As seems to be commonplace these days, SNK saw fit to call its rebooted fighting game Samurai Shodown, the exact same title as the very first installment in the series. When asked about why SNK decided to revisit the franchise, producer Yasuyuki Oda stated that it was primarily because of the rise in popularity of fighting games in esports and the immense demand for a new title from fans of the series. As for the story of this reboot, it takes place in the lead up to Samurai Shodown V. This make it so the game brings a modern polish to the classic formula that earned it its fans in the first place.
Known as Samurai Spirits in Japan, the rest of the world simply knows the hit SNK fighting series as Samurai Shodown. Like most popular fighters, it had its beginnings in '90s arcades and wouldn't get its first console release until Samurai Shodown III. That third installment of the series received mixed reviews from critics, but SNK didn't let that deter them. Upon releasing Samurai Shodown IV for the PlayStation, the developer finally got the respect and admiration from fans and critics alike that it had received during its first two installments in the series. In total, SNK has created twelve games within the series, and many are calling this latest entry the best yet.
Story: In story mode, you will be introduced to the game's environment and background. Additionally, you will learn about your selected character and their mission as you progress further along in the game.
Dojo: Within this game mode you can practice your fighting moves before taking on the story mode or versing real players through online mode. There are two options to choose from. You can either face a single opponent in ghost mode or try your luck at defeating up to 100 opponents in the Ironman challenge.
Online: As you can probably already guess, this is where you will be able to test your fighting skills against other players and participate in online tournaments when they become available. It's not free though, as you will need a PlayStation Plus subscription to participate.
Battle: While the game keeps track of your progress while you are online, this game mode allows you to play with friends and practice against CPUs without it directly impacting your achievements in-game. Within this same game mode, you can choose to participate in both time trial and survival challenges. Additionally, there is also a gauntlet mode which allows you to play against every character in the game.
With the plethora of fighting games out there today it's hard for new titles to set themselves apart from the rest, but Samurai Shodown manages to do so beautifully. Rather than look like the typical 3D renders we are used to seeing today, SNK chose to lean toward a more traditional Japanese ink style which comes to life through the use of cell shading. The company also saw fit to incorporate traditional Japanese manga style drawings of the characters when one of them manages to land a special move. The first time I did so while playing as Nakoruru I was taken back by how wonderful the scene itself looked.
While you might think that this would prevent the developers from enhancing the effects nature of character moves, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn this isn't the case. Each character has their own aura and its color shows up as a sort of flame or light when they perform certain moves. Furthermore, during fast sword attacks, it looks as if the movement has been painted onto a canvas, bringing a new meaning to the saying that fighting is an art form.
At first, I wasn't sure what to expect from SNK's latest installment, but it took me all of the first ten minutes to fall in love with the game. The graphics and the visuals make it feel like you're watching a storybook being brought to life during story mode. This helps to immerse you in the game's world and get you attached to the particular character you are playing.
At times the game could be difficult, but after a while, you learn that it's more of a dance when you battle an opponent. You have to be fluid in your attacks and plan your combos in a way that they continue to flow together. If you don't flow your attacks into one another your opponent will have the opportunity to counter you and inflict damage. When playing against CPUs, the game forces you to learn both your and your opponents fighting style. Through this trial and error phase, you will better understand what moves to do and when and will even be able to counter your opponent when they are in the process of completing a move. To that end, to SNK's credit, they have designed a game where it won't be easy to button mash or spam a certain move multiple times.
In the end, it's safe to say that SNK achieved exactly what it set out to do with Samurai Shodown. It captured all the key elements of the franchise and focused heavily on rewarding players who learn character moves and combo fluidity. SNK was able to do all of this without sacrificing quality and created a game that will give you countless hours of gameplay through the story mode alone. With each defeat you will learn more about your character and their strengths and weaknesses, making the game very true to life in that sense. Sure, you're not going to get the over-the-top character demise, but that doesn't matter when you consider how sound a fighting game Samurai Shodown is.
4.5 Out Of 5 Stars
A copy of Samurai Shodown was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Samurai Shodown is currently available on the Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One, and in select arcades.