Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection Delivers 16-Bit Dueling At Its Finest
When it first arrived in arcades in the summer of 1993, SNK’s Samurai Shodown blew my 10-year-old mind. At the time of its release, competitive fighters like Street Fighter II, Fatal Fury, and Mortal Kombat already had their hooks in me. But Samurai Shodown‘s weapons-based duels turned the genre on its head, honing my budding obsession with fighting games to a razor’s edge with its tense gameplay, where a match could reach its bloody conclusion in just a few well-timed slashes.
For this pasty arcade rat, it was a borderline religious experience. From that point on, I made it a point to keep an eye out for those bright red NeoGeo MVS cabinets at every arcade, pizza parlor, or bowling alley I visited before biting the bullet and buying a machine myself to bring the action home.
Developed by Digital Eclipse, Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection combines six Samurai Shodown titles from SNK’s legendary 16-bit system and a previously-unreleased game into one glossy package. With seven titles to choose from, there’s certainly enough here to keep even the most discerning fighting game fans busy. But have the Samurai Shodown games managed to stand the test of time?
Death By 1,000 Cuts
Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection includes six official Neo Geo releases: Samurai Shodown, Samurai Shodown II, Samurai Shodown III, Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge, Samurai Shodown V, Samurai Shodown V Special, and the previously-unreleased Samurai Shodown V Perfect.
Of course, a retro game compilation is only as good as its emulation. Thankfully, developer Digital Eclipse is no stranger to porting the Neo Geo developer’s games to modern hardware. Just last year, the company released SNK 40th Anniversary Collection (read our review here), an excellent anthology featuring pixel-perfect ports of 24 games from the company’s arcade and console releases from 1979 to 1990.
Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is just as faithful to its source material as far as emulation goes. I own the Neo Geo versions of every game in this collection save for Samurai Shodown V Perfect and Samurai Shodown V Special. And while I tried my damnedest, I couldn’t spot any noticeable differences between these ports and the actual Neo Geo carts. So if you cut your teeth on the original releases, you’ll feel right at home here – though you’ll probably want to use a nice fight stick to get the optimal experience.
Slash or Bust
Despite releasing nearly 30 years ago, the original Samurai Shodown‘s presentation and rock-solid mechanics hold up surprisingly well today. The game’s controls are tight and responsive. Every slash and stab feels satisfying when they tear into your opponent. Even the little details, like the way the camera pans in and out depending on how far you are away from your opponent or how blood surges like a geyser when you land a killing blow, still manage to impress 27 years after it first released.
Appearing on the Neo Geo just over a year later, Samurai Shodown II is arguably the pinnacle of the franchise. It took everything that made the original game so great and cranked the dial to 11. With its vastly improved sprites and backgrounds and memorable new characters like the scrappy catgirl Cham Cham and the Prussian warrior Neinhalt Sieger, it’s a sublimely polished fighter that’s nearly impossible to put down.
Unfortunately, Samurai Shodown III is more of a mixed bag. That’s not to say it doesn’t do some interesting things. For starters, the art style is drastically different from its predecessors. The bold lines and ominous colors give the characters and stages a much more menacing appearance. Additionally, each character now has a Bust and Slash mode. These effectively provide the game’s 13 playable characters with two different play styles. Sounds great, right? Well, it’s a cool idea. The problem is the game’s obscene damage ratios and faster gameplay make most duels to end too quickly. Compared to Samsho 2, it’s a sloppy, fleeting experience that’s a little hard to enjoy.
Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge mostly makes up for the missteps of its predecessor. For starters, each player now has two health bars per round. This change alone makes the crazy damage ratios less of an issue. SNK also got rid of aerial blocks and adjusted the game’s defensive mechanics to make it feel like a much more balanced fighter this time around. Believe me when I say it’s all the better for it.
I’ve Got Five On It
Samurai Shodown V (known as Samurai Shodown Zero in Japan) released in 2003. It was one of the last games released for then 13-year-old Neo Geo. And, unlike the previous games in the series, its development was handled by Yuki Enterprise. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Yuki went on to become Examu and develop the Arcana Heart series, Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match and Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel. Sure, its visuals are a bit uneven and washed out and the gameplay is unbalanced. But it makes up for these shortcomings with a massive roster. The lineup includes a staggering eight all-new characters to choose from (though many of them are insanely overpowered).
Samurai Shodown V Special was the last official game to appear on the Neo Geo. It’s a pretty substantial update to its predecessor. The new characters are much more balanced. Several of them were swapped out entirely and replaced with bosses from the first three games in the series. The game also features considerably improved visuals. My favorite of these updates is the addition of striking character portraits drawn by the late Japanese author and illustrator Satoshi Ito.
Supposedly developed without the knowledge of SNK, Samurai Shodown V Perfect is the third and final version of Samurai Shodown V. The game was location tested in a single Japanese arcade in 2004. However, when SNK became aware of its existence, it was promptly pulled due to Samurai Shodown VI already being in development for the Sammy Atomiswave arcade hardware. Needless to say, the game is an exciting and, until now, incredibly obscure piece of Neo Geo history.
Sadly, the story behind the game’s development is more exciting than the finished product. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun enough. But the changes are ultimately pretty modest. The most notable updates come in the form of the way the story unfolds for each character.
A Treasure Trove Fit For A Shogun
Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is a true celebration of SNK’s pioneering fighting game series. In addition to the seven games in the package, there’s a vault you can access from the title screen. And like the one in the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, it’s top-notch. Overflowing with content, the vault offers a comprehensive look at this history of the entire Samurai Shodown franchise.
Digital Eclipse has included a full archive’s worth of marketing materials, comics, and concept art from every Samurai Shodown title. In addition to high-quality scans of reams of print materials, there’s also a ton of videos to watch. For example, you can enjoy a virtual tour of Osaka, where SNK’s offices once stood with the game’s developers. Or, if you’re looking for something more intense, relive iconic matches between some of the fighting game community’s top players. SNK history buffs should also appreciate the inclusion of a very informative interview with Samurai Shodown V director Koji Takaya.
All of these things are great. However, my favorite is the inclusion of a virtual jukebox. Including over 200 tracks from throughout the series history, it’s a fantastic addition to the collection’s package.
This Collection Cuts Like A Ginsu Knife
As you’d expect, Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection offers support for local and online duels. Once you select the game you want to play, you can hop online from the versus menu. From there you’ll find the usual selection of ranked and online matches.
This should be one of the collection’s best features, right? After all, fighting games should be enjoyed competitively. Well, there’s just one small problem here. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to find anyone else playing Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection at this time. Now, considering this is a compilation of decades-old fighters and not the latest hot release, this isn’t exactly a surprise. Still, I hope the community grows in the coming months. There’s a lot of exceptional games in this collection that more players should experience. Only time will tell if it manages to pick up traction. But for now, I’m not going to hold my breath.
Online woes aside, Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is an excellent addition to any fighting game fan’s library. Each of the games featured in the compilation is worth experiencing. And many of them are just as enjoyable to play now as they were in the series’ heyday. With seven great games and a treasure trove of bonus content, what’s not to love? If you’re a fan of SNK or retro fighters in general, don’t hesitate to take a stab at Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), PC, Switch, Xbox One; Publisher: SNK Corporation; Developer: Digital Eclipse; Players: 1-2; Released: June 18, 2020; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.