Review: Samurai Shodown V (Microsoft Xbox)

Samurai Shodown V
Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Genre: 2D Fighter
Release Date: 12/21/2005

You know there was a time that feels so long ago. A time clouded with the haze and mists of age. It was a time when neither Mortal Kombat nor Street Fighter 2 reigned supreme as the most popular fighting game on the block. And no, it wasn’t King of Fighters either. It was a little game known as Samurai Shodown II. Sure the first SS game was amazing, but Samurai Shodown II was pure brilliance. I remember going to arcades and it was this game people were waiting to play. With original characters, excellent quips, and an actual story being told besides “Let’s beat the snot of out things,” SS gave us a fighting game whose ancillary benefits were as wonderful as the gameplay. Indeed even today, Samurai Shodown II is considered the epitome of the genre by the fighting game zealots. Truly it seemed like there was a new dominant lord of the 2D fighting genre.

Then came Samurai Shodown III. And to say it was not as well received as Samurai Shodown II is an understatement on the same level as saying that if someone named Stalin Hitler Mussolini-Judas tried running for public office in America, that he would be slightly unsuccessful. Okay sure, he’d probably win in Texas, but hey SSIII had some hardcore fans itself. It wasn’t that SS III was a bad game. It was pretty decent to almost worthy of the word good. But it was doomed to fail because no matter what SNK put out, it would pale horribly to Samurai Shodown II. People exaggerated how bad it was and critics rated it not by its own merit, but by comparing it to its ancestor. And really, even something like Street Fighter III: Third Strike would get mediocre to slightly above average for its score if compared to SNK’s brightest moment amongst mainstream gaming. I can’t explain why and it may not seem as such is some 15 year old decides to pick up an MVS and jam away on it. Samurai Shodown II hit the zeitgeist and will always remain legendary for its genre.

But I digress. SS III and later SSIV failed in both the arcades and even more so on home consoles. And their dismal showing only helped to contribute to the death of SNK. But thanks to Playmore, SNK rose from the grave like a ravenous zombie and began ushering out its most famous titles as if its death was as lasting as say…well, any comic book character really. Except poor Ted Kord. Didio, you bastard.

I’ve owned the Neo*Geo version of Samurai Spirits (The Japanese name for the Shodown series) for some time now, as has occasional IP contributor Fred Badlissi, and I’ve enjoyed it, both from the point of view of a rabid SNK fanboy who had now problem shilling out as much for one game any many people do for a console itself. But also because I felt the game was quality. The only problem was of course, that I’m the only one I know in say…a 1000 mile radius with a Neo*Geo setup, and most of my fighting game friends are nowhere to where I know live. So when the Xbox version with Live compatibility was announced, I was ecstatic. Then I played the port of KOF 2002/2003 and saw how horrible the game handled on Live and my heart sank. But hey, KoF is not SS is not Metal Gear is not Gals Fighter is not Baseball Stars. So I waited for SNK to send me my Preview and Review Builds.

Before I begin I just want to say (like I haven’t said ENOUGH in this preamble. Babble babble babble) that I’m not going to compare this to the Neo*Geo version. Considering maybe 5% who will read this has even seen the system, much less played SSV/0 on it, it’s just not worth it. So let’s begin and take a look at if SSV is worth your hard earned dough.

Let’s Review

1. Story.

Well, this is a bit of a conundrum here. You see, each of the twenty-six (!) playable characters has their own story that unfolds as you go throughout the game. Each character, from Rasetsumaru (a dark version of longstay and fan favorite Haoumaru) to Hanzou (Not the Hanzou from Shining Force, but he could easily pass for him..) have a detailed opening and reason d’etre for being in this game and the battles that eventually consume the character you choose as they go along their path. It’s amazingly well done, as there is little plot rehashing between the two dozen+ characters you can choose from. You really can’t beat that.

