Samurai Shodown review (Switch)

SNK’s successful reboot of the Samurai Shodown franchise has made it to the Nintendo Switch a few months after its initial console debut. How did the conversion fare, and is this a title worth grabbing during these times of self-quarantine?

Of course, the Samurai Shodown name is an iconic one for long-time gamers – making its initial debut on the Neo Geo in the early nineties. Bringing arcade quality titles home (but at a premium price), it was one of SNK’s flagship titles for their console alongside the likes of Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury.

What made those SNK fighters impressive wasn’t that the gameplay was solid, it was that it was the first time on-screen fighters felt like they had a bit of weight behind their attacks – while other fighters (with the exception of Street Fighter 2) still felt like clunky sprites you would try to button smash into submission. That benefit got smaller as technology progressed and 3D fighters emerged, and eventually Samurai Shodown’s reputation took a bit of a hit when subsequent releases weren’t exactly great.

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It’s been over ten years since the last one though, and Samurai Shodown was well received when it launched on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It stays true to the roots of the franchise, and has held up well during the conversion to the Nintendo Switch – for the most part.

We’ll start by how the new Samurai Shodown is a successful reboot rather than a generic fighter in a (now) crowded space. It features mostly big, powerful characters with some serious weight behind them, their weapons and their attacks. The biggest character on the roster, Earthquake, takes up about 80% of the vertical space on the screen! No longer sprite-based, the characters are rendered in 3D and well animated – they have a colorful cartoon-like look that holds true to the 16-bit era that the series originated in.

Perhaps more importantly than the audiovisual presentation, however, is that Samurai Shodown actually plays like something unique and something befitting the original game. Slower-paced than many of the fighters we’ve seen since then (from Injustice to Tekken to SNK’s own King of Fighters), Samurai Shodown is much less about stringing combos together and more about striking or countering at exactly the right time. Because much of the combat is weapons-based, a direct hit can result in massive damage – and button mashing rarely is a solid option.

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Instead, you need to fight smart – launch your filled up ‘rage’ status at the right time and unleash your super special (once per bout) attacks at the exact moment where it can turn the tide. There’s a learning curve involved with that, but the game comes with a tutorial that teaches you the ropes about which moves work best against which attacks – making for a game where practice might not make perfect but it definitely yields quick results.

Besides the story mode and the ‘versus’/dojo mode, most of the content in terms of gameplay modes is with the support for multiplayer, which can either be online or offline. There’s a decent roster of 16 fighters (which is more than Granblue Fantasy: Versus has at launch), with more on the way as DLC.

But even though this is probably the best Samurai Shodown we’ve gotten in over twenty years, the Nintendo Switch port isn’t the best one out there. It’s great to have a new fighter to play in handheld mode, but there’s a noticeable drop in performance when you’re not playing in docked mode on a television. Both the framerate and the quality of the visuals suffer, which doesn’t happen with more 2D-oriented fighters. If you’re looking at this as a handheld or tabletop option then that’s something to consider, but otherwise this is a decent port of a solid reboot for a franchise that’s earned back its spot at the table.

Score: 7.7/10

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