Samurai Shodown PC Review – Samurai Fall Short
Samurai ShodownJune 11th, 2020 (PC)
There are few games I want to be successful more than Samurai Shodown. I adore fighting games, and SNK has an undeniable pedigree, the studio well known for the Fatal Fury and King of Fighters franchises, in addition to many more. After years of inactivity and uncertainty, SNK returned with King of Fighters XIV, and more recently Samurai Shodown. I want these games to be successful because they're unique and I adore them. This is why it hurts me deep down to admit that if I were to recommend a 2D fighter to someone looking for a new game, Samurai Shodown probably wouldn't be it - especially not on PC.
At its core, Samurai Shodown is a grounded, smart, and patient fighting game. Unlike in many others where you can get away with rushing your opponent down and unleashing as many attacks as you can until you manage to get through their block, in Samurai Shodown each move has to be calculated when you're up against a skilled player. The key is fairly lengthy start-up animations for your bigger attacks and plenty of minus-frames on blocked hits. What this means for more casual fighting game fans is essentially that if your opponent blocks an attack, you can expect to take a lot of damage.
Kicks and light attacks in Samurai Shodown do very little damage and combos in this game are very limited, meaning they're not ideal ways to get through to an opponent and deal damage. Instead, they can be used to interrupt an opponent's slower attacks and set them up for a devastating hit. This is a game that has, from the ground-up, been made to force players to feel the weight of each decision they make. Every fighting game player knows the risk that comes with a wake-up shoryuken, and in Samurai Shodown it can feel like every move you make carries that same weight.
Most characters have decent methods to attack from a distance, so the neutral game is all about taking your time and spacing out your opponent, trying your best to bait out their attacks and punish them for it. In many fighting games, it feels like once a player lands a hit the momentum swings. One attack leads into a combo, leads into a wake-up situation, which can eventually lead to a stun and a loss. In Samurai Shodown it feels like that momentum doesn't swing quite so violently. A variety of rolls from lying on the floor allows you to avoid tick throws and some more punishing wake-up scenarios that other games are known for - but the fact is, if you find yourself on the ground, you likely just took a lot of damage before you got there. Each attack you use and take is more meaningful than most other fighters - even the Super Special moves can take far more than half of a health bar, so it's possible to finish a fight in just two hits.
But if you're a casual fighting game fan, all of this means little, and what you really want is some fun, flashy fights. Well, Samurai Shodown is a gorgeous looking game. It is honestly one of my favorite art styles for a modern fighting game, the classic Japanese artwork comes to life. Backgrounds are detailed, and the black outlines on the cel-shaded fighters look beautiful in motion. Couple that with the fact that combos are heavily de-emphasized in Samurai Shodown, and you end up with a game that is actually very approachable for newcomers. All you really need to learn and understand in the neutral, which can be boiled down to avoiding attacks and getting your own in.
Which would be great, if there was more content for those newcomers to jump into. Samurai Shodown is very disappointing because after playing the game on multiple platforms I have to report that I have very seldom ever been able to find good online matches. And those online matches are needed because there's not much single-player content here to satiate you. The Story mode is nice, where you get short cutscenes with each character a final climactic battle against a boss enemy, but once you've played through the story mode with a couple of the characters, you'll find out it quickly becomes repetitive. Of course, you can do a more traditional Arcade-style mode, or fight against friends, but this is pretty barebones. The game has had several characters added since launch, a couple of which I particularly like, both aesthetically and in terms of gameplay, and I would love to play with those characters against others if there were more people playing online.
And that's what it all boils down to. Samurai Shodown is more than a competent fighter, but it's one that is also languishing because of a lack of an audience. This could be a perfect introduction to the world of fighting games for the right person, but they won't find the singleplayer content keeping them invested for long, and the lack of an online community gives you fewer reasons to keep coming back. It's a massive shame, but this isn't the first time I've played Samurai Shodown, this isn't the first time I've enjoyed it a lot, and this isn't the first time I've stopped playing because I feel like there's not enough reason for me to keep playing.
But of course, the PC version offers a reason to play it over the console versions, right? Well, not really. Out of the box, the PC version lacks a lot of settings and features. There are no graphics settings aside from turning anti-aliasing or bloom on and off, and the maximum resolution allowed by the game is 1080p - you can of course get 4K by editing a .ini file, but you shouldn't have to do this. It's a disappointing showing. Not to mention, I played the Epic Games Store version of the game, which doesn't recognize my PS4 arcade sticks immediately as a Steam version would. A minor complaint, sure, but it all adds up. In addition to that, while changing the few display settings there are, I did have a spell of constant screen tearing - though after a restart that issue seemed to resolve itself.
Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher).
Samurai Shodown is a great fighter that looks beautiful, and deserves a much bigger audience than it has - but as of right now, there aren't enough players online to satisfy fighting game fans, and there isn't enough singleplayer content for more casual fans. The new characters that have been added since launch are great, but Samurai Shodown still feels like a game that needs an overhaul. I still have my fingers crossed that the future of Samurai Shodown and SNK will be bright, but I still have my doubts.
- Great art style
- Smart, unique gameplay
- Approachable for newcomers, high skill ceiling
- Disappointing lack of graphics and display settings
- Not enough content