Thursday, April 1, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

SAMURAI SHODOWN Box art Samurai Shodown, or SamSho for short by many in the community, has been around since the early 90’s, though if you weren’t a fan of the series and followed it I couldn’t blame you if you’ve never really played many, if any, of the series prior to this one. While I’ve played the odd one here and there since it’s Neo Geo roots, it never really found the same audience over here to the same popularity as the Street Fighter’s, Tekken’s, Mortal Kombat and others. That being said, after finally putting some time into the latest Samurai Shodown, I actually prefer many of its mechanics compared to other fighters.

Touted as a reboot for the series, Samurai Shodown isn’t like other fighters were it wants you to memorize complicated movesets and trying to string together lengthy combos. Instead, Samurai Shodown bases its gameplay around its weapon based combat and much slower pace. Most fighting games try and have you attack and retaliate as quick as possible to string together high damaging combos before your opponent can counter or recover. Samurai Shodown on the other hand is more about being patient and waiting, punishing your opponent for any mistakes they make. While there are combos, they aren’t the main goal or way you’ll defeat your opponent. Simply countering a missed or blocked hit with a heavy attack can cause some serious damage where single moves can easily do more than half of their health if landed.

Samurai Shodown actually came out in 2019, so why are we reviewing it now? Well, with the new consoles now available, many games are updating their games to be Xbox Series X enhanced, and Samurai Shodown is the latest game to do so. If you’ve already purchased Samurai Shodown on Xbox One, you’ll be happy to know that SNK has opted for the free update via Smart Delivery; no repurchase up upgrade fee needed that other publishers are requiring.

While of course 4K is one of the new features, there are two main reasons you’ll want to play, or replay, on an Xbox Series X: 120 FPS and load times. The loading was quite atrocious on Xbox One, not only in length but frequency when going from menu to menu or even fight to fight. With the new hardware, fights load in quicker than half the original time needed to wait, so now you’ll only be sitting for 10 seconds or so for each load screen; a huge improvement from last gen.

The main selling feature about the Xbox Series X version though is no doubt its 120 FPS. That’s right, your traditional 60fps is all well and good, but the framerate is now literally doubled. Not once did I experience any slowdown or hiccups, and I have to admit, playing a fighting game that is THIS smooth did take a little getting used to. Granted, you do need a compatible TV to make use of this feature, which thankfully I do, so experiencing it was quite a treat as there’s no other fighting game that can claim this feature to the best of my knowledge.

It’s also worth noting that all of your previously bought DLC carries over, as does your save data, so no need to worry about starting all over again. Lastly, I have to say, with the new D-Pad on the new Xbox controllers, fighting with a controller did feel much better. Of course this is absolutely in no way a substitution for a traditional fight stick, but for casual players, the new controller does feel substantially better for this genre compared to last gen.

If you’ve been following the Samurai Shodown games since its iteration, this one is actually set before the first game within the timeline. Like most fighting games outside of a few, there’s no real overarching narrative, but instead, each character you play has their own smaller storyline, culminating in the same boss fight at the end. So don’t expect much from a single player point of view unless you’re a fan of simply honing your skills versus the CPU.

At its initial launch there were 16 fighters included. Since then a number more have been added, almost doubling the initial count via DLC and Season Passes. Many fan favorites have returned, and while it doesn’t come anywhere near the ‘jiggly physics’ that the Dead or Alive series is known for, quite a few of the women characters are quite oversexualized in their costumes. On a side note, the Deluxe Edition gets you a handful of new characters, skins and Season Pass, giving access to even more characters. It would have been a great gesture to offer an Ultimate version or something that came with all the DLC, but alas.

Interestingly, there is a tutorial mode that will teach you the basic mechanics, but it’s not really like other fighters. Instead of learning all the moves and combos, you instead learn the individual systems that Samurai Shodown utilizes, like movements, rage meter, disarms, counters and more. What it doesn’t do well at teaching you though is when to use these. Yes, you know how to activate them, but not any strategy for the best time to do so.

What surprised me was that each character really only has a handful of moves/specials unlike most fighters that give you way too many to remember. This means that a lot of your fighting will come from the simple light, medium and heavy attacks. Since you’re fighting with weapons, this will generally suffice in the end. This makes Samurai Shodown much easier to get into without becoming overwhelmed with remembering an endless amount of moves and combos. A single well placed attack can easily change the momentum of battle.

To also celebrate the launch on Xbox Series X some major balance changes went live with the latest patch, but the big addition was a completely new mechanic called Guard Crush. Because Samurai Shodown is a much more defensive and counter based fighter, players tend to turtle and just wait to punish mistakes, so Guard Crush was added to counter this. There’s a lot of intricacies with this new mechanic, but essentially if you block way too much, your opponent will basically get a free heavy attack on you as punishment, so you better start practicing your parries and counters. Another reason you simply can’t button mash in Samurai Shodown.

While there are many layered mechanics that you’ll need to master, my favorite was the Rage Bar. This is a meter that fills when you counter or take damage that allows you to go into Rage Mode for a short time. During this short window you can than utilize your ultimate attack, Lighting Blade. This is a move that does absolutely massive damage if you can land it on your opponent, but should you miss, that was your only chance to do so. Again, a single move like this can easily change the outcome of a match, so never count yourself or your enemy out.

There’s plenty of online and offline modes, but I really enjoyed being able to download other players’ “ghost” characters. Think of these like Forza’s Drivatar system where the game learns how you play then other players can play versus your skillset without having to play each other in real time. There of course is online play against other players, casual and ranked, but given that the game is now two years old I had a hard time finding any games to play every time I tried, so I’m not quite sure how active the community still is.

Samurai Shodown is much slower paced compared to other fighting games, which I really enjoyed. Button mashing will absolutely not work and the name of the game is to counter and punish your opponents’ mistake rather than memorizing long combos and a phonebook of different moves per character. You always have a fighting chance to make an extreme comeback.

Visually, Samurai Shodown is quite impressive, not just from its fidelity, but 120 FPS for a fighting game is absolutely fantastic to play; smooth doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels to play. Granted, you’ll need the TV that supports this, but if you do you’re in for a treat. Most fans will enjoy the authentic Japanese voice acting as well, adding some authenticity to the setting.

Much like most fighting games, the barrier of entry is low as Samurai Shodown is simple to pick up and play, but there’s plenty of underlying mechanics that will take some dedication to master. While button mashers won’t fair well, Samurai Shodown plays quite differently from many others in the genre. Being full priced still two years after its launch is a little surprising, but there’s also no other fighters on the market that can boast about 120 FPS.

**SAMURAI SHODOWN Xbox Series X|S was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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