Samurai Shodown review: Neutral focused fighting game that's basic yet brimming with depth

Not much in the way of flashy combos but specific individual hits can deal an absurd amount of damage

Posted by Justin 'AdaptiveTrigger' Gordon • June 24, 2019 at 7:21 a.m. PDT

Provided with an early review copy, I had the opportunity to check out Samurai Shodown. In a short span of time, I became very impressed with its methodical gameplay style.

There's plenty of room for "big brain plays" in this game. Overall, there are certainly a number of elements about Samurai Shodown I can appreciate despite having never touched an earlier title.

First off, I immediately noticed the slow pacing of matches. Samurai Shodown has an extremely heavy emphasis on the neutral game. In other words, footsies is an extremely important fundamental to understand here.

The game doesn't really have a lot of combos. In fact, trying to link into a normal from a jumping attack, while possible, actually takes a little bit of practice.

Despite the lack of links or strings, health bars can potentially be depleted very quickly. That's because there are a number of individual hits that can dish an absolutely absurd amount of damage.

This isn't the type of game where you'll get rushed down and locked into advantageous block strings that leave no room for a counterattack. Many attack sequences are quite negative on block. It's generally pretty clear when it's "your turn" to attack.

Funnily enough, I did encounter a few attacks that were actually negative on hit. They were also unable to cancel anything as far as I was able to tell.

Having said that, every button press you make in this game must have some thought behind it. That's because there are plenty of defensive mechanics and depth behind every action.

For starters, there's a dodge button. If timed correctly, you can force your opponent to completely whiff their attack for a free punish. Of course, if the opponent waits for this action, you'll be the one punished instead.

Combine this dodge button with a traditional forward fireball motion and you'll get a parry. Against certain attacks, you can actually disarm your opponent of their weapon.

While barehanded, attacks are generally weaker and have less reach to work with. I'd be careful about disarming Darli Dagger, however. She has an attack that will completely rob your of your victory if you act too recklessly.

If you perform the parry command while barehanded, you get this awesome cut-scene where you can the stop opponent's weapon-based attack with your bare hands, disarm them, then kick them away. You really feel like a badass when you are able to pull off this difficult sequence.

It's still possible to reequip your weapon if you press the light button next to it. I imagine the opponent will attempt to prevent this from happening.

As previously mentioned, combo options are limited but certain normals can be special cancelled. Also, grabs don't actually deal damage. Instead, they'll leave the opponent wide open for a powerful hit.

With the Rage Gauge activated, you gain access to a lightning blade attack, a special disarming attack, and a Super Special move. Activating the Rage Mode itself is actually invincible, so this can be used to really catch the opponent off guard if they swing wildly while you have meter.

Bear in mind that the Rage Mode can only be activated once per match. If used in one round, you'd better make it count as it won't be available in future rounds.

Overall, this equates to a game system that is extremely basic in nature, but heavily rewards strong fundamentals. Throughout each battle, you'll be thinking of ways to outsmart your opponent as they try to do the same to you.

I imagine this will be a slow paced battle in high level play, which may not be for everyone. Still, if you're a fan of playing footsies in the neutral and have really good ability to read other players, then this is the fighting game for you.

Outside of the game's main versus mode, there is also a story mode. This might as well be an arcade mode with bare bones story elements.

The final boss of the story mode ended up being quite difficult for me. Unfortunately, I also found this fight to be quite boring as they were one of those type of bosses that couldn't be stunned from normal attacks.

I can't help but think that many players will enjoy seeing this boss though. You could say this boss was quite... "flashy."

In terms of practice, there is a tutorial that teaches newcomers how to play. There's also a training mode.

To my disappointment, the training mode did not have options to show frame data which I would think would be especially important for this type of fighting game. Still, you are able to record the AI's actions so it's still possible to test for basic setups.

Additional single player modes included Time Trial, Survival, and Gauntlet modes. There's also a gallery that allows you to see the game's beautiful artwork, sounds, and movies.

The online and Dojo mode (which creates a computer controlled opponent that's based on your and other player playstyles) are unavailable until the game's launch. As a result, we'll have to revisit those another day.

Japanese culture and art style definitely shine through in this game. Characters appear to speak in their native language.

Overall, my impressions of Samurai Shodown are quite good. But I'm also the type of player that particularly enjoys the neutral interactions in fighting games. Those looking for a game that encourages high execution and fast paced rushdown may end up getting impatient with this title.

My personal favorite character ended up being Charlotte. Her fencer playstyle really clicked for me.

I will warn that the game is quite violent. It's not quite Mortal Kombat, but it comes close a few times. It definitely earns that "M" rating for its gore and partial nudity.

Remember that those that purchase it before June 30th will get access to the season pass for free.

Pros

+ Methodical playstyle that heavily rewards making good reads and fundamentals like footsies.
+ Plenty of basic mechanics that make the game easy to jump into with plenty of room for advanced mastery.
+ Interesting Japanese painting art style.
+ Awesome sequences, such as the ability to disarm the opponent, that will likely be memorable for years to come if you can pull them off.
+ Plenty of defensive options to work with so players don't feel like they were just beaten down without a chance to play.
+ Multiple single player modes that can keep casual players engaged.
+ Tutorial does an excellent job of teaching the game's mechanics.
+ Training mode features a versatile AI record function.

Cons

- Slower paced gameplay may not be for everyone.
- High execution combos basically don't exist in this game.
- Final boss can be annoying to fight against.
- Training mode lacks frame data feature.

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