30th Apr2020

‘Samurai Shodown’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Phil Wheat

SNK have a long storied history of fighting games. From the arcades to the NeoGeo, by way of just about every home console you could possibly imagine, it feels very much like there have always been SNK fighting games and those games – and the franchises they spawned are still, to this day, some of my favourites of all time. And much like the Street Fighter franchise their characters have become just as iconic and popular among gamers… Especially the likes of Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard.

But SNK, as a company, have had a storied a history; leaving the video game scene behind in the early 2000s after the end of the NeoGeo’s lifespan, before being resurrected as SNK Playmore and later renaming back to just SNK in 2016. In the PS2 era SNK were definitely on somewhat of a roll, with a bevy of re-releases of a number of older franchise titles, remastered for that generation of consoles – King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, etc. But since then SNK’s output has not be so prolific; well besides some new entries in the King of Fighters franchise: two on the PS3 and Xbox 360 (KoF 12 & 13) and the most recent, King of Fighters XIV and the lackluster (at least to me) SNK  Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy  on current-gen machines.

But one franchise had yet to make the leap, at least in terms of a NEW game, to the current gen, Samurai Shodown. In fact the last time we saw a new game in that series was way back in the early years of the Xbox 360 and the release of Samurai Shodown Sen, which – to be fair – did fill the gap in the market, much like the digital-only re-releases of past games on the likes of the PS4. But there was always a clamour among fans for a new entry in the series. And that’s exactly what we’ve got in the all-new franchise “reboot” Samurai Shodown.

Yes, SNK have rebooted the series with this new title, setting the game between the original game and part five (I guess we’re ignoring the “parallel universe” of six then?), And before you go “Oh no not another reboot!” to be fair to the developers Samurai Shodown feels less like a reboot in the traditional sense and more like a well thought out homage come new entry in the series; taking all the best parts of the games of old and mashing them into a new title, with updated graphics but still with that measured-pace gameplay this sword-fighting franchise is known for.

In terms of gameplay, Samurai Shodown feels – at least to someone whose played the series mainly on the PS2 ports rather than the original NeoGeo releases (I didn’t, and still don’t, have that kind of cash!) – perfect. There’s a real pick-up-and-play aspect to the game that will appeal to newcomers yet, like the SNK games of old, the ideas easy to understand but complex to master controls and balanced fighting mechanics are very much still a part of this game. You can wade in, fingers first if you will, mashing buttons in the hopes of defeating your enemies and that works… for a while. But then the game will throw someone at you that blocks all those moves, attacks you with powerful combos and – if you don’t know what you’re doing – defeats you easily. But for those that study your characters moveset, get used to their combos, blocks, and all the different types of attacks they can do, you’ll certainly be rewarded. There is real satisfaction in Samurai Shodown in learning how best to beat your opponents, besting them in the swiftest and easiest way possible. Something which has not always be prevalent in other entries in the franchise.

Graphically Samurai Shodown looks superb. Playing it on the Switch in both docked and handheld mode the characters and the levels looked stunning – with the animation style both updating the look of the series yet suiting this particular style of fighter. Couple that with some fantastic music and the original Japanese-language voice acting (there are English subs though) and you have an new-school, old-school fighter updated perfectly. My only, minor, quibble? The load times on the Switch are longer than expected – though not as long as Mortal Kombat 11, so there is that!

With plenty of modes to get your teeth into: practice, story, online, versus, gauntlet, survival, time trial and more, you really do get your monies worth with Samurai Shodown. If you’re a fan of fighting games or an SNK fan-boy like me then this is a must-buy. Honestly. Now roll-on more SNK franchise reboots please!

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