazing 4K wide screen to shine. At least we can say the 60fps are consistent... and again, the game looks really good without trying to feel hyperrealistic or the need for graphics to compensate the gameplay, so let's consider all these just first world problems.
Samurai Shodown games always have cool soundtracks, and this new game is no exception to the rule. Different tracks create different ambiances, but all songs are 100% inspired by Japanese sounds and music. Sure, it would feel weird to watch a fight between a samurai and a ninja while some random EDM track is playing in the background, but Samurai Shodown does a wonderful job in giving us enough music to make it sound like any other fighting game without abusing the Japanese influences and becoming a parody of itself.
Voice acting is on point, not only because of the narrator but also because the dialogues and screams/grunts feel natural and not exaggerated as in other fighting games. Oh, and the sound of the weapons is brilliant too! And trust us, if you know how to play, the sound of swords and other metal weapons clashing every few seconds is definitely something you'll hear a lot!
There are 24 playable characters in Samurai Shodown, and if you ever had a chance to play other games in the franchise, then you probably know who we're talking about. All our beloved characters, both good and evil, are back, so all fans should be happy to welcome back Haohmaru, Hanzo Hattori, Shiki, Charlotte, and Basara, for example, all of them ready to fight for their lives; if that's not enough for you, there are also 3 new characters: the imposing Darli Dagger, the clumsy and sweet Wu-Ruixiang, and Yashamaru Kurama as the new protagonist.
Another thing that comes back is the 4-button-based fighting system, with three slashes (low, mid, high) and a kick. This means the 4 main buttons of your controller—A, B, X, and Y if you own an Xbox controller—will act as your main source of damage and combos, while the shoulder buttons work as different pre-established combinations of your 4 basic moves.
If you're not afraid of blood, watching your opponents become a red mess the more you attack them is a nice touch for a Japanese fighting game, considering how popular the blood-spray effect is in Japanese pop culture.
Once you receive enough damage or defend yourself successfully, and only once per battle, you can use your special rage meter to unleash devastating attacks or special techniques. You can transform your rage into weapon flips, more powerful versions of your regular attacks, or the ultimate technique known as the rage explosion. Oh, and how about attacking at the speed of light? Well, you can do that too, once you learn to master the Issen technique! And don’t forget some of these techniques also benefit from a lower health bar. Great for a berserker approach!
If you like playing locally or just facing the AI, then there are plenty of game modes for you. You could play the Story mode and learn more about Shizuka Gozen, the final boss of the game, or you could test yourself in the Survival mode, Time Trial mode, or the Ironman Challenge, where you can play against 100 CPU ghosts in a row. All these game modes are fun enough to keep you hooked for hours upon hours, but you can always call a friend or family member for endless fights in the classic Versus mode.
If you rather go online, however, then you might find some trouble... which is a shame, considering the nature of every fighting game and how important the online battles are for the genre. Loading times are awful when trying to find someone to battle and to make things worse, there's no way you can ignore all the lag issues you'll experience fighting people from all around the world. That being said, maybe you have better luck than us, but just as a word of advice, lower your expectations and arm yourself with patience before trying an online match in Samurai Shodown.
Honey's Gameplay Consensus:
Samurai Shodown is indeed a nice and extremely enjoyable game, but it's far from being perfect, and if we take this PC version alone, there are several things to improve before saying it's a must-have or even better than other fighting games. For what it's worth, though, we're so happy to see this franchise making a comeback after 11 long years and also making it to PC (even if it took it an extra year), so we certainly hope it's not the final game in such a memorable saga.
All stages look beautifully designed, and the soundtrack is spectacular too!
Plenty of game modes for those who like fighting against the AI.
It’s nice to have more technical fighting games.
Not the best online experience.
One would expect more, better options when it comes to performance and video quality.
Honey's Final Verdict:
If you want a challenging fighting game with amazing hand-drawn art, a killer soundtrack, and a steep learning curve, then look no further! Unless you're too worried about making the best of your high-end PC, Samurai Shodown is still a respectable name in the fighting universe, and it certainly is a blast to play!
Whatever the case, you could also try the Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection for a retro feeling, also available in the Epic Games Store, and free of charge until June 18!
Author: Rod Locksley
Hey! I'm Rod, and when I'm not watching anime or playing video games I'm probably writing about them, but I'm also a graphic and web designer, and I even published a comic book and worked like 4 years for a well-known MMORPG. Curiously, my favorite series are quite different from each other, so I'm still trying to understand what I really like in an anime...