samurai shodown

This Me­thod­i­cal scrap­per proves the slice is right

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Dave Meik­le­ham

“En garde!” Talk about a per­fectly pithy fight in­tro. These two words pre­fix ev­ery match in SNK’s lat­est fighter, and you quickly re­alise they also rep­re­sent this com­posed brawler’s core mis­sion state­ment. This is a cal­cu­lated and classy com­bat­ant where the moves are dev­as­tat­ing and the mar­gin for er­ror is minis­cule. Such a stately ex­cla­ma­tion en­cap­su­lates this more mea­sured slice-’em-up’s as­sured swag­ger and de­lib­er­ate pac­ing. It’s also a lot cooler than “Round One... Fi­i­i­i­ight!”

As a se­ries, Samurai Shodown has been off the scrap­ping scene for some ten years. Even though the fight­ing land­scape has evolved rad­i­cally in that time with the emer­gence of es­ports du­els, SNK has stuck to its guns – or should that be swords? In stead­fastly re­fus­ing to com­pro­mise what made its fight­ing fran­chise so unique in the first place, this new re­boot hon­ours and re­freshes what came be­fore. It’s a fighter that re­wards cau­tion, pun­ishes but­ton bash­ing and knows how to end bouts with cine­matic flair.

What sep­a­rates Samurai Shodown from the Tekken and Street Fighter games of this world is its fo­cus on pre­ci­sion move­ment. Now, while any elite fight­ing game places at least some fo­cus on putting your com­bat­ant in the right place at the right time, Shodown takes shuf­fling your char­ac­ter around the arena to a whole new (of­ten lac­er­at­ing) level.

The key to win­ning most fights is mas­ter­ing spac­ing. The prox­im­ity to your foe is cru­cial. Take one step too close to them, mis­judge your move, and you could be greeted with a dev­as­tat­ing counter that will hap­pily chop your health bar in half. Rush­ing into bat­tle rarely ends well in Samurai Shodown, and as you be­gin to learn this fighter’s core, com­ple­men­tary sys­tems, rounds tran­si­tion from onesided sword smack­downs to evenly con­tested, ut­terly bru­tal dances.

While there are only a hand­ful of sys­tems to master, each one can in­stantly turn the tides of a con­test once your get fa­mil­iar with their rhythms. Learn­ing to bal­ance light, medium, heavy and kick at­tacks is one thing. Mas­ter­ing how to com­bine and in­ter­weave these core tech­niques with the game’s block, dodge and Blade Catch sys­tems is quite another.

Flash of the blade

It’s been a fair while since we played a fight­ing game where the sim­ple joys of par­ry­ing and avoid­ing at­tacks is quite so pro­nounced. Hon­estly, dat dodge. It’s a won­der­ful lit­tle ma­noeu­vre. With a well-judged tap of RB your war­rior drops their shoul­der and shifts their weight, el­e­gantly sidestep­ping an in­com­ing at­tack to set you up for a flurry of un­guarded of­fen­sive strikes.

The Just De­fense sys­tem is a hoot, too. Block an in­com­ing hit at just the right mo­ment and you vi­o­lently jar your op­po­nent’s mo­men­tum, forc­ing them back onto their heels in bone-shak­ing style and cre­at­ing vi­tal dis­tance be­tween the pair of you in the process. Not only does this of­fer

your fighter the per­fect chance for a counter, it looks stupid cool to boot.

Stab and go

The Rage me­ter fur­ther spices up pum­melling pro­ceed­ings. As a fight pro­gresses, this po­ten­tially match­turn­ing counter builds up each time your blade-wield­ing war­rior takes a hit. If you’re on the end of a past­ing in the first round, you can use that filled me­ter in the next to un­leash a Rage Ex­plo­sion. De­signed to only be used once per match, this sear­ing state sat­u­rates the screen, up­ping dam­age out­put to the point even two or three well-timed slashes can oblit­er­ate your foe’s health. It’s a deft sys­tem that’s vir­tu­ally cheese-proof, and one that can re­ally keep you in fights right un­til the dy­ing stages.

You need to use Rage ef­fec­tively too, be­cause even on the de­fault dif­fi­culty the AI can be a proper bas­tard. Ag­gres­sive with­out be­ing overly gung-ho, pre­pare to get your ass handed to you at an alarm­ing rate through­out the bare­bones story mode. Ca­pa­ble of knock­ing your weapon out of your hands, most of these AI ri­vals prove to be master swords­men. The (semi) good news? Skilled play­ers can pull off a Blade Catch af­ter los­ing their weapon, in a move that in­stantly disarms the op­po­nent. Oh, and the fi­nal boss is ut­terly rock-solid.

When you’re in the heat of its de­light­ful, oh-so de­lib­er­ate ac­tion, Samurai Shodown can mix it up with the best of them. It’s only when you look at the en­tire pack­age that things be­gin to slice apart at the seams. For a fighter in 2019, there’s no get­ting past just how light on modes SNK’s beat-’em-up is. With only par­tially an­i­mated cutscenes, story mode feels ar­chaically ba­sic, with rote on­line bat­tles, a too-slight tu­to­rial, and nofrills gaunt­let matches round­ing off this anaemic pack­age.

Com­pared to the likes of the gen­er­ously padded Mor­tal Kom­bat 11, Samurai Shodown can some­times feel like an un­der­fed fighter caught out of time. Yet even though its fea­ture-set is slim and the 16-char­ac­ter ros­ter hardly hefty, the core fight­ing is pre­sented with such as­sur­ance, SNK’s scrap­per still de­serves to cut its way into your heart.

“There’s no get­ting past just how light on modes SNK’s beat-’em-up is”

Left The high-stakes com­bat is a lot dif­fer­ent to the likes of Dead Or Alive.

right SNK has re­fined its 3D art style for Samurai Shodown and thrown in ink brush-like flour­ishes.

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