Way of the samurai.

There are a lot of fighting games to sift through. That makes it easy to forget that Samurai Shodown has been around for a very long time. Everyone in the scene knows of it, but rarely anyone talks about it. It is one of the most unique combinations of the genre, mixing the visceral combat of Bushido Blade with the mechanics of other SNK fighters. There is nothing quite like it, and yet I find that I rarely hear anyone discussing it in the fighting game community. SNK has decided to resurrect the series and put it in the spotlight once again. This latest iteration reminded me that yeah, Samurai Shodown is a pretty special series, and SNK made another one of those.

One of the trademarks of Samurai Shodown is that fights are very deliberate. Button mashing and aggressive play is punished severely. One strike can take half of a life bar and it can be executed at any time. It is more about timing than memorizing button combos and inputs. Every character has their own style, and learning the system within is key to victory. It is a slow game, a quiet game, and one that can turn in a split second. I love the change of pace, it feels more impactful when I get that final slash. SNK has done a great job of updating that feel and making every strike feel deadly.

MSRP: $59.99
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4
Price I’d Pay: $59.99

Samurai Shodown is a four button fighter. There are three slash attacks: light, medium, and heavy as well as a kick button. Combining them can execute a dodge attack and there are input moves, but they left me open to even more dangerous attacks. It is a balance of knowing when to throw my attacks and when to put up my defenses. It helps that it feels great. At launch there was an issue with some input lag, but the day one patch remedied that, and the game feels superb now.

There is also a rage meter the builds up over the fight. Unleashing this is a simple button press and tapping it again will unleash a lightning strike. Other moves are also more impactful during this mode and others are only available here. Super moves are also available and they have a massive wind up, leaving me open to attack. They deal a massive amount of damage though. They can end a match almost every time unless triggered right at the beginning, which makes sense as to why they are so slow to land.

As for modes there are plenty to dig into here. The story mode is basically arcade mode. Each character goes through a series of fights and a final boss followed by a traditional ending. Online can be played one of two ways. Players can opt to fight head-to-head or download ghosts to fight asynchronously. It is a cool system for those like me who are anxious about going up against real players in real-time. I can also upload my own ghost and let people fight it, which is good as the online works great when I can find matches, but on Xbox One it is not a lively space for this title. Matches were good during review time, but after launch it slowed down substantially.

There is also a tutorial mode that takes players through the basics of combat. It does a great job of teaching how the back and forth mechanics work. There is also a training mode to practice with each of the characters. Most of the core mechanics are shared across each character, but there are a few moves exclusive to each. The real understanding comes from their weapons and speed. Some are larger and stronger, while others are smaller and faster and everything in between. It is a great balance and fun to figure out what works well against something else.

There are plenty of characters, so finding someone to fit my play style was easy. Also as a bonus for players that buy the game (or just download it if you intend to buy the game at some point) the season one pass was free until early July. It was a great incentive to get players on board early and it includes four new characters to be released over the rest of the year.

Visually the game uses a sort of pastel look with washed out colors. It almost looks like a painting, it looks great. The super moves are accented by a slow motion cut and a nice rumble of the controller. It does a great job of making harder moves feel more impactful. The stages are mostly passable outside of a couple standouts. The music is good and voice acting is decent, but the star of the audio show is the ending song. It is fantastic. Seriously find it on YouTube and list, it is peak 90s Japanese glory and I adore it.

Samurai Shodown is unlike any other fighting game. I love the deliberate combat and how each fighter feels entirely unique. I wish the online was more active, but even the amount of single player modes and promise of new characters means I will be revisiting this for a while. If things like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter feel overwhelming this might be the game for you. It is simple, yet deep in a different sense. It doesn’t require memorization, just good timing and understanding. It felt more user friendly than long string combos and the visceral attacks feel incredible.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • Visceral one-on-one combat
  • Fantastic presentation
  • A different kind of fighting game
  • Online is vacant
Written by
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.