Samurai Shodown Review
Learning to embrace death
You may not know it just yet, but you’re missing something in your life right now. Sure, Super Mario Maker 2 just came out and you’re probably trying to make the most insane level ever. Sure, there are plenty of other amazing games out there to play. I know this.
But let me assure you, none of those games are quite like Samurai Shodown, one of the best fighting games out right now.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Well, I don’t even play fighting games and I’ve seen a lot of complicated looking combos.” Let me assure you, though, that this game is truly unique in its simplicity and low barrier to entry. You won’t be seeing any high-flying, flashy 50-hit combos in Samurai Shodown. No, this game is all about deliberate attacks and outshining your opponent in the neutral.
For the uninitiated, “neutral” in fighting games (sometimes also referred to as footsies) is the period in between attacks when both players are trying to land hits on each other. In games like Dragonball FighterZ or Mortal Kombat11, one hit can mean you’re put in a long combo taking away the vast majority of your health. While the neutral game is certainly present in these titles, it’s much easier to get around that phase of the game with 50/50 mixups (moves that could hit high or low and force your opponent to guess how to block) or other tools (I’m looking at you, superdash from DBFZ).
You won’t be seeing many 50/50s in Samurai Shodown (unless you’re a Genjuro player). This game is pretty much exclusively dedicated to the neutral game that it might as well just be called Neutral Shodown. Your main objective is to simply out-neutral your opponent and land a few attacks that will hand you the round.
As I said above, you won’t see many high-damaging flashy combos in this game. That doesn’t mean that you won’t see any high-damaging moves, however. In Samurai Shodown, heavy attacks do roughly 30% damage. Your super attacks (WFT, weapon flipping techniques, and SSM, super special moves) do about 50%. Your Rage Explosions can sometimes do almost 80% depending on your level of rage. This gives a whole new level of intensity as two or three bad reads or whiffed attacks could mean you’ll be embracing death a lot quicker than you anticipated. You can’t just throw out moves all willy nilly and expect to win. No, you have to carefully plan your attacks and wait for the right moment to strike in this game.
Quite simply, it’s fighting game poetry in motion.
With such a striking and beautiful art style, every inch of this game looks fantastic. There are few things more satisfying in fighting games than landing a well-placed heavy slash in Samurai Shodown. Granted, landing good hits in any fighting game is satisfying. But this game does something a bit different in that every hit pauses time for the briefest of moments to really give extra weight to each attack. You feel those heavy slashes. It also doesn’t hurt that your opponent’s life starts to vanish when you land these days.
Now that I (hopefully) have you a bit intrigued and ready to see what all the fuss is about, let’s run through the options you have in your journey to embrace death.
From the jump, there’s your good old fashioned tutorial. This mode will walk you through each type of attack and super to get you well-acquainted with the basic mechanics of the game.
Once you have that down pat, there’s the fighting game standard training mode you can use to try out each character and hone in on each one’s particular moveset. While each fighter has the same basic moves, they all perform a bit differently and this mode is where you can learn all the ins-and-outs to help you down the competition.
(Before moving on, a small note about training mode. When you begin your journey into Samurai Shodown, I don’t suggest spending a massive amount of time in training mode. Sure, you’ll eventually want to dedicate some time to learn every inch of your character’s game, but from the start, just test out the main moveset and then get ready for the big time.)
When you want to start testing your might, you have a few options.
For those looking for a very casual way to learn the ropes and get their feet wet, there’s story mode. Don’t come in here expecting an Injustice or Mortal Kombat level story mode, however. NetherRealm Studios has set the bar on fighting game story modes that few games can hold a candle to. With that being said, to get some background on the different characters in the game, while also feeling your way around the controls and pace of gameplay, story mode is a good start.
If you want a bit more of a challenge but aren’t ready to venture into the online world just yet, you can hit up the dojo. While playing any of the offline modes in Samurai Shodown, the game will start putting together an AI ghost version of yourself that will mimic your in-game tendencies. This is perfect for trying to see where your faults may lie, but comes with the added benefit of being able to download the ghost of other players that you can fight against. This is perfect for anyone who may have an unreliable internet connection or just isn’t comfortable playing online, but wants to try and fight actual humans (or their ghosts, rather).
Speaking of actual humans, the final mode you have at your disposal here is online battles. These come in two forms casual and ranked. While ranked might sound intimidating, it’s actually the better of the two modes right now, in my opinion. Casual matches force you into random rooms filled with other players while ranked just matches you against a player one on one and allows you to rematch for as long as you want (I played an almost 20-game set with a person during a recent session of mine). Moreover, the game does have some fairly solid matchmaking that will pit you against people of somewhat equal skill.
I would be remiss if I left this online section without mentioning the netcode. With Mortal Kombat 11 setting the new standard of fighting game netcode, games now have a lot to live up to in this realm. Samurai Shodown does a serviceable job. It’s not terrible but it’s not amazing. Most of my matches have been pretty good, but you will kind of frequently get one that just feels slow and clunky. Given the “blink and you’re dead” nature of this game, any sort of lag could lead to your death and is a bit frustrating. It’s not the worst netcode in a fighting game I’ve played recently, though (I’m looking at you, Smash Ultimate).
So there you have it. Samurai Shodown is a fantastic fighting game that I truly think anyone can enjoy. It features satisfying gameplay, beautiful visuals, and a kickass soundtrack to boot. And if you’re super competitive, the game is being featured as one of the main games at Evolution 2019, the biggest fighting game tournament of the year. It managed to snag more entrants than even Dragonball FighterZ and will feature a stacked bracket of some of the best players from the entire fighting game community, meaning you’ll be able to catch a few pointers from the very best of the best.
If you’re looking at getting into another fighting game series or just want to sit back and embrace death with a crazy beautiful art style, Samurai Shodown is surely the game for you.