This Methodical scrapper proves the slice is right
“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.