Thank you SNK for sending us this game to review!
Having grown up playing games in the arcade (while they were still common), there have always been a few series that really hit home for me as something special. Fighting games were probably the largest genre of the time, following the explosion that happened not long after Street Fighter II hit the scene. The Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games were always popular, and I played them plenty. I was always a bit of a frugal gamer, and so one of the arcades at the bowling alley that my friends and I would frequent had several major fighting games on display, including Killer Instinct, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, and a Neo Geo cabinet.
While I always loved playing the first two games, they were more expensive - depending on the game and location, sometimes fifty cents a round. (Fifty cents was a lot for a young person in the 1990s!) The Neo Geo, on the other hand, was only a quarter. So, while looking through the six games available in that cabinet, Samurai Shodown really caught my eye for some reason, so I gave it a shot, and instantly fell in love. While I have never been a 'master' at fighting games, Samurai Shodown will always have a special place as one of my favorite games on the Neo Geo, in part because of the interesting, deep gameplay, fantastic art, and the awesome sword attacks of Haohmaru, who I played as most of the time.
This new Samurai Shodown is a reboot of the classic series that started in 1993. There had been five main games released during the long lifetime of the Neo Geo, spanning approximately ten years. After the Neo Geo era, there have been a few other games (outside of compilations), but none had the same impact, and things have been pretty quiet for over a decade. It's great that we finally get a full-blown reboot of one of my favorite fighting game franchises of the 1990s.
Despite my years (well decades, now) of history with fighting games, I'm really not that great at them and just play them for fun, so some of the finer points of technicality might be lost on me. But what I can say is that to me, this series has always been about timing, weapon and range management, and a great sense of defensive caution, as hits can be very punishing. Keeping your guard up, looking for openings, and getting that powerful strike in is part of the dance that happens between players in this excellent fighting game series. And let's not forget those animations! The art direction has always been excellent.
We have a fantastic review of the PS4 version of this same game here by another reviewer and I highly recommend you check it out if you are looking for more details on the flow of battle, the finer points of combat, the various game modes, and how it compares to other fighting games. I highly recommend you check that one out! Rather than rehash those things again here, I'm going to look at the technical aspects of this Xbox Series X release, while sometimes contrasting that with the PC release.
Being based on the latest Xbox Series X console, I was expecting an experience extremely similar to the PC release, and that's what I got. The graphics and animations are stunning, and I was able to play the game at 4K running at 120Hz, which simply looks incredible. After being fortunate enough to solidify an Xbox Series X preorder late last year, I went on the hunt for a TV that could take advantage of the enhanced display options available, and I found one of the few TVs that can do so yet still be reasonably affordable, so I picked it up for reviews just like this one. And I'm sure glad I did. I hate to beg, but can we have a 120Hz mode for the PC release of Samurai Shodown now? How about for other fighters like Street Fighter V? This game looks so good at a high refresh rate, I want this for all fighting games now!
While I know this isn't technically an issue with the game, as an aside, it's neat how my MayFlash F500 fight stick can connect to the Xbox Series X. This way I was able to enjoy not just 4K at 120Hz gameplay, but in style - with a fight stick.
The game itself - your experience while playing - is top-notch. It plays extremely smoothly, looks wonderful, and controls just as you'd expect. You can modify the default button bindings, though I found the defaults to be just fine. Gamepad or (in my case) fight sticks both work great. I have to say, after playing this game, I have newfound respect for the Xbox Series X controllers. I may have to switch my PC controller from an old Xbox One controller someday.
I had a very positive experience trying out the many characters while testing this game, as each one feels quite different. There isn't a huge roster, but there are sixteen base fighters, with eleven DLC characters currently available. Two of the DLC characters were included in my review copy. They all look and play great from what I tested.
That said, many of the females wear outfits that would likely not cover them for long if used in a real combat situation. I guess that's come to be expected of the fighting game genre, but still. Thankfully not all of them are like that, as modest options exist. When you launch the game for the first time, it will ask you if you want the blood/gore enabled. When enabled, sword slashes leave enough blood on the ground to make your local Lifesource chapter envious. When disabled, there is no blood. Of course there is still plenty of violence, as this is a one-on-one fighting game where you attack each other until the other player is defeated.
Samurai Shodown is back, and I'm really happy to see that, and thrilled I got a chance to play the latest game in one of my favorite fighting game series. It's as fun as it's always been, while admittedly sticking to the formula that made the originals great. If you loved the classics, you will find a lot to love here, also. If you've never played a Samurai Shodown, this is a great place to start, and the upgrades available on the Xbox Series X version are worth it if you have a compatible TV to take advantage of it all.