There’s a great deal of detail poured over each of the characters. The classics that have returned for this game are true to the personalities fleshed out for them in the preceeding games and the new characters have an amazing amount of personality and depth when compared to other fighting games characters. I was very impressed with this aspect of the game, and aside from the books that can be devoted to the plots of each King of Fighters game, this is the best collection of personal stories I’ve seen in any fighting game. And hey, unlike KoF, you actually get the stories in this game instead of having to be an obsessive fanboy.

I’d love to go into detail about each of the specific stories, but hey, my reviews are longer than any other three put together because I’m psychotically anal very thorough. So let’s just say if you want to experience each wonderful plot, go get the game!

Hands down the best level of plot in any fighting game.

Story Rating: 10/10

2. Graphics

……………………..

And this is where I’m going to lose about 85% of you in regards to trying to convince you to try the game. See, Samurai Shodown V has Neo*Geo graphics. Neo*Geo is a system that’s over a decade old. So if you’re looking for say Project Gotham Racing 3 level visuals here, you might as well stop reading at this point.

That being said the graphics aren’t awful. They’re just dated and the colouring is kind of well…okay, the colouring is awful. The shades are dull and muted, and very garish. This is by no means a pretty game, even for a Neo*Geo port. I mean KoF 2002 is from the same system, and it’s pretty darn good looking, even on the PS2 or Xbox. But SSV? Yeah, it’s only going to win a beauty contest if the contest is filled with Cyclopia sufferers and hunchbacks.

Even on older system the sprites don’t look this jagged or unfinished. It’s odd, because I really don’t see it this badly on my Neo*Geo (Shit, I broke the rule I set when starting this review), but I can’t imagine it’s an Xbox problem, so I’m going to have to go with the theory it didn’t port over visually as well as it should.

One thing in the game’s favor is there’s no slowdown in the battles. SS fans that owned the game on the Sega CD may remember Earthquake was removed because of his massive size that a home system couldn’t process him properly. Not a problem here. SSV has it’s only half screen filling boogeyman in Kusaregedo. And he plays just like he would in the arcade. Which is to say, very slow and easy to get your butt handed to you if you choose him, but he looks very cool.

Overall the graphics are poor for an Xbox game, and poor even for a 2D fighting game using decade old tech. But the one thing I need to emphasize here is that the story and gameplay is what makes a game like this, not the graphics. Too many high quality games are looked over by reviewers and gamers alike nowadays because they aren’t Final Fantasy level OMGWTF graphics. And they’re missing out. A game doesn’t have to look good. it just has to PLAY good.

Graphics Rating: 4/10

3. Sound

I recognize the voice over of the opening credits, but I don’t know where from. I want to say he’s the announcer of some old cartoon like Visionaries or Voltron, but I know that’s not right. The voice however is spine-tingling perfect. It’s a perfect fit for the dialogue and the feel of the game.

Each individual character’s voices are great too. How I missed my Charlotte (The main character I would play as in older SS games) and her combination of badly spoken French and Naga the Serpent style laughter. It’s bliss baby. No, not bris, bliss. if you’re a long time or even casual fan of the series, the voice acting will warm your heart. If you’re new to the series, you’ll enjoy it as well for the quirky personalities embodied in each tiny little comment.

But then I’m the kind of person who enjoyed trying to see how many times I could get a certain character to go “SHINGO KICK! SHINGO KICK!” in a single round. So maybe I’m not the best judge in this case.

The music is decent, but nothing really gripping. This is one area where the game does fall short compared to those that bore the Samurai Shodown name before it. It’s still quite enjoyable for background noise.

Come for the minuscule but well down amount of voice acting, stay and accept the musical background that goes on while your blade goes snicker snack through something soft and squishy that bleeds a lot.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Out of any fighting game I’ve played this year, the controls in Samurai Shodown V are the closest I’ve found to the original version and also has the least amount of “OMG! I totally did that move! Why didn’t it come off!!!” I’ve seen as well. And that’s saying something, because I thought the KoF 2002/2003 collection was very well done controlwise…until you got onto Xbox Live.

