Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Virtual Console Review - Samurai Shodown (Neo-Geo)

Samurai Showdown - SNK for Neo-Geo - 7/10

Here we finally come to one of the gems of the Neo-Geo library. When SNK debuted Samurai Showdown in 1993, its innovative weapons combat stood out among a sea of mediocre Street Fighter 2 clones. Who doesn't want to be a sword-wielding samurai or ninja? The game quickly became a great success for SNK, and would even appear on Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo - the first of many ports during the era.

Does the original Samurai Shodown still hold up today? I think it does. Gameplay is tight, stripped-down and focused squarely on the essentials. Special moves are few and thankfully avoid needless flash. Each attack counts. I do appreciate the focus on smart tactics, of knowing just when to unleash the most powerful strikes, knowing when to go for the throw. You must rely on your wits instead of endless strings of combos.

In that sense, Samurai Shodown is much closer to the '80s classic Karate Champ than Street Fighter. This is a tactical fighting game, and not a button masher. Many would cite this as a weakness, but I prefer to see it as a strength. Fighting games got away from casual players rather quickly, as they drowned in increasingly complex combat systems and painfully complex combos. This genre was taken over by hardcore competitive gamers almost from the beginning.

Also, I am more than willing to feel generous when the spectacular Samurai Shodown 2 is waiting in the wings. I can appreciate the basic structure of the original, since those foundations are so solid. This was without question SNK's finest fighting title when it was released in 1993. After trudging through Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting (and ADK's mildly tolerable World Heroes), Samurai Showdown is like stylized lightning from the sky.

I really enjoy the character roster, which thankfully avoids cliches and aims for originality. There are no clones, no cheap color swaps, no Bruce Lee look-a-likes, no Street Fighter wannabees. And for once, we actually get to have women fighters who aren't pinup dolls. Do you mean women get to wear clothes, too? And they get to have normal physiques, and not just be a sex doll for horny teenage boys? Wow, what a world.

Impressive moments abound. When fighters strike their weapons in close range, there's a short shoving match, and the loser suddenly finds themselves unarmed. Sometimes finishing blows unleash an arterial spray, much like Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro, or may split the opponent in two. During the match a passerby throws bombs which explode, or food which restores your health. And when your fighters get hit too many times, they turn red and become frustrated. Good Lord, even the characters in this game think Neo-Geo is too damned hard.

I really dig this game. Sure, the computer is a pain in the ass. Yes, SamSho 2 is the superior sequel. Whatever. Life is precious and short, kids - get your kicks however you can.

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