After hitting the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC in June last year, Samurai Shodown has now made its way over to the Nintendo Switch. I’ve always enjoyed playing SNK’s famed series, especially since it offers a more technical fighting experience that focuses heavily on timing rather than just dishing out non-stop attacks. However, whilst it’s certainly fun to play, the Nintendo Switch version of the game certainly stands out as the most inferior of the bunch, especially when it comes to visual presentation and load times.
A lot of modern fighters focus more on fast-paced action and flashy moves, but Samurai Shodown is a lot more methodical in its design. It’s certainly not the kind of game where you can button-mash your way to victory, especially if you’re facing off against another player that has half an idea of what they’re doing. Instead, it’s all about picking the perfect time to strike and watching your opponent’s each and every move carefully. The combatants in Samurai Shodown are armed with weapons, and if they catch you off-guard with a heavy attack you can expect your health meter to take quite the hit – it means that you’ve got to match your offence with a good defence and ensure you keep yourself protected from incoming attacks.
It may sound a little intimidating and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of a learning curve to the experience, but it’s pretty easy to pick up and play from the get-go. Basic actions are broken down into light attacks, medium attacks, heavy attacks, and kicks, which allow you to tackle opponents in different ways. Do you go for light attacks and dish out a quick flurry of hits? Or do you go for a heavy attack and leave yourself slightly open for a counter? It’s all about picking your moment to strike and predicting what your opponent will do, all whilst trying to put together combos to ensure you unleash the maximum damage output.
It’s certainly a lot more technical than your typical fighter, but that doesn’t mean that some of the hallmarks associated with the genre aren’t present. There are still special moves to pull off and projectiles to unleash, whilst your Rage Meter enhances all of your attacks when filled. There are also the Super Special attacks which unleash a heck of a lot of damage with a bit more of a cinematic buzz if landed, which shows that Samurai Shodown can still put on a bit of a fighting-spectacle to go along with its more technical gameplay mechanics.
It just makes for a very different fighting experience, but it’s one that’s appreciated. I was a big fan of the game’s more technical aspects and it made victory all the more satisfying, especially when playing on the harder difficulties or against a genuinely skilled opponent online. It’s tight, refined, and a whole lot of fun – just don’t expect to be able to find a lot of success through button-mashing.
Samurai Shodown also has a pretty impressive roster, with sixteen combatants available that are made up of legends of the series as well as a few new faces. There are also DLC fighters to purchase, which is a bit of a shame – whilst I’m not against paying for additional content in games, I was hoping that the first season of characters would be included given the game’s later release on the Nintendo Switch and the high price tag. I mean, it was probably to be expected really, but it’s still a bit disappointing. Still, at least there are other fighters coming to the game, so it shows that SNK do plan on supporting it in the long-term with extra content for players to sink their teeth into… for a price.
Fighting games have offered more fleshed out single player experiences in recent years, but Samurai Shodown feels a bit more limited. In fairness, there’s a story-based mode to see the tale of each of the game’s characters unfold, but its pretty bare-boned given that it’s essentially an arcade mode with a few story bits thrown in for good measure. Then there’s the Dojo, which sees you battling ‘Ghosts’ of other players – basically, they’re computer controlled but use the tactics and moves of other Samurai Shodown players. It’s a neat concept, but there wasn’t enough to the mode to make me really want to invest in it.
At least there’s multiplayer though, and that’s where Samurai Shodown really shines. Battles with friends can make for incredibly intense showdowns, especially if you’re both good at the game, whilst taking on strangers online (and beating them) never stops being satisfying. The online netcode has also been pretty consistent in my experience and I’ve only had issues in a couple of fights online, so I’ve got no real complaints there either. Multiplayer is definitely the best way to experience Samurai Shodown and if you can get a group of friends together you can expect to have some pretty epic battles, both online and locally.
Presentation-wise, Samurai Shodown is… just alright. It manages to look the part when playing docked and the frame rate stays at a consistent 60fps, but it takes quite the hit when playing handheld with the visuals a little blurrier and the framerate having a few stutters here and there. Fortunately, there was nothing that made the game unplayable, but it certainly isn’t visually impressive. It’s something that’s worth bearing in mind if playing Samurai Shodown on the go is your priority – you’re definitely getting an enjoyable form of the game to play, but it’s not as impressive as it is on every other platform (and yes, that includes Stadia). It’s also worth noting that there are some LONG load times in the game, which can really break up the flow of combat when working through the single player modes.
Samurai Shodown is a thoroughly enjoyable fighter that feels more unique and technical when compared to similar titles in the genre. However, it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed by the Nintendo Switch port, with the lacking presentation in handheld mode, the long load times, and the high price tag enough to put players off.
That’s not to say it’s a bad experience though, because there is a lot of fun to be had with Samurai Shodown on the Switch – I’ve certainly had a blast playing online and can see myself coming back for more and more skirmishes. It’s just not as impressive as it is on other platforms, where the sharper presentation and faster load times (as well as a cheaper price) make it much easier to recommend.
Publisher: SNK, Athlon Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC