SNK’s reboot of their classic 2D fighter franchise comes to Nintendo Switch but what does Samurai Shodown have to offer modern gaming?
One of the many reasons to love Super Smash Bros. is the way it’s able to put the spotlight on forgotten franchises, increasing the likelihood of a reboot or at least pointing newcomers towards re-releases that would otherwise have been ignored. The reboot of Samurai Shodown was released on other formats five months before it was announced that Terry Bogard and a host of SNK references would be coming to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but now that they’ve had that time in the spotlight we hope that this belated Nintendo Switch launch will prove even more popular than it otherwise would have been.
The first Samurai Shodown was released in 1993 and, especially for the time, was unusual for being a purely weapons-based fighter. Unlike games such as Soulcalibur, Samurai Shodown made the effort of showing sword fighting in something approaching a realistic manner, at least in the sense that when you’re hit with a razor sharp sword there isn’t a little flash of light and a small sliver lost from your health bar; in Samurai Shodown there’s a huge splash of blood and you can lose a match after only four or five hits.
The tone of the game is typical fighting game nonsense, with a bare bones story campaign and not nearly enough other modes. But the tempo of battles, and the necessarily more cautious tactics that result, are very different from almost every other fighter, 2D or otherwise. Each character is distinctive and memorable but edging towards your opponent, looking for an opening but ready to block and counter at a moment’s notice, really does have the feel of being in an old samurai movie. Or at least its anime spin-off.
Apart from having easy to access to two controllers (the basic controls require only four buttons) Samurai Shodown doesn’t gain anything from being on the Switch but given the low tech visuals of last year’s versions there hasn’t been any problem porting the game onto Nintendo’s more modestly powered format.
Samurai Shodown doesn’t seem to have been a particularly big hit in terms of sales but it is in the EVO 2019 line-up this year, which is absolutely deserved. Games like Mortal Kombat 11 may have vastly larger budgets but Samurai Shodown was easily our favourite fighter of last year and, not counting Smash Bros., probably of the generation.
In a genre that has always struggled to innovate, Samurai Shodown feels genuinely different to anything else around. The fact that it’s still not technically new isn’t a failing either, since this is a loving reinvention of a franchise that always deserved to be better known that it is. As far as we’re concerned it’s put SNK back on the map and we commend it to fans new and old.
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Samurai Shodown Nintendo Switch review summary
In Short: A highly successful reboot of one of SNK’s most unfairly forgotten franchise, that takes its rightful place as one of the generation’s best fighters.
Pros: Impressively unique combat, without the need for gimmicks or unnecessary complications. Neat character designs and artwork that make the most of the low-tech visuals.
Cons: Weak story campaign and single-player options in general. Too few modes and a fairly small roster of fighters.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and Stadia
Publisher: Deep Silver/SNK
Release Date: 25th February 2020
Age Rating: 16
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