Samurai Shodown SEN
Developer: K2 LLC
Publisher: XSeed Games
Release Date: 03/30/10
Before achieving ultimate fighting game fame and glory with the renowned King of Fighters series, SNK, who at the time seemed to operate solely for the purposes to get something, anything, over Capcom’s Street Fighter 2, had developed and released an unprecedented amount of individual fighting game franchises for their own NEO GEO Arcade console. Some of these franchises have become fan favorites, others we’ve never even played on these shores, and some we’d just rather forget. Chances are you’ve heard of SNK’s Samurai Shodown prior to the release of this Xbox 360 game, and with the exception of King of Fighters, SAMSHO has easily had the most lucrative run of the potential Street Fighter 2 killers to come out of the mix.
In its fifteen years of existence, we’ve now seen a total of nine Samurai Shodown games. With the mild success of a 3D variant of King of Fighters via the Maximum Impact games, it was logical that SNK/Playmore would look back at their other recognizable fighting series and give that one a try with the polygon makeover as well. As so they did, with the until now over seas arcade exclusive, Samurai Shodown Sen.
As in all Samurai Shodown games, and most fighting games in general, Samurai Shodown Sen is based around a one-on-one elimination tournament. This time around, the tournament is being held by the mysterious General Golba, who is bent on world domination, and is using the tournament as a means to enlist the world’s greatest warriors into his army as generals. Each of the twenty four characters has various motivations for getting involved, and the game features a fair amount of detail for each by way of text passages at the beginning and end of the story mode, as well as individual cinematics for each character when they encounter the two end bosses.
The storylines themselves are nothing special, but they are considerably more fleshed out than your standard fighting game fare, and fans of the series (you’ll be hearing that phrase a lot during this review) will most likely enjoy reading about some of the now fifteen year old characters plights and resolutions. Samurai Shodown Sen features no English voice work for any of these conversations and monologues, so be prepared to read, but the original Japanese narration certainly adds nicely to the obviously thick feudal theme the game works under.
Samurai Shodown Sen is more or less a direct port of arcade game released two years ago. That said, the graphics do show a bit of age, but they are still of reasonable quality and detail. The 3D models of characters we’re accustomed to seeing in 2D are done well, with many of the finer details and personalities kept intact. The environments themselves provide an adequate backdrop for the game’s setting, but don’t really do much to inspire or captivate otherwise. I think it’s worth mentioning that I had to manually adjust my TV’s brightness and contrast settings, as even with toggling the in game option, much of the visuals appeared dark and murky for some reason.
As usual with the Samurai Shodown series, Samurai Shodown Sen features wonderfully composed character art, and a very authentic and attractive front end that compliments its feudal Japanese style.
The soundtrack for Samurai Shodown Sen is what fans would expect from the series thus far by and large. Dramatic taiko drums and chimes laden atop the ambient stir of crashing waves in the background set the mood quite perfectly for clashing swords with your opponent, and a few of the stages even have more energetic score pieces composed with less traditional instruments.
As mentioned earlier, the Japanese language voice track is the only one available, and while this is perfectly appropriate given the game on review, it would have been nice to have English voice work, if only for the lengthy story narratives that are executed with scrolling text.
Though it follows many traditional fighting game formulas, fans of the Samurai Shodown series can easily tell you that there is a considerable amount different regarding the actual gameplay from your typical Street Fighter style game. Much like fight scene in a Kurowsawa film, classic Samurai Shodown gameplay is purposely over-dramatic in an attempt to mimic the intense atmosphere of a sword duel rather than the brutal gung ho nature of a street brawl. Much of that has been faithfully incorporated into the 3D Samurai Shodown Sen, but with varying results. The final product sees Samurai Shodown Sen crossed with the unique formula seen in its 2D predecessors, and the flighty punch drunk juggle fest that is something like that found in the Soul Calibur series, but less effective.
In traditional Samurai Shodown games, special moves and combinations with weaker attacks worked as a means to get your opponent to a point where you could deal the dreaded heavy slash that would reduce an opponent’s life bar by at least a quarter. In Samurai Shodown Sen, the game attempts to make a bigger emphasis on string commands and big combos, while still incorporating the previously mentioned formula as well. The result is a confusing hybrid of two different kinds of fighting games, and neither one really compliments the other here. While most of the familiar characters have their trademark moves in their arsenal, executing them in a match is far more difficult with Samurai Shodown Sen’s controls than it is in any of the preceding Samurai Shodown games, and chaining attacks is all but rendered useless, as a few heavy attacks will see your opponent downed with just a fraction of the effort. In many respects, it seems the development team was split between those who wanted to make Samurai Shodown in 3D and those who wanted to make a 3D Samurai Shodown. Needless to say, the two did not meet gracefully in the middle, as the gameplay never seems to achieve a happy medium with the traditional play mechanics it has brought over and the newer 3D era of fighting games. This is not to say Samurai Shodown Sen is unplayable, or even not enjoyable to play, however. Fans of the series will undoubtedly be able to get the feel of the 2D games with the general flow of a match in Samurai Shodown Sen just by executing standard attacks, block, and counters. This all feels very Samurai Shodown, and combined with faithful 3D renditions of favorite characters, might deliver just enough of the classic formula to keep long time series fans playing for awhile.