Everything can be pulled off seamlessly once you know what each character’s special attacks are. And those can easily be found in the menu list that occurs when you pause the game. Just don’t keep pausing the game when playing a friend who is visiting, otherwise you might get slashed by a blade for real.

There’s three basic attacks, a Kick, a medium strength slash, and a strong slash. We’ve also got the inclusion of a “Catch all” button that is used primarily for dodging and rolling out of attacks, but there’s a few nifty tricks attached to it as well.

There’s many new things to the SS series that you’ll find in this game, chief of which is the Kenki Gauge. This gauge influences how much damage you do. It goes down when you attack, and raises when you defend or just stand around like a goon. I’m not a fan of this inclusion, but it does add a bit of strategy to the game, as I witnessed my life bar be almost wiped out by a single attack.

There’s also a lot of old standby’s in this game that really make the SS series the deepest fighting series out there. The Rage Gauge returns, although it no longer enhances your special attacks. Certain characters can still triangle jump and the sword clash is in the game. Sword clashing is when the two characters parry and lock their weapons together. You then enter a button mashing mini game and the loser was his weapon tossed aside and must fight at a disadvantage for the rest of the match. I always love this touch.

My favorite aspect of SS IV is in the Neo*Geo version of SSV, and that’s being able to commit suicide. However it seems to be lacking in the Xbox version. This is sad as Suicide was a great strategy tactic. Sure you’d obviously lose a round to your opponent, but you would get a massive Rage Gauge boost in the following round. Charlotte for example gets a full gauge for doing this, which, if you are a savy player, is a huge advantage. Hopefully there will be a code to unlock this in the Xbox version, but from what I’m told, there isn’t. Boo-urns.

I didn’t get much of a chance to play against many people via Xbox Live, but those matches I did play were leaps and bounds of an improvement over KoF 2002 and 2003. Matches are even highly customizable, and the tournament setting I’m sure will be used the most. I think this was the best experience with a fighting game I’ve had via Xbox Live.

The controls are spot on. The gameplay is fun and intense. And what other game has a secret character who is in fact, a puppy dog! Go, Poppy, go! Samurai Shodown is a rewarding experience for any who will play it and it is far more complex than any 3D fighter I can think of, once again proving that SSV may be ugly, but it’s far more fun than it’s prettier competition.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 9/10

5. Replayability

Okay, let’s see. 26 playable characters, each with their own unique story, not to mention hidden playable characters and some Xbox Live capabilities. I think you’ve got an excellent game here for 30 clams. It’s not for everyone, but there’s so much you can get out of this game, it’s hard to believe the fighting games not built for archaic platforms lack this level of precision and options. The down side is of course, there’s no pretty and interesting but utterly useless options like other fighters have. This game is all fighting and nothing else. There’s no bios, no movies, or making of documentaries. It’s just all in your face button tapping and Quarter Circle Back plus whatever button you want action.

If you’re an old school fighting fan you won’t need a new game for quite some time if you pick this up.

Replayability Rating: 8/10

6.Balance

And here’s a bit of a problem. SNK games are not ones that a casual gamer or dabbler in the fighting genre are going to be able to pick up and beat pretty easily. Pretty much every SNK game in existence (Except KOF: MI) is well known for having bosses that are profanity-inducing. But to those of us who have been SNK zealots for years, that’s half the fun. Finally getting good enough to beat characters like Geese and Rugal in the KoF series was a mark of accomplishment. And SSV is no exception. You’re going to have your hands full with the boss. Although oddly enough, I found I had the most trouble with the mid-boss (or should I say bosses). It was like Syracuse in the Mid-1990’s all over again; just without Sean Waltman and a dead dog to help me out. Wait, they never helped me out then either. BASTARDS! It was a very original and tricky mid-boss battle and it actually took me a few battles to figure it out. It has been a long time since I had any sort of trouble in a fighting game like that. I loved every second of it.

Most of the moves of each character are pretty easy to pull off. Accordingly, the more powerful the move, the move you’ll have to swing your joystick around like you’re a long time Parkinson’s sufferer. But after a few matches straight with a character, you should be able to bull off any of the special and some nice chain combos to boot.

