If you’re at all a fan of the genre, you probably have a fighting game you love more than the others. Clayfighters, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage … the Super Nintendo had no shortage of quality titles. For me, Street Fighter had always been my very tops. There could never be a game that came close to Capcom’s dynamically presented slew of iconic characters and classic soundtrack. That is, until I was recently introduced to SNK’s own fighter released in the wake of SF mania: Samurai Shodown. Released in 1993, the Neo Geo version won EGM’s “Game of the Year.” I couldn’t believe it—had I possibly found my new world champion among a glorious field of SNES fighting games?
Interspersed throughout each characters’ campaign to defeat all other fighters in one-on-one combat is a narrative featuring a powerful and mysterious being named Shiro Tokisada Amakusa. Taking various forms, Amakusa appears after every several matches to intimidate the fighter. When a character has vanquished all 12 foes (including a shadow match), they experience a personalized ending sequence and epilogue which places them into context with their time period. Also filling out the characters’ personalities are the boastful messages a challenger will give a challengee’, and the gloating line the winner gives the loser. Each character has a signature winning stance, as well as a special action if they use a special move as the finishing blow.
The characters are the heart and soul of Samurai Shodown. There is a wealth of character diversity both in appearance and combat style. In addition to the common distinguishing aspect of power vs. stealth, there are some characters whose strength is to be on offense rather than defense. There are some characters with many moves to learn, while others have a limited but effective tool belt. Many characters have projectile attacks and two have combat companions which they can send to attack, or in the case of Nakoruru, even fly in to attack! The stealthiest fighters can jump off the side of the screen. The common denominator is that every single character has a weapon at his or her disposal.
The format of Samurai Shodown is classic arcade, pop in a quarter and go excitement. There are 12 possible characters to choose from and the user must defeat them all in turn, in addition to Amakusa, to beat the game. The matches are best-of-three, lose and you’ll have to “continue” until you manage to knock off that character. The user can be challenged by another human combatant at any time, or they can fight head-to-head from the get-go. There are a couple bonus levels along the way to pace the quest and allow the fighter to rack up points. The computer difficulty raises with each contestant, so one really has to become familiar with a fighter’s arsenal to remain unpredictable and meet the challenges of fresh competition. With such an interesting diversity of characters, the replay value is nearly limitless. Once one character is mastered, there are eleven others to choose from. Of course, much can also be learned by facing one’s own favorite character in combat.
There are several enhancements Shodown makes to the classic Street Fighter mold which provides a rich depth of gameplay. A fighter is KO’d when his or her life meter is depleted, but when the fighter’s “Pow” meter is filled (ala SF Alpha’s level meter), hits both given and taken count as double. As the “Pow” meter rises, the fighter becomes flushed until flashing crimson. Another significant wrinkle added to the arena is the ability to dash either toward or away from an opponent by double-tapping forward or backward, respectively. Especially when a pair of agile fighters square off, the combination of wall-jumping and dashing makes for an acrobatic atmosphere. Lastly, weaponry plays a significant role in that simultaneous clashing can cause one or both contestants to lose their items. As the move’s name implies, Wan Fu’s powerful “Exploding Wave” is a special move in which his scimitar is launched with the intention of the target taking significant damage.
Game modes in Shodown are fairly standard for an arcade fighter. In addition to the classic single player and multiplayer formats, the gamer can try out “Count Down” mode for size. Here the player picks a fighter and knocks off as many contestants as possible in a several-minute time period. Other than this, audio can be altered from mono, stereo or surround, as well as clock speed adjusted from slow, normal or fast. Difficulty, which begins at 4, can be manipulated all the way to 8. There is also the option to alter button mappings for each of your light, medium, and fierce attacks. However Shodown is firm on making all matches best-of-three.
Controlling features for Shodown are good for its time and purposes, but not immaculate. At least they feel a bit sticky compared to the PS3 remastered release, but go figure. Still, Shodown has a timing construct that seems very fair. It is a personal thrill to play as Charlotte, a highly defensive but otherwise well-rounded player, and counter anything the opponent dishes out. There is a timer of 99 seconds, so as the clock ticks, a fighter may have to vary their method. In short, be prepared for anything, and know that timing is everything!
The graphical presentation is good. While the characters are not incredibly detailed, their movements in combination with sound effects make for intense battle sequences. Some characters’ normal jump puts them at the very top of the screen, making for an effective use of space. The dress of each character is believable. Hanzo is an unquestioned Ninja, Kyoshiro is an asymmetrically balanced rebel stage actor, and Gen-An is a demonically disfigured beast who fights in a dungeon. Besides a brief ending animation, there is little challenge of the game engine as far as storytelling goes. But like any self-respecting arcade fighter, Shodown is a pleasure to play completely apart from the storylines of its characters.
There is a fantastic quality of audio thanks to Dolby Surround. A wonderfully mood-setting, percussive title track is the game’s opening. The battle accompaniment is a tension-building war drum whereby the sound effects of the match are able to speak for themselves. Fighters grunt and scuffle, clash weaponry and make war cries as they vie for victory. Contestants shriek in agony when suffering a fatal blow. The audio presentation is a limited but effective pallet that is satisfying and empathetic to its fighters.
Overall, Samurai Shodown is a top-of-the-line SNES fighter that stays true to its arcade roots and is heavily invested in the most important elements of the genre. While combo-loving gamers may find Shodown’s straight-forward method to be simplistic, there are other wrinkles such as dashing, wall-jumping, and weapon grappling / disarming that make for a rich experience. With such varying styles and difficulties available, not to mention the pleasure of multiplayer, there is very high replay value. While Shodown may never have the notoriety of the Street Fighter series, this gem deserves a re-visitation by SNES lovers and is a must-own title for aficionados of the genre.
Five out of five stars.
HAVE AN OPINION?
You can submit reviews for games on the Submissions page.