Part of the inherent issues with the gameplay come down to the actual controls in Samurai Shodown Sen. Again, movement is slow and dramatic, like the 2D games, but since this is 3D, it is possible to dodge completely around your opponent ala Soul Calibur, which just makes the formula more detached, and the two aspects of both classic Samurai Shodown and new era fighters are again at war with one another due to this simple infraction. When one tries to put the chain attacks, combos, or anything else to work in a match, the purposefully slow and drawn out movement starts intervening with that, and it makes the control feel just plain sloppy for the most part. This, again, leaves fans with only one real option if they wish to attempt to enjoy the game on some level: ditching everything but the core fighting controls.
Samurai Shodown Sen features twenty four playable characters at the start, and both boss characters can be unlocked as you complete the story mode with the existing roster. If you’re a Samurai Shodown fan, and find Samurai Shodown Sen amusing enough to spend some time with, playing through the story mode with all the characters is inevitably going to be what you do most with the game. Fans of the series will most likely be interested in reading about their favorite characters back stories and seeing where the end of the tournament will lead them. Other than that, unfortunately, Samurai Shodown Sen only features a by the numbers survival mode, a bare bones practice mode that doesn’t even allow you to dictate the AI of your punching bag opponent, and either local or Xbox LIVE versus matches, and good luck trying to find an opponent online.
Some could argue that the powerful heavy slashes in Samurai Shodown Sen make things ridiculously unbalanced, but fans of the series can attest that this has always been a staple for the way things go down in a Samurai Shodown match. Taking that into consideration, most of the experience is reasonably balanced, with the exception of a predictable case of SNK Boss Syndrome with the storylines final two fights against Draco, who wields a shotgun, and Golba, who does far more damage than he has any right to and seems to always know what you’re going to do before you even tell the controller you want to do it. The quality of balance will most likely vary when playing a versus game against another human player, depending on whether or not both of you want to try and work with Samurai Shodown Sen’s odd integration of newer fighting game mechanics.
Samurai Shodown as a series is thoroughly original when compared to pretty much any other fighting game, given its penchant for the dramatic and carefully detailed concept. Aesthetically, Samurai Shodown Sen follows suite in those regards, but there is little done to add anything of merit to the original formula. In contrast, the new 3D mechanics usually detract from the classic and intense nature of Samurai Shodown, as I’ve mentioned before, and the available game modes,and basic flow of the experience is by the books fighting game fare.
Other than the Samurai Shodown series fan who can find enough amusement with the game to play through the characters storylines, I can’t honestly imagine anyone who attempts to play Samurai Shodown Sen feeling the need to play it for very long. All the characters have their own unique special moves and styles, but you’ll ultimately wind up just power slashing your way to victory instead of trying to use said character’s arsenal of techniques, as this is far more effective then dealing with the half assed 3D mechanics. As mentioned earlier, I can see fans finding enough interest to come back and finish the game with the majority of the characters, which might take a decent amount of time depending on play durations, but otherwise, this won’t spend much time in your system.
At the time of writing this review I was unable to find any other players on Xbox LIVE playing Samurai Shodown Sen, which speaks volumes about its appeal factor. The game has been advertised in the last two Gamestop flyers I’ve received, and there are actually ads in the store for it, but I would wager they are doing little to help the game’s sales. Samurai Shodown Sen isn’t really a fighting game you can recommended to fans of fighting games, especially those unfamiliar with the Samurai Shodown series, as there are quite a few fighters that are better developed and more rewarding to play. The only audience I can see actually wishing to give this a go is, as I said before, fans of the series collectively.
I took this section of my review for The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road to praise publisher XSeed for continually taking a chance with various titles that might not make as big of a splash in the states as your typical developer would like. Like or dislike Samurai Shodown Sen, I am glad I was given the opportunity to play it here in my country, and I thank XSeed for giving the game a chance over here, especially considering that its actual developer was reluctant to do so.
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal Factor: POOR
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Samurai Shodown Sen does an acceptable job of presenting the classic 2D fighting series in 3D, and while some of the mechanics stay true to the core product, the forced integration of more recent 3D fighting game mechanics renders this a sloppy and at times futile experience ultimately. With a little patience and a few grains of salt, long time fans of the series should be able to find enough amusement in Samurai Shodown Sen to play through the detailed story narratives for their favorite characters, but the average fighting game enthusiast will most likely find this helplessly lacking in comparison to just about any other current fighter on the market.