It’s not very often that we get to see classic 2D games make the transition to 3D and especially keeping the same vibe that the old game used to have. SNK Playmmore was bold enough in undertaking this challenge and it seems they did a fairly decent job at it, too.
While back in the good old days Samurai Shodown used to be all about good all fashion knuckle crunching and bone smashing karate-like fighting, with no regard to combat tactics and overacted drama, it would seem that the new and reinterpreted 3D version has suffered a couple of changes in this regard. Story
The first thing you’ll notice in story mode is that it’s more about text story blocks and less about cinematic scenes. The story is meant to be played out around Takechiyo, a farmer’s boy that dreams of becoming a swordsman (read: samurai) one day.
As he travels the world in search of worthy foes, he ends up shipwrecked off the Japanese coast and he’s rescued by Princess Suzu (a European girl adopted by the Amori Clan). All’s well until one day she ends up missing and in the traditional samurai code of honor, Takechiyo sets off in search for her.
As his journey takes off, he uncovers a world domination plot that only he is fit to stop. Although you can pick out a different character each time (all of them have their own background story), you’re still following the same main plot which is to stop the bad guy from taking over the world. Whether you’re doing it for honor, revenge or simply to prove your fighting skills, it bears little consequence to the overall gameplay. Gameplay
With up to 24 characters to choose from (most of which you’ve already seen in the previous Samurai Shodown series), it’s safe to say that you’ll be doing a lot of fighting. The only surprise is that all the characters are divided into three classes (skill, speed, and power), making it a lot easier to figure out their best attributes and fighting techniques.
Choosing the right character could also be a thing of strategy, because you’ll often find yourself faced with opponents that keep knocking you down and counteracting your moves, until you find the right fighter to kick them in the teeth. The AI will beat you down ruthlessly even on normal difficulty and the bloody dismembering finishing moves at the end will further incite you to keep coming back for more.
The character design is not bad and you’ll notice that they feel a bit heavier than normal arcade fighting games. By heavier I mean that you can’t leap across the arena or jump ten feet in the air, just because you can. You’re left with some hand to hand combat that relies more on skillfully dodging attacks and inflicting damage by strategically planning out your next chained combos.
Although I don’t entirely fancy the idea of continuously being on my toes and having to actually think about what moves or attacks I’m going to use next, the concept is pretty solid and offers experienced players a more rewarding and challenging gameplay. New comers will have a hard time getting used to this and they’ll probably end up shelving the game for when their frustration level cools down.
Speed, skill and power are the three tactics that you can make use of and each player has his own set of combos and finishing moves that show off one of these abilities. Choosing speed or skill over power means that you’ll be doing far less damage with single attacks, but instead you’ll be able to either move faster or perform longer and more elaborate combos.
I’ve also noticed that there’s no effective way to dodge incoming attacks forever and you’re likely to get smacked down at any time. Your entire defense is built around side-stepping and fastidious timing. Successfully mastering this ability will get you winning the game in a matter of seconds (literally) without having to perform any special attacks.
There is, however, a downside to the overall gameplay and it involves the way combo moves linkup together. While most slash attacks (up or down slash) require only one or two buttons, they cause little damage and they can be blocked easily. Performing a full-fledged combo requires the use of all four buttons and the analog stick, but if you want to link more of them together then you’re in for some real aching.
Not only that the animations take a while to complete (leaving you vulnerable to a counterattack), but there’s also little chance that you’ll be linking two combos, because of their overall complexity. Granted, the damage you cause will leave your opponent hanging by a thread, but you can still get defeated by pushing your luck too hard and trying to figure out more combos.
Leaving out the fighting for a second, Samurai Shodown Sen packs 21 arenas with themes that vary from taverns, marketplaces and gardens. They’re all variations on these landscapes and none of them stands out and they all seem to be extremely static and lifeless.
With four game modes (story, versus, practice and survival), you’ll have a lot of time to get used to the rigid control system. Although Story Mode features only six random fights, you always get to fight the same two final bosses (and they’re not easy to defeat, I’ll tell you that). Audio and Video
The 3D graphics are not bad considering that it’s the first Samurai Shodown that ever made it to the three dimensional field and the character design and detail have been given a great deal of attention. Whether it’s the fully encased metal body armor or the cute miniskirt, they feel right and not totally out of proportion.
As for the audio part, it doesn’t stand out in any way and besides the kicking and punching you’ll pay little attention to what soundtrack or background sounds you might be hearing. The only time you get to hear the character’s voice is before the battle, when they go all cocky on each other and pound on their chests with a testosterone-soaked attitude (only the male characters, of course).
The sound of metal clangs, however, is pretty good and you get a nice and sharp acoustic that gets you in the zone. Sword on sword action time is pretty good as well and you might get the urge to pump up the volume. Multiplayer
The online community is extremely skittish and it seems that few guys actually pick up the game and take it for a spin. You have to wait a while before you get someone to fight with and in most cases, you’ll get whooped in about ten seconds.
Samurai Shodown Sen doesn’t seem to attract too many gamers and the only available mode is a showdown between you and the other guy. Still, there are a couple of achievements that you can unlock by winning consecutive fights (if you can find anyone), but that’s about all the fun you get out of it.
On the good side, the connection holds up steadily and you don’t lag time almost at all. The online experience would definitely be great if you had more guys to enjoy it with. Conclusion
Samurai Shodown Sen aims high trying to compete with titles such as Soul Calibur or Street Fighter and ultimately falls short in delivering that experience. With a stiff gameplay control and no smooth transition between combos and takedowns, Samurai Shodown Sen is not something that you’d want to come back too very often.
On the positive side, it does however introduce the concept of planning out your fighting strategy and skillfully exploiting your enemy’s weaknesses, instead of mashing buttons together and hoping something good will come out of it.
If you decide to pick up Samurai Shodown Sen, arm yourself with a bit of patience, because it’s a lot different than you’d expect.