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…
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.