Samurai Shodown (Series S|X) Review

On coming to this Xbox Series updated review of Samurai Shodown I am in a different position to the excellent Xbox One review by Mark Sherwood two years ago.

The Samurai Shodown series has been something I’ve followed through the highs (Sam Sho II, Sam Sho IV) and lows (Samurai Shodown Senran); whenever I’ve found a sweaty arcade with a cabinet, I cannot help but drop a few tokens.

The setup of the story and the features remain the same in this iteration. A 1-on-1 fighting game, that focuses on armed combat, with a gorgeous paint brush style to its models and backgrounds that seeks to evoke the ink-paintings of traditional Japanese art. The story is set in the 18th century and playing through the story mode with each character unlocks aspects of the narrative. Since 2019, the roster has been enlarged from 16 to 27 fighters (with more on the way) via season passes, most of the new cast being series cult favourites like Cham Cham (a feral cat girl) and Mina Majikina (a bow wielder).

I agree with the original review, that those coming to Samurai Shodown, looking for a rich single player experience may be disappointed by the paucity of content. This is a game that rests fairly heavily on the combat system, its online play and accessibility.

I’ll start with the bad news, anyone looking to learn the basics of the game will find the tutorials a little daunting; instead of teaching basic movements and attacks, it will drop the player into learning sword disarms, unarmed sword parries and some of the more complex button inputs, while not giving the player enough space to understand the context for how and when some of these are useful.

The good news is that the fighting system is flexible enough that a lot of these techniques can be entirely ignored at low and mid level play and the people playing it are still going to be able to pull off some great looking moves with minimal button presses. There are a limited number of special moves to learn per character, making it easy to get into, while the depth and breadth to how they can be deployed allows for a lot of finesse, and because each move has its own personality, this gives the roster a real diversity of experience.

This is because the core of Samurai Shodown’s system is about creating fights that feel like classic movie standoffs. The kind where two warriors face off against each other on a beach at sunset, run at each other and end it in a single charge of blows and fountains of gratuitous blood sprays. A missed strike, or poorly anticipated deflection can be punished and a player can lose anywhere between a 30 and 80 percent of their life bar. Those that are unfamiliar with ‘zoning’, ‘punishing’, and ‘footsies’ will not be at a loss because the game does a good job of being easy to understand to a casual onlooker, in contrast to the more frenzied Guilty Gear or Marvel versus Capcom games.

In any other year, I would say that a game like this lives and dies on the number of friends willing to come around and bash on buttons. In this case it’s Samurai Shodown’s netcode that is the make or break scenario. The answer is that it is ‘fine’, the simplicity of the inputs required and the limited combos means that the connection not being perfect is not going to impact most games. With a decent connection I had little complaints.

Finally, those downloading this title on their Xbox Series should not expect noticeable upgrades to the visuals – the game still looks excellent and plays smoothly but has an aesthetic that would look good regardless of platform. The big improvements come from load times and the Xbox’s new controller. Gone are the painfully long load times between battles from the Xbox One launch game, and the new D-Pad on the controller, has a satisfying click that made me feel like I had better feedback on what I was doing.

Conclusion

One of the best entry level fighting games, Samurai Shodown is an excellent return to form for the series. This Xbox series upgrade offers some small but much appreciated upgrades on the original title. Anyone looking to dip their toes into fighting games will do well to start here, that said, there is a lot to dig into after that.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • Simple to enjoy, depth worth mastering
  • Vastly improved load times
  • Free upgrade for Xbox One owners
Bad
  • Limited Single player content
8.5
Great
Gameplay - 9
Graphics - 9
Audio - 8.7
Longevity - 7.3
Written by
AJ Small is a games industry veteran, starting in QA back in 2004. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made. He can be found on twitter (@badgercommander), where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.

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