Title: Samurai Shodown
Developer: SNK/Deep Silver
Publisher: Koch Media
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 25/02/2020
Price: £44.99 Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
It is a very strange position to be sitting in presently in 2020. A series that I never expected to ever return, from a company that could have been out of business back in the 2000’s. And yet, like the phoenix, SNK have risen to become quite the juggernaut in the industry, restoring their status alongside Capcom as one of the leading developers of the fighting game genre within the last few years, along with Arc System Works as well. With this said, it came as a massive surprise that SNK decided to revive Samurai Shodown for a new generation. Whilst it was a popular series back during the NEO-GEO days, it has been in a state of stasis since Samurai Shodown VI was released in 2005, with only a small handful of spin off games and mobile ports during that time. The reboot, originally released on PS4 and Xbox One, has recently had a Switch port released. So how does the Switch version hold up?
SNK and Samurai Shodown collectively, are about as iconic of a series to many fighting game fans like myself, yet never quite gained the same sort of popularity with the crowds outside of the Fighting Game Community (FGC) and would also sit in the shadows of the companies many other properties such as Fatal Fury, The King of Fighters (K.O.F) and even Metal Slug (despite being a totally different genre of game).
Samurai Shodown was always considered a more technical fighting game than SNK’s other fighting game series. Granted, it never had the same degree of difficulty as K.O.F or Fatal Fury due to its incredibly intricate button combinations to pull off special moves. Samurai Shodown always excelled in the art of spacing by using techniques known as footsies. To those not in the know about these, footsies are essentially the way you gain the space on the battlefield, ultimately keeping your distance when needed and using certain moves to close the distance between you and your opponent, whilst making sure you don’t get hit with a beefy counter attack or a flailing limb or sword. This new entry into the series absolutely excels in exemplifying this playstyle. Whilst not as technical as other games such as Street Fighter, Blazblue or Dragonball Fighters Z, Samurai Shodown is definitely a game that one should play if spacing and footsies are a problem in other games. I absolutely enjoyed their take on this and felt exactly like picking up and playing Samurai Shodown V again after many years.
One of the key design choices of a fighting game is to make a cast of colourful and interesting fighters. Samurai Shodown has always excelled at this as a series, and the newest entry is absolutely no different. The main roster is filled with very typical choices you would expect. From the fairly traditional samurai design of Haohmaru (the series main protagonist) to some very outlandish character designs such as Darli Dagger. The roster feels very unique and interesting, not just from a visual standpoint, but also a playstyle standpoint. Each character plays very differently, with very few similarities between them. I’ve always liked when fighting games have lots of unique character playstyles and this game absolutely exemplifies this perfectly.
Unfortunately, it is with a very heavy heart that I have to say that there were a lot of issues with the game. Firstly, whilst the game looks absolutely jaw dropping on other systems such as the PS4, the Switch version has had many significant downgrades, and I would imagine this was done to ensure that the game runs at a solid 60 frames per second. As a result of this ensuring that performance was fundamentally the same to the other systems, you notice that backgrounds on the stages are much more static than they were on the previous versions. Textures and background environments would pop, showing their visual fidelity and ensuring the world was full of life, such as trees swaying in the wind or background characters moving around. The backgrounds on this port felt very low resolution and didn’t have the same effect and charm as they did previously. Even the cast of characters took a small visual downgrade, with my main character Haohmaru feeling the effects of this downgrade. The texturing and outlining were more dull and less pronounced, much in the same way as watching Street Fighter 4 being played on the 360/PS3 then looking at the utterly ugly port of it on the 3DS. It truly is a night and day difference in terms of versions. However, I will gladly accept these, as 60 FPS in a fighting game is absolutely crucial.
Additionally to this, whilst this game has the essentials for most fighting games like versus, arcade, training and online mode, the arcade mode acts like the main story of the game. Fighting game stories have never really been that great. Certain games like Tekken, Mortal Kombat and Injustice have shown that story modes can be great fun and have interesting narrative choices. Samurai Shodown unfortunately shows its age in that respect. It definitely does feel like playing an arcade ladder standing in front of an arcade cabinet, with very few advances in the story and just being fight after fight, which gets tedious after a while, especially trying to complete all the character’s journeys and still struggling to work out what the actual narrative is. I will, however, praise this game’s training mode. To anyone who likes competitive fighting games, training mode is an absolute staple for learning those tricky move executions, timings on counters and so on. This is an incredibly robust training mode with some very nice additions that have made their way to other fighting games in the last few years, such as hitbox and hurtbox detection, and being able to record actions to learn the best of defending against certain attacks.
The Online Mode on offer here was nothing really special and not really worth discussing at length. It works first and foremost, which is good as I’ve played many fighting games online over the years (Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 being one of the worst), Samurai Shodown’s netcode isn’t bad necessarily, but I do think it suffers badly because of Nintendo’s online offering on the Switch not being as robust as the other consoles online infrastructure. I found that there were quite a few dropped frames. I couldn’t work out whether this was a peer to peer server system like what is in games like Street Fighter 4 and 5 or a rollback netcode like we see in Skullgirls. When each player’s connection was good, it worked perfectly fine but wasn’t going to blow you away with its stability. However, when one person’s connection was less than favourable, it became as bad as streaming a movie over GPS connection. There were a ridiculous amount of dropped frames, stoppages and slow down, with the old pesky input delay rearing its ugly head. It is especially frustrating that in an age of online play, many fighting games struggle to get online play right in any way.
In conclusion, Samurai Shodown is a good re-introduction to the fighting game genre. With a great cast of characters on offer, a fighting system that is both favourable towards newbies of the series, or fighting games in general, with enough depth to please even the most die hard fighting game fan. It is, unfortunately, let down by a lacklustre offering on story mode, unfortunate downgrades to the visuals compared to its other console counterparts and a less than favourable online netcode and infrastructure. I would recommend Samurai Shodown to those people who are interested in the game, but would probably recommend either the PS4 or Xbox One versions. However, having the game on the go with the Switch is a very nice addition, especially when it runs at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second, which is not easy, even on the PS4 and Xbox One.