In this age where I find games like Soul Calibur II, Tekken V, and any of the DOA’s almost pitifully easy, it was really nice to go back to an old school SNK 2D “We design bosses to steal your quarters” gameplay.

The game is definitely slanted against the newcomer to the genre in typical SNK fashion, but the controls are tight, the gameplay is fluid, and there’s an actual challenge to be had that I find missing in a lot of 3D fighters. There’s something for everyone here.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Heh. Samurai Shodown V. That’s five for those of you lacking in Roman Numeral Comprehension due to being from another planet or in a coma since the day you were ejected from your mother’s womb and just awakened and given this review for your first piece of reading in the English language. But don’t worry Brad Fredricks, of Omaha, Nebraska, the w in Showdown is supposed to be missing from Samurai Shodown. Ha ha ha. Those wacky Japanese!

When your brand new characters are palette swaps, and this is your fifth game in the series and the graphics still look like they did in SS Uno (That’s Spanish! Latin, English, Spanish! Mon Dieu, I’m multi-lingual!), you’re scraping the bottom of the fresh ideas barrel. Which of course means, they’re not too fresh at all. But then, Playmore hasn’t really had any new ideas other than KoF: MI (3-D King of Fighters game) since they zombified SNK. I wish I could count SVC Chaos under that banner, but even that was a palette rehash for the most part. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as their games are FUN to play. Eventually though, even the most hardcore SNK fanboy is going to want SNK Playmore to stop riding on the coattails of the original SNK and making something fresh and original. The upcoming DS Cardfighter’s Clash may be a step in the right direction, but it IS the third in that series as well.

Good games, but little more than a remix of earlier SS games, both in terms of gameplay and graphics.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

I love 2D fighters. KoF? Wonderful! SF2? Superb! Mortal Kombat II? Great! Eternal Champions? Amazing! Time Killers? Magn….exce…Incre….Awful. Simply Awful. Ah well, you can’t win them all.

I had a lot of fun playing through SSV, both from the nostalgia of something old being new again, and from the fact the game was just fun to play. I wanted to see everyone’s conversations, experience the changes made from the original version to the Xbox port. I wanted to play online again and again or face the computer with many different characters to see who I was best with.

SS was a blast to play through. But the magic that was so apparent in SS2 wasn’t here in this newest incarnation from the series. It wasn’t the most compelling game I’ve played this year, nor was it the most amazing fighting game I’ve ever played, but it was fun. And fun is what counts. I think some other gamers might be put off by it quicker than myself due to the graphics or degree of difficulty, but it’s my opinion we’re getting in this long babble fest, and I think it’s a game long time and retro gamers alike can sink their teeth into and get more than the $29.99 MSRP out of the DVD.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

I freely admit to being an SNK fan. A very rabid SNK fan. I own a Neo Geo. I own like 50 games for said Neo Geo. I own Samurai Shodown V for the Neo Geo, and now, thanks to the lovely people at SNK who enjoy our reviews and take our constructive criticism and praise knowing that we are reviewers and serve the consumers and are not puppets or willing swag slaves to the marketing branches of publishing companies, I have a copy for my Xbox as well.

That being said, this game is not for everyone. It’s an old school 2D fighter. The gameplay may be excellent, it may have a wonderful story, and it may be the best fighting game that you can play via Xbox Live, but the industry has been pressing on gamers that GRAPHICS matter most. GRAPHICS GRAPHICS GRAPHICS! If it’s not gorgeous, it’s crap. And a lot of casual gamers and even sadly a lot of the gamers you see mouthing their opinion on message board or forums are judging a game’s worth by graphics. Certainly not you, the astute reader who chooses to read my work. You all know that it’s the gameplay that matters most and a lot of the times those 8 and 16 bit games from yesteryear are head and shoulders above many modern games. But you never know. You’d be amazed who out there feels that you have to judge games by graphics first and if you don’t, Lee Alessi, the senior editor of Gamerankings.com will write you some insane statement showing that we let the lowest common denominator run the show like :

With statements like “Since this is the first Xbox 360 game I’m covering, it’s hard to rate graphics since I can’t really compare it to the previous generation. The 360 is supposed to be miles above the Xbox and PS2, so it’s hard to fairly access how good these graphics are. By the same token, I don’t have an HDTV, so the graphics for that will likely be even better.” in your reviews, it shows they are not actually reviewing games the way they were meant to be played. It is like reviewing Battlefield 2 on a 3 year old computer and saying the frame rate is bad. You have to review products the way they were meant to be used.

