Samurai Shodown’s Jump To Epic Games Store Is A Fun, But Not Quite Flawless, “Victoly”
Watch our original Samurai Shodown review above or read our review of the PC port below.
SNK’s Samurai Shodown reboot impressed us when it first found its way to the PlayStation 4 (you can read our original review here) and Xbox One last year. With its vibrant visuals, gory gameplay, and refined mechanics, the game proved to be an excellent entry in SNK’s long-running weapons-based fighting game franchise. Now, just a few days shy of a year since it made its console debut, Samurai Shodown is available on PC courtesy of the Epic Games Store.
So, was it worth the wait? Well, that depends. While Samurai Shodown’s intense duels are still as thrilling as ever – at least when playing in single-player – lengthy load times and problematic online performance combine to dull the edge of an otherwise razor-sharp return to form for SNK’s flagship sword fighting series.
Blades of Steel
Like Samurai Shodown V before it, Samurai Shodown serves as a prequel to the eponymous 1993 Neo Geo game. It features a roster of 16 playable characters to master. Of those 16 characters, 13 are returning warriors from throughout the series’ history, such as the huge-haired swordsman Haohmaru and the diminutive kunoichi Nakoruru. Three newcomers are also introduced, including the fearsome pirate Darli Dagger, who wields a massive saw and drill, which she uses to cut down her opponents, the brooding fallen samurai Yashamaru, and the Feng Shui master Wu-Ruixiang.
Overall, Samurai Shodown’s roster is admittedly a bit lean compared to most modern fighters. Still, it works. All of the characters feel unique with their distinct styles and abilities, which helps keep the action fresh and varied. Though I have to admit that I would have liked to see some of the series’ long-neglected characters like Cham Cham and Genan once again make an appearance. But honestly, that’s the just Samurai Shodown fanboy in me complaining. Both longtime fans of the franchise and newcomers alike should easily be able to find a few favorites out of the bunch.
“Stop shaking! One slash, and it’s all over!”
Samurai Shodown doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. Like later entries in the series, it uses a four-button fighting system with light, medium, and hard slashes and a single button for kicks. The iconic “Rage Gauge” once again returns to power your more devastating abilities. As you take damage, the meter gradually fills. And once full, you can use it to unleash a Rage Explosion that allows you to deal massive damage to your enemies until the meter drains or perform a brutal Super Special. If you’ve ever played a Samurai Shodown game, these mechanics will be very familiar. However, the game does introduce a couple of new tricks to flesh out the franchise’s time-tested formula.
Lightning Blade attacks are a new offensive option meant to turn the tide of a battle quickly. They are devastating, single-use moves that you can perform once your Rage Gauge fills up. Activated by pressing all three slash buttons at once, these flashy abilities are as destructive as they are grisly as they leave a geyser of blood billowing from your opponent when they connect. However, using them comes with considerable risk, as performing one ultimately gets rid of your Rage Gauge for the rest of the fight. Still, they’re an excellent tool for turning the tables when you find yourself in a desperate situation.
In addition to Lightning Blade Attacks, Samurai Shodown also introduces a new defensive Weapon Flipping technique. Similar to the deflection ability found in SNK’s other weapons-based fighter The Last Blade, Weapon Flips can repel an oncoming attack. If you time one right, you can even disarm your adversary, leaving them on the defensive. Like Lightning Blade attacks, you’ll need to have a full Rage Meter to perform them, but attempting – and failing – a weapon flip won’t cost you your meter unless it successfully repels an attack.
An Epic Struggle
With easy to understand mechanics, tight controls, and an easy to pick up but difficult to master fighting system, Samurai Shodown is a surprisingly accessible fighter. And if you’re having trouble learning the game’s various mechanics, the game offers a training mode as well as a Dojo Mode where you can battle AI-controlled ghost data of yourself and other players to hone your skills further. Unfortunately, unless you’re training to battle against the computer in the game’s Story, Time Trial, or Survival Modes or other players in local adversarial play, that practice may be wasted. Sadly, at least at this time, Samurai Shodown’s online performance on PC leaves much to be desired.
Samurai Shodown features your standard selection of ranked and casual online game types. The problem is it can take ages to find another player to play with. During my review period with the game, I frequently found myself waiting for upwards of five minutes to find another player to battle. And in the off chance I was able to join a match, things quickly fell apart thanks to the game’s lackluster netcode. Frame drops were a frequent nuisance, and the melees would regularly slow to a crawl as if each duel was unfolding at the bottom of the ocean.
It’s easy to chalk up the difficulty in finding opponents as a byproduct of Samurai Shodown only being available on the Epic Games Store. After all, the community is substantially smaller than that of its closest rival, Valve’s Steam service. Most likely, in time, the player base will grow, and it’ll become easy to join matches. It’s harder to excuse the game’s poor performance, though. Fighting games are at their best when played competitively. In its current state, the online component is by far the weakest part of Samurai Shodown’s package. We can only hope SNK adds rollback netcode to the game in the future.
On the plus side, the game is very scalable and performed flawlessly offline on my mid-range gaming laptop and desktop rigs. So credit where credit is due. I only wish the lengthy load times that plagued the console version of the game had been resolved for this PC port. They’re back, and just as annoying as ever.
Despite its uneven online play and frustrating load times, Samurai Shodown is still a game that fans of the fighter genre won’t want to miss – so long as they have a few friends play against locally. With a colorful (though somewhat limited) cast of characters, a wealth of game modes, and some smart evolutions of its tried and true formula, it’s still one of the best games in the series to date. Here’s hoping the game’s PC community grows, and SNK can iron out the few kinks that hold Samurai Shodown back from being the brawler to beat.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch; Publisher: SNK; Developer: SNK; Players: 1-2; Released: June 11, 2020; MSRP: $49.99
Full Disclosure: The publisher provided a review copy.