Samurai Showdown (next-gen) – Review

Samurai Showdown first appeared back in 1993, and the 2019 release “Samurai Showdown” is a reboot of sorts, with this, it’s a next-gen upgrade for Xbox Series X|S.
For those who don’t know their Haohmaru from their Nakoruru, Samurai Showdown is a weapon-based fighting game, but while other popular fighters such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Soul Calibre have all joined the likes of Dead or Alive and Tekken in a 3D environment, Samurai Showdown sticks to its roots with fights on a 2D plane.

With the progress of technology the latest instalment of Samurai Showdown still obviously look very good, with a 3D depth to the characters, even if they’re unable to side-step around the arena, buttons are split between light, medium and heavy slash as well as kick, on the 4 face buttons, with the commonly used simultaneous presses, such as light, medium and heavy slash together, all accessible through the shoulder buttons.
You can use either the d-pad or analogue stick for moving your character around, and fans will be pleased to know the classic street fighter-style commands (such as quarter-circle towards, are still used for most special moves.

Samurai Showdown has a little bit of a learning curve as the action is intentionally slow, with many moves being very precise, so it does take a little learning before you start to figure out attacks that are most effective depending on your position, some might cover a larger area resulting in a better chance of a hit, while others might need a precise alignment but lead better into a combo.
I personally found combo’s pretty difficult to string together for the first hour of play, and even feeling I’d learnt a few moves, I was still struggling to make my victories look impressive.
Thankfully, as a single-player experience, it’s all pretty straight forward and on the default difficulty of 3 (out of a possible 5 AI levels) I was able to work through arcade mode, time and time again, with unfamiliar characters reaching the final boss without defeat.

After beating the boss Shizuka in the first round with over 50% health remaining, she replenished stronger and absolutely annihilated me time and time again, so much so that it felt like someone had just turned that difficulty up to 200% and after repeating the 30-minute run-through of the story mode with multiple characters, this same difficulty spike was a disappointing end, sure enough, I managed to beat Shizuka but rather than skilful and precise timing, I found getting in her face and spamming the same few combos a much more effective path to victory.

It’s pretty disappointing that story mode only takes 30 minutes to work through, but having a very little difficulty with such a final spike makes changing the AI a tough decision leaving a soul-less first 30 minutes leading to what always felt like a lucky climax.

Within story mode, there’s plenty of background for each character, with small cut-scenes featuring basic animations and 2D sprites and these are even present for DLC characters which is a nice touch, but I definitely found myself wanting more from the single-player experience especially when other fighting games are pushing towards deep engrossing storylines where characters feel connected, whereas on Samurai Showdown, with a seemingly random selection of characters (which can again feature unlocked DLC fighters) it just didn’t feel like there was any background or lore beyond those thin story presentations.

Online play features casual and ranked matches with the former allowing room for up to 10 players to meet and match up. The problem is, because of the precise style of Samurai Showdown, you’re relying on good matchmaking for online play, those more used to the game will dominate you match after the match while more casual players are just as likely to be sticking with more mainstream fighters.

It’s fair to say Samurai Showdown is for fans of the franchise, and it does a great job of keeping the name moving forward, but this 2019 version just feels like a small step, designed more for purists than anyone just wanting to enjoy a decent fighting game.
There’s also the limited selection of only 16 base characters (extended to 18 post-launch), there’s another 12 through DLC 910 released with 2 more due this year), maybe we’ve been spoilt with so many other titles featuring often double the roster, and considering the Samurai Showdown series has seen over 80 playable characters over the years, I’m certain that even the most die-hard fans would have liked to see considerably more fighters.

The most important aspect for the Series X|S optimisation are how well this 2-year-old game takes advantage of the new systems and it’s a bit mixed.
Graphically it’s silky smooth, and looks great, although I would have loved to have seen more effects, or a higher level of presentation rather than the resolution and framerate jump.
The game still suffers from a few loading screens, which might be forgiven if it was pulling up large open worlds, but in small a relatively small play space, I often found the 5-6 second loading screens a real buzz kill, especially when some rounds would hardly last much longer.

Audio is fine, and level sounds, effects, characters, hits and music all feel well balanced and sound nice and clear, with greater production value in the story and presentation, sound (and graphics) would have been put to test much more, but for what Showdown does deliver, it delivers well.

There’s no denying I feel a little let down with Samurai Showdown, when I look at games like Mortal Kombat, Tekken, even back to Dead or Alive or Killer Instinct, I found myself engrossed for days, weeks, even months with each title offering so much both as a fighting game and an overall experience.
I did enjoy Samurai Showdown more than Soul Calibre, but when you see a game at £50, I just expect a little more from it, rather than a bare-bones fighting game that relies on combat and it’s franchise name to appeal to gamers.

Gameplay - 7.5
Graphics - 7.5
Sound - 8
Story - 5
Value - 6


Coming into Samurai Showdown I wasn't a big fan of the franchise and sadly that doesn't change with this latest instalment.

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