Review by LordShibas

"SNK's First Real Fighting Game Effort"

The Neo Geo has been the home of many great fighting games in our time. SNK has cranked out many different series over the years, but the original Samurai Shodown is the game that put them on the fighting game map.

The previous efforts by SNK, which were the original Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and World Heroes were all sub-par efforts, and it was not until the release of Samurai Shodown that people started to sit up and take notice. Maybe it was the fact that the fighting game world lacked a good, weapon based prodigy, or the allure of weapon based combat made people notice the game. Either way, Samurai Shodown ended up being the favorite amongst Neo Geo fans from these original releases.

There's good reason for it too. Nothing SNK developed up to this point even came close to measuring up to Street Fighter II. Not only did Samurai Shodown have a tight, easy to use combat system, but it added weapons to the mix to get a step up on Street Fighter II.

When Samurai Shodown was released in the arcade, many of the regular Street Fighter II fans migrated over to the Samurai Shodown machine for something fresh and new. It was fairly popular in the arcade that I spent a lot of time in, and I spent a good bit of time playing it. While some were apprehensive about Samurai Shodown at first, they quickly saw the potential that the game had and gave it a chance.

Fast forward a few months past the release of Samurai Shodown in the arcades, and I ended up purchasing a Neo Geo AES system for this game and a few others. Playing an exact copy of the arcade version of Samurai Shodown really gave me an extra edge when I went to the arcades. I pretty much ruled the arcade at Samurai Shodown after this.

I had a lot of fun with Samurai Shodown back in the day, but the game is not without it's flaws and looking back on the game now really makes me wonder how I spent so much time with it, despite having an un-dying love for the game.

For those of you who are not aware of Samurai Shodown, I'll explain the game a bit. Samurai Shodown is a standard 2D fighting game much like Street Fighter II. What made the game interesting was the inclusion of weapons for every character. This added a new level of depth to the game since weapons could be dislodged from your enemies, leaving them helpless, character positioning and attack range become much more important, and some critical hits from weapons could be fatal in a few hits.

Samurai Shodown was a standard 3 round contest, with a Japanese announcer which added some Japanese feel to the game. Some levels featured a man running back and forth in the background who threw out items that would either help you or hurt you. The items were not game breaking, but they added a slight flavor to the game which made it a little more interesting. Sometimes he would throw out bombs which you would need to avoid, sometimes he would throw out gold, and sometimes he would throw out cooked chickens which would allow you to recover some life.

The cast of characters ranged from standard ninja and samurai warriors, to some crazy, off the wall characters like Tam Tam and Gen An. There were also blood squirting fatalities, ways to cut your enemies in half with the last blow, and some horribly translated text.

I had a great deal of fun with Samurai Shodown, but the game definitely had some balance issues and a serious lack of moves for the characters. Some characters had 2 special moves and that's it. Let's look at a more detailed analysis of the game.

Graphics 7/10

Graphically, Samurai Shodown looked pretty good, but it often went back and forth between looking good and looking like a pixelated mess. Up close, the character models looked pretty detailed and had mediocre animations. However, when the on-screen characters got further away from each other, the camera would pan out and the characters would lose a lot of detail, much like in the Art of Fighting games. This may have been a fault of the Neo Geo hardware since it seemed to happen in a few noteworthy games.

Whether up close or far away, there is always a lot going on. The screen usually contains the two characters that are fighting, the referee guy (Kuroko), and the backgrounds, which often featured the running guy throwing out power ups and many other background details.

Some of the larger character models like Earthquake and Wan Fu seem to make the game slow down a bit. You will notice this during their heavy hits and some of their flashy special moves.

Speaking of slow down, the game seems to slow down quite frequently, which can often affect some gameplay strategies and combo timing.

So graphically, Samurai Shodown goes back and forth between mediocre and fairly good.

Sounds and Music 9/10

The sounds in Samurai Shodown are really good. The background music is composed of some Japanese inspired tracks which get you into the mood very well. All of the characters but one are voiced entirely in Japanese, which also adds to the feel of the game. Galford is the only character which speaks English, but he is an American ninja so it makes sense.

All of the slashes, attacks, and grunts from the cast sound great. When someone is hit with a heavy attack, it sounds brutal and will often make you wince when you take a big hit.

This is one of the best sounding games on the Neo Geo. I was glad the arcade owner had the volume cranked way up when we played.

Controls 7/10

The control layout is fairly simple and easy to use. A and B are used for a weak and medium weapon attack, and A+B at the same time will allow you to dish out your strong weapon attack. C and D are for light and medium kicks, and C+D together will give you your strongest kick.

Having to press two buttons at once can sometimes be a bit imprecise, but for the most part it's pretty good. This control scheme was later redone in the Samurai Shodown series. Some liked the changes and others did not.

All of the moves are fairly easy to do. The usual quarter circle forward and dragon punch motions are present and are used for most moves. So there are no crazy Neo Geo death move button combinations to memorize.

Aside from the slow down sometimes affecting your controller inputs, the game controls well, but it was surpassed in Samurai Shodown II.

Gameplay 7/10

Now I really do like this game, but the gameplay is just not as good as it could have been. For starters, the game has a serious lack of moves for characters and almost no combo system to speak of. If you end up pulling off a combo it's often by accident. As I said before, the slow down often inhibits your combo timing so it's better to not even bother with combos and stick with single attacks.

Blocking is done by holding back and down-back, so it's easy to throw out an offensive barrage and then turtle to block the enemy's counterattack.

If two characters rush at each other at the same time, they will often end up with their weapons locked. This produces a little mini-game where you must slam on your buttons to try to dislodge your enemy's weapon. If you succeed, the enemy will lose his weapon and a lot his attacking abilities as well. The weapon gets scattered somewhere on the playing field and the player must then work to recover it.

While the weapon dislodging was a cool feature, we usually allowed each other to recover our weapons in the arcade vs. mode since it often gave an un-fair advantage to the person that still had their weapon.

There is also a Rage Meter which accumulates when you receive and take hits. When the Rage Meter is full, your character's attacks will be much more powerful.

So the game plays pretty well, but there are some sloppy implementations which mar the gameplay and cause it to be less than perfect.

Longevity and Re-Playability 7/10

This game is endless fun in vs. mode, but the single player game may or may not hold your interest. Considering there are 12 characters plus an end boss, getting through the single player game will take some time and since there is no save feature. You must fight them all in one sitting, and it will take some time to get through the single player game.

With 12 characters to play as, you have a lot of options for re-playing the game, but very little varies in your play sessions except the character that you are playing as.

I consider Samurai Shodown to be SNK's first real effort into the fighting game world. While it has not aged all that well, it provided plenty of fun back in the day and broke the mold of the average 2D fighter with some clever gameplay innovations. Even if these gameplay innovations were implemented in a sub-par fashion, it didn't stop the game from being fun, and it kept me coming back time and time again.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/02/08, Updated 09/25/08

Game Release: Samurai Shodown (US, 08/11/93)

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