Ul­ti­mate Guide: Samu­rai Shodown

When SNK de­cided to mine Ja­pan’s his­tory of war­rior cul­ture that lived and died on the edge of a folded metal blade, it cre­ated Samu­rai Shodown, one of the most iconic ver­sus fight­ers of all time. It’s time to grab your katana and join the fray…

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS - Words by Robert Jones

Even if it seems cer­tain that you will lose, re­tal­i­ate. Nei­ther wis­dom nor tech­nique has a place in this. A real man does not think of vic­tory or de­feat. He plunges reck­lessly towards an ir­ra­tional death. By do­ing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”

So be­gins the Ha­gakure, also known as The Book Of The Samu­rai, the most de­fin­i­tive guide to Ja­pan’s his­tor­i­cal elite war­rior cul­ture that has sur­vived to­day. And that quote, one of the book’s most fa­mous, per­fectly sums up SNK’S Edo-pe­riod ver­sus fighter Samu­rai Shodown, a bloody, hy­per-vi­o­lent, in­her­ently Ja­panese master­piece of de­sign and pro­gram­ming.

Shodown, lit­er­ally, en­cour­ages the player to plunge for­ward and fight to the last, even if the odds are stacked against them. It does this by build­ing in a ‘Rage Gauge’ me­chanic (one of the first, too) which trig­gers when a player has re­ceived a lot of dam­age and is close to death, grant­ing them en­hanced power and dam­age deal­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties to cut down their foe.

The game earnestly de­mands blood and, with an en­hanced dam­age strong at­tack ca­pa­ble of an­ni­hi­lat­ing most wounded op­po­nents in one blow, that glo­ri­ous re­tal­ia­tory vic­tory calls to you at all times in Shodown, no mat­ter how badly you have fought or how close to death you may be. You or your op­po­nent will die, that it cer­tain, and of­ten badly via loss of limb, ar­te­rial punc­ture, or a geyser-style ex­plo­sion of blood as a blade rips through flesh and bone.

Bar­bar­ian aside, just as many had not seen such lev­els of in­tense com­bat and death in a videogame pre-samu­rai Shodown, no one had seen a weapons-based ver­sus fighter as vi­o­lent as this in ar­cades be­fore ei­ther. To play Shodown was, like a war­rior fol­low­ing the way of the samu­rai to its fullest ex­tent, akin to wak­ing from a dream to a bright new world.

The vivid­ness of the warriors com­pet­ing in mor­tal com­bat, which on the whole felt more real than in ri­val fight­ers (and later we will see why), the bright­ness and scope of the

“You or your op­po­nent will die, that it cer­tain, and of­ten badly via loss of limb”

“No one had seen a weapons-based ver­sus fighter like this be­fore”

back­ground scenes, which were loaded with ac­tion and de­tail, and the glo­ri­ously authen­tic mu­si­cal score and au­dio, which utilised gen­uine in­stru­men­ta­tion from the Edo pe­riod such as the shakuhachi, koto and taiko, fused to­gether to cre­ate an ex­pe­ri­ence that – es­pe­cially in the west – felt ex­cit­ingly alien.

Yes, there had been big ver­sus fight­ers re­leased be­fore Samu­rai Shodown (the nowl­e­gendary Street Fighter II had been out for two years upon its re­lease in July 1993), how­ever, while Shodown shared their car­toon aes­thetic, un­like those games it was con­structed from its core around an un­prece­dented au­then­tic­ity to Ja­panese cul­ture and his­tory. From the char­ac­ters, plot and set­ting, to the pre­sen­ta­tion and spo­ken lan­guage, Shodown doesn’t check any of its blows. And, ar­guably, it is this more than any­thing that has led the game to en­dure so well and lodge it­self very firmly as a fight­ing game genre favourite.

» [Neo-geo] Tam Tam is one the game’s most dis­tinc­tive de­signs and his Cather­ine wheel spe­cial move, where he ro­tates his large scim­i­tar, is deadly. » [Neo-geo] Earthquake, de­spite his ap­pear­ance, is ac­tu­ally a prac­ti­tioner of nin­jutsu. He is slow but hits very hard in Samu­rai Shodown. » [Neo-geo] Win a fight and you get treated to some ex­cel­lent char­ac­ter art­work, as well as a brief snip­pet of writ­ten vic­tory speech.

» [Neo-geo] Kyoshiro demon­strates his flame breath spe­cial move, which looks and works al­most ex­actly like Dhal­sim’s Yoga Flame in Street Fighter II.

» [Neo-geo] Gal­ford cuts through both bar­rel and op­po­nent Char­lotte to end the fight with a bloody ar­te­rial punc­ture fa­tal­ity.

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