Oh shit! Guess that means 85-90% of the gaming sites out there are in trouble for not having every one of their employees doing reviews on HDTV’s, not to mention most of the gaming public out there. You stupid idiots! Listen to Gamerankings.com! You’re not playing the game right because YOU don’t have the TV THEY want you to. IDIOTS! That’s why Lee Baxley got fired from Inside Pulse! Because HE didn’t own an HDTV and thus made Gamerankings.com angry! Hope you’re happy Mr. Alessi. Thanks to you, another guy named Lee is on food stamps.

I guess I should stop playing Devil Summoner on my Plasma Screen. Because man, that TV brings out the extra crapiness in the graphics. Man, what was Atlus thinking back in the mid 1990’s? Sega Saturn power should have TOTALLY been up to a level of TV technology that was nonexistent at that point.

Anyway, tangent about the inherent corruptness about the majority of gaming journalism aside, I have to say many people will not be able to enjoy this game properly as without an HD or Plasma TV, you won’t be able to enjoy the subtle nuances of the graphics in this game as truly, when a game is ported to a modern system from an archaic setup like the Neo Geo, if you’re not reviewing it on HDTV, you’re not playing the game IT WAS MEANT TO BE PLAYED. I better re-review this game right after I find an RF adapter.

Oops. Off topic again. Damn that self righteous streak o’ mine.

It’s old school, it’s ugly, and it’s a series most gamers have missed due to their age/casual interest in gaming. Thanks to Sony of America’s “If it’s not 2-D it’s crap” insanity they’ve been pushing on the American gaming audience for years now, a sad but large portion of gamers with ignore this game because it’s not up to modern looks. But for every ten of those sheep out there, I think I can count on one-two of you to remember that SS used to mean quality back when we were tots in the arcade. And guess what? It STILL means quality.

Ignore the whiners about Palette swaping and graphics that appear to be from the Sega CD era of gaming. Graphics are only a facet of gaming, and truth be told, not anywhere as important as some dreks would have you believe.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

I think the fact SNK managed to make an exceptionally playable version of one of their games for Xbox Live is a miracle and deserves a perfect score in and of itself in this category. In truth, there’s a lot of great things about this game. SSV revives a wonderful series with a storied legacy and helps to remove some of the tarnish this series received in its later years. SSV is not SS2, but it does shows us glimpses of why that game was so beloved way back when.

SNK Playmore has given us a game that plays well, is fun and makes you laugh even while you’re stabbing a giant monster with sharp pointy things. I’m hoping this game is merely a precursor to a new Samurai Shodown where SNK Playmore allows their developers to kick up the series a notch or four while still holding true to SNK’s 2D gaming routes.

Oh. And you can play as a doggie. How can you not enjoy that?

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

The Scores
Story: 10
Graphics: 4
Sound: 6.5
Control/Gameplay: 9
Replayability: 8
Balance: 7
Originality: 3
Addictiveness: 7
Appeal Factor: 5
Miscellaneous: 10
Total Score: 69
Overall Score: 7.0 (GOOD!)

Short Attention Span Summary
You get an amazing deal here for thirty dollars. I chose this game as my fighting game of the year 2 years ago when it came out for my Neo Geo. I felt it was worth over a c-note then, and I certainly feel this upgraded version with extra characters and Xbox Live version is worth paying much less for. If you want to experience classic gaming goodness for a modern console, you could do a lot worse than picking up Samurai Shodown V. It’s a solid class act through and through.