Samurai Shodown review: Everything old is new again


SNK’s return to the era of blood and Bushido has been over a decade in the making, but can the latest Samurai Shodown recapture that classic arcade magic?

Title: Samurai Shodown
Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK, Athlon Games
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Switch
Release Date: June 25, 2019 (PS4, XB1); TBA (PC, Switch)

The fighting game genre can be quite the fickle one.

One minute, there are games with their own set of unique mechanics, while the next may see more combo-heavy and fast spectacles of skill. There’s a breed of slow, methodical, neutral-based titles that seem to stand the test of time and stand out on their own.

And for the most part, that’s what the Samurai Shodown series has always represented. The series’ second game has been a staple of competitive communities for nearly a quarter-century, gaining a groundswell of popularity through side tournaments at even the biggest fighting game majors.

Now, a decade after the last game in the franchise (the ill-fated Edge of Destiny), SNK has brought the tales of blood and Bushido back for a new generation. The latest iteration not only recaptures what made the original games special, but it makes itself appealing enough for newer players and marks a triumphant return for the classic series.

Samurai Shodown
SNK, Athlon Games /

Much like its characters live and die by the blade, Samurai Shodown is very much dependent on its gameplay. It’s also clearly where SNK focused the most in the new game, and it pays off in spades. You see, Shodown is a plodding, meticulous test of skill as opposed to a flurry of input commands. It’s very much a defensive-minded game, with you trying to read your opponent to punish them for making just a simple mistake.

Defensive tactics have a variety of methods. For instance, you could simply block, grab an opponent to alleviate pressure, or even dodge out of the way of an incoming attack. Or, in a mechanic genuinely unique to this series, you can disarm your opponent through a parry or specific special move and lay in some significant damage while keeping them away from their fallen weapon. The ordinarily slow fighting game suddenly into a fun, frantic round of keep-away, really highlighting the depth Shodown has to offer.

On offense, the functions for the classic rage meter are designed to keep those more defensive and careless players in check. It fills like a typical meter would, and has options for when it’s full. One could keep it as-is, which gives characters a damage buff for a short amount of time before it goes empty again. The full meter is also great for each fighter’s Super Special Move, which actually does not require meter, but their one-time-per-match usage is most optimal while the gauge is full.

Samurai Shodown
SNK, Athlon Games /

Rage Explosions brings things about the defense, albeit very slightly. It can act as a combo breaker, interrupting your opponent’s big damage opportunity with just a single button press. It also activates an instant rage state, which includes the aforementioned damage buff.

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  • However, another press of the button unleashes a Lightning Blade move, which acts as another high-risk, high-reward super attack. It’s hard to stop and does a ton of damage, but it comes at the cost of the entire rage meter if executed early on.

    While Samurai Shodown may look pretty simple upon first glance, it has way more than meets the eye. The depth is especially refreshing, rewarding the more patient players who are willing to learn its intricacies.

    It’s also helped by a roster that, while pretty slim at 16 playable warriors at launch, are all somewhat unique to one another in their character, movest and weapon choice. Most of the cast are returning staples and fan favorites, while the trio of newcomers (Darli Dagger, Wu-Ruixiang and Yashamaru Kurama) are all welcome additions to the roster.

    The game’s also helped by its choice in art and graphical style, with characters looking and animating very well over backdrops that look almost painted on the screen in that iconic 16th-century style. Fighters also can be seen sporting some blood as they take damage, but the violence is nowhere near the level of say, Mortal Kombat. However, it is a nice little touch that adds intensity to the battle, and things refresh with each round that goes by.

    Samurai Shodown
    SNK, Athlon Games /

    As far as mode offerings, story mode takes each character through a ladder complete with cutscenes and a final boss that would make any other arcade classic blush. That said, it is relatively simple and makes the game’s already long load times even that much more annoying, especially between cutscenes.

    Survival and gauntlet modes are also here for solo players as well as a time trial that tests how quickly you can dispatch your CPU opponents. Online also seems to function fine, with ranked and casual modes available for those looking to test their mettle. How the netplay handles an influx in traffic at launch remains to be seen.

    The biggest detriment towards Samurai Shodown is the load times.

    The biggest detriment towards Samurai Shodown is the load times. While the game does look gorgeous in its own way, it just takes way too long to start up matches. As mentioned earlier, the roster is a bit slim, but the season pass will be free for early adopters of the game and includes the returning Rimururu and three other fighters, bringing the roster up to 20.

    Finally, while the game’s tutorial does a pretty solid job at teaching basic mechanics, it doesn’t go quite as deep as one would hope. Still, it’s more than enough to get your feet wet with, especially if you’re a newcomer to the series.

    Disclaimer: The game’s Dojo feature, which studies your tendencies and creates an AI fighter based on that, was not available for this review.

    9. <i>Samurai Shodown </i>does the near-impossible task of blending old and new into an incredibly fun, solid fighting game package. Only held down really by slow loading and a slim roster, the deep gameplay complimented skill-based mechanics make this a faithful and triumphant resurrection of this SNK classic.. SNK. . Samurai Shodown

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.