There are plenty of fighting games on Xbox, however SNK’s Samurai Shodown is something extremely special; practically in a league of its own. This is a fighting game that has been distilled down to the purest essence. It’s slow, the attacks are deliberate, and the combos are tiny. However it is that which has made me totally fall in love with it. This is one hard and heavy game. Every hit feels like it counts in this fleshed-out and competent fighting game. Yes, occasionally it feels stuck in the past but it is so much fun that it’s easy to ignore the issues.
Entering the menu, you can immediately tell that all the necessary elements are here and included in Samurai Shodown. There’s a story, various arcade modes, training modes, and online multiplayer. However not all of these elements are created equal.
In particular, the story mode is pretty disappointing especially compared to many other 2D fighters that are available on the market. It’s a classic arcade story mode in which you run through various CPU battles until you have reached the final boss. There’s a unique intro and outro for each character and… well, that’s about it. There certainly aren’t the involved and cinematic cutscenes of something like Mortal Kombat, yet this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re expecting a rich story campaign though, this is not that type of fighter.
However there is hope because there are many challenge modes to keep you solo players busy. Many of these are particularly difficult, especially on higher difficulties. The Gauntlet mode has you going up against every fighter in the game with one life, Time Trial tests how long it takes to beat multiple opponents, and Survival focuses on endless waves of enemies until you are taken down yourself. All of these are incredibly fun, coming across well – mostly because of the stellar gameplay.
Crucially, the moment to moment fighting in Samurai Shodown is incredibly fine-tuned and perfected. Practically every character feels phenomenal to control and all are fun to use. This is thanks to a particular type of design – maybe one that some players won’t enjoy – as it dishes out slow fighting action; twenty-hit combos are incredibly rare. Instead, this is a game more about spacing and less about long chains of attacks. Even Specials are slow and leave you open and this means that damage comes quickly and matches can end in seconds if you know what you’re doing.
Every character plays pretty differently and there are plenty of interesting match-ups that can be had. There’s no one character that feels too overpowered although the spacers can feel particularly frustrating because of the speed of matches. However there are plenty of tools that can be done to deal with them.
What is perhaps most disappointing however is the playerbase for the game. The simple fact is that there are just not enough folk playing it on Xbox, and the Series X enhancements have not seemed to change that. Perhaps it has just been my own personal experience but I’ve barely been able to find anyone for ranked matches, and unless you have a friend to hand, even less playing casual. Online does work well though; it’s just you may have very little chance to utilise it.
Samurai Shodown works incredibly well on Xbox Series X. The loading times are still a little long but it looks absolutely gorgeous, runs at a clean 4K at 60fps and will happily up itself if you have a monitor or TV that supports it, to 120fps. Even when a huge amount of effects and action are taking place at once, the frame rate stays totally locked in. This is significant and something that I hope becomes more standard as new titles come out. It’s so unbelievably smooth.
It helps that the graphics are phenomenal. Samurai Shodown runs a slightly oil painting visual look that really pops. The stage backgrounds can be breathtaking, the fighters are well-animated and super moves ooze with style. In fact, there’s a great Kurosawa samurai flick feeling to the whole thing.
Samurai Shodown on Xbox is an excellent fighting game; one that is incredibly well-made and able to provide a return to form for the franchise. It’s runs at a different tempo to many other popular fighting games available today, but it’s wild fun. Unfortunately the story mode is disappointingly light and the online multiplayer is sparse, however there is plenty to get involved in and a host of characters to check out. This is a quality fighter that any fan of the genre should try, especially now if you have a Series console to run it on.