One of SNK’s fighting giants returns, but does it carve up the opposition? Find out in Bloody Disgusting’s Samurai Shodown review for PS4.
Space is an essential concept in fighting games. Playing with this concept in mind allows you to reduce the space between you and your opponent while avoiding damage, control the enemy position with projectiles or long reaching attacks -called “zoning”-, or gain distance when you need to breath. One way to tell the differences among fighting games is to see which tools and possibilities you have to work with space. Something I love about the revival of the beloved SNK franchise, Samurai Shodown, is how wild it plays with this concept and many others within the genre.
Samurai Shodown feels savage, and that feeling appears in every weapon clash, special move and in the splash of blood that comes with every successful hit, painting the screen. The sound of the katanas, the weight of your bows and the insane amounts of damage you can do with just one attack is a thing of raw beauty. This fighter provides a wide variety of moves you need to master in order to realize its full combat potential.
First, you have four buttons for basic commands (used for light slashes, medium slashes, heavy slashes, and kicks). You can combine them with directions to perform unique special moves, different for each character. Blocking is done by simply pressing backwards, with the possibility of crouch blocking for low attacks. Classic “Weapon Clashes” are back, and they ask you to button smash when you and your rival attacks at the same time, with the consequence of leaving the looser unarmed.
While receiving damage, your “Rage Gauge” will start increasing, allowing you to perform a “Weapon Flipping Technique”, a special move that deals lots of damage and disarm your opponent. Something interesting is that you don’t need your Rage Gauge to be full to perform a “Rage Explosion”, a state of increased damage that freezes time. However, how charged the gauge is defined by how much damage you’ll deal and how long it will last. While in this mode, you can perform a “Lightning Blade”, a super quick dash technique that plays a cool-looking cinematic, portraying the “classic” samurai cut sequence. Last but not least, you can perform a “Super Special Move”, an astonishing and bloody cinematic attack that deals huge damage to your rival’s health bar. Keep in mind that everyone can perform this move whenever they want (it isn’t attached to a gauge or any condition), but like Rage Explosion and Lightning Blade, you can only perform once per match, even if you missed it.
More dedicated players will have more tools to work with. You have “Just Defense”, which is basically a parry when you block the opponent’s attack at the exact moment it lands, reducing the damage you obtain to zero and giving you a small window to do a counter. “Stance Break” is the possibility of throwing the opponent far from you after successfully performing a Just Defense. You have a more classic parry technique, called “Counter”, which consists in pressing a defensive command at the same time your rival attacks. If successful, you’ll throw your opponent’s weapon away and leave him/her with reduced damage. But be careful, because when unarmed, the rival can perform a counter called “Blade Catch”, that will, you won’t guess it, catch your weapon and leave you unarmed. Finally, there’s an evasion button that provides you invulnerability for an extremely short moment, creating an opportunity for punishment if you perform it just in time.
Every move is a delight to watch and do. There’s a level of detail put in every attack, in every defense and counter that creates a painting in motion. Samurai Shodown is not only an extremely fun, deep and solid fighting game, but also an exciting and mesmerizing experience to spectate. In each battle, every second counts. This isn’t a combo dependant fighting game, like for example, Marvel vs Capcom. You can perform some combos, but most of the long ones have to do with specific Special or Super Special Moves. The attractive -and also uninviting, depending on you- aspect of SamSho is that almost every move is deadly. Some characters can deal more than 30% of damage just by a heavy slash. A single basic button. And what about the flashier super moves? Lightning Blades and Weapon Flipping Techniques do at least 40% of damage, and Super Special Moves the modest amount of 70%. It’s insane and the possibilities of incredible comebacks are right there.
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On the surface, this will look unfair, disbalance or even game-breaking. I assure you it’s the soul of Samurai Shodown combats: every slash and thrust is dangerous, minor mistakes and blinks cost rounds and how to control the space and punish your rival is vital. After some hours and a general understanding of the combat system, you will notice the battles will last 20 seconds. It gives the game a unique flow, speed, and tension that not many fighting games have. It’s understandable when all the characters can perform devastatingly over-the-top moves in any second.
Speaking of characters, Is everyone here? The roster is composed of sixteen characters, thirteen characters from previous entries and three completely new. You can select classic fighters with their signature movelists remade, like Haohmaru or Genjuro, or try the new challengers, Yashamaru Kumara, Wu-Ruixaing, and Darli Dagger. Each of these feel like great additions to the roster, balanced -like the rest of the roster-, and have the potential of becoming new fan favorites -specially Darli with its Monster Hunterish weapon. Visually, the designs of all the fighters blows your brain away. The new art direction is strikingly wonderful. I feel the jump between Samurai Shodown VI (Edge of Destiny doesn’t exist) and this one hard to believe. Yes, fourteen years have passed and it shouldn’t be a surprise that this a good looking game, but there isn’t any actual SNK title looking this good. I felt the same visual impact when I went from Street Fighter III to IV. A technical achievement, indeed.
Leaving the brilliance of combat and technical aspects behind, Samurai Shodown does have some flaws and significant failings. Sadly, if you are a new player to the series and you don’t play a lot of fighting games, I have bad news for you: the tutorial sucks. It isn’t necessary to compare it with the extremely complete and engaging Mortal Kombat 11’s tutorial to see its flaws -they shine by themselves, but it makes it all the more glaring to do so. Brief texts will explain to you the basic and more advanced moves, but they do it in a pretty standard and shallow way. There’s no demonstration, no timers or text alerts to show you what you have to do and give you some assistance. The tutorial even gives you some important explanations of moves and mechanics only in text form.
This isn’t a minor issue, because playing fighting games in a competent way is hard. There are also commands that are never explained, like charge directions, tapping buttons and so on. If you are an experienced SamSho player or in fighting games in general, you won’t have much problem. If you are a new challenger, it can be frustrating and make you lose your interest.
Modes are pretty standard, with a quite forgettable “Story Mode” with some underwhelming cutscenes here and there. “Survival”, “Time Trial” and “Gauntlet Mode” are welcomed, but without a great appealing. However, Samurai Shodown presents a unique and exciting new mode call “Dojo”. The game will “read your data” while you battle over and over again, creating a “Ghost” that you can face whenever you want, to see from a new perspective how you play and what mistakes you normally made. Furthermore, you’ll be able to upload it to the leaderboards and download other’s player’s ghosts and fight them offline. This presents new interesting possibilities, like playing “against” professionals, without fighting them directly. Unfortunately, how well this system works I cannot say, because it will be available after launch. Cross your fingers.
What about one of the most relevant aspects of fighting games, also known as balance? It’s too soon to say anything, and without the possibility of playing online -more words about this in a moment- is hard to find out. In a game already full of overpowered moves, a disbalance within the roster could break the game. For now, I couldn’t find any major issue in my playthrough.
Do you want to play friends without gathering with them? Or maybe play with some strangers? No problem, you have the classic package: casual matches and ranked battles, with the possibility of creating rooms for the former and the existence of fight request -being challenged while playing other modes- for the latter. Unfortunately, how good the net code will be remains a mystery, because online modes, just like Dojo mode, were unavailable at the moment of writing this review. Let’s hope for the best and expect an efficient system.
All in all, Samurai Shodown is a brutal experience. While some unfortunate decisions can alienate newer players, and the appropriate functioning of online features is yet to be seen, everyone with an important amount of patience will find one of the most demanding and funniest fighting game in recent memory.
Samurai Shodown review code for PS4 provided by the publisher.
Samurai Shodown is out June 25 on PS4 and Xbox One.