When it comes to classic fighting franchises, there just aren’t that many big names that have stood the test of time. Street Fighter always comes to mind because of its influence and Capcom’s continued success, followed by some newer fighting franchises like Soul Calibur and Tekken. Mixed in between these big commercial names is another classic beloved by hardcore fighting fans. That line of games is SNK’s popular Samurai Shodown series, now in its seventeenth year.
Samurai Shodown is known as one of the best 2D fighting franchises ever. Sadly, like most games from the late 80s and early 90s, Shodown had some bad luck making the leap to 3D in the past. The first attempt was in the ill-fated Samurai Shodown 64 back in 1997. The good news is that Sen has very little in common with the 64-bit version of Shodown outside of some characters and being 3D. While Sen does have its flaws, this new Samurai Shodown is a step in the right direction for the series.
Sen features a total of twenty-four fighters each with varying styles. So there’s no lack of options in terms of how to attack this title. Thirteen classic characters return like Haohmaru with his Cure hair and katana sword along with eleven newbies who each bring a little something new to the table. Of course Hanzo Hattori is here too. So he’s still one of the very few to appear in every single Shodown game (even the RPG).
The most important thing here is of course the fighting. Fans of the series will feel a little out of place at first. I initially felt like I was playing a Virtua Fighter title instead of something from SNK’s stable. Showdown Sen requires key timing and strict discipline in the form of practice. This is what will draw in the hardcore fighting fans who remember spending hours upon hours practicing to pull off combos against friends or “enemies” at the arcade. The floaty jumps were a little annoying at first, but quickly felt normal after the first three matches. Once you get the hang of things, the jumps seem faster and the weapon-based gameplay gets fast and fun. One thing I liked is that while there is a 3D field of play, the fighting still felt like it was 2D. This helps with timing and overall comfortability in combat.
Graphically Sen looks like a straight port of the Japanese arcade title, which isn’t running on the most recent hardware to begin with. From the opening scene with Haohmaru slicing the lamps to the fights and load screens, everything looks a little bled out. The graphics do look okay, but the colors themselves just look drained for some reason. Needless to say, Sen isn’t the prettiest looking 3D fighter on the market as a result. The sound isn’t lacking, but the music easily blends into the background and becomes forgettable. The sword clangs, kicks and punches all sound right though.
Samurai Shodown Sen hits the right marks, but has room for improvement in the looks department. The gameplay itself is perfect for fans of older fighters and almost feels like a hybrid of classic Sega fighters and SNK’s 2D slasher-fests. With a little more polish in the visuals, this game could hold its own against the best of ‘em. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed, and those new to the series are in for a treat. Younger gamers may want to rent this one, but anyone who owned a Neo-Geo or SNES can put the five bucks towards buying Samurai Shodown Sen.