Samurai Shodown SenESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: SNK Playmore
Publisher: XSEED Games (http://www.xseedgames.com/)
1-2 players/ 1-2 online player matches
4MB game save
Arcade stick compatible
The Samurai Shodown series still manages to hold a special place in the hearts of many fighting game fans, myself included, but to say that the series has seen some hard times would be an understatement. The latest release in the franchise, Samurai Shodown Sen, marks the first entry of the series on the Xbox 360 that is not an arcade remake. This 3D chapter was originally released in arcades in Japan as Samurai Spirits: Flash and marks the fourth time the series has been seen in 3D. This is also the first time we have seen a mature rated Samurai Shodown and that is really the main hook for XSEED’s latest release.
The game's visuals are a mixed bag. Upon first playing you are treated to a blend of water-color for character portraits and menus and 3D for actual gameplay. The portrait artwork is really quite fantastic, in fact it could be regarded some of the most beautiful on the 360. Unfortunately the beauty stops there. In terms of actual gameplay you are treated to some nice 3D graphics but they are not the best quality we have seen. The character models lack polish, textures tear constantly when limbs intersect (bad collision detection), and a lot of the little things like facial expressions, hair movement, and body language, didn’t make the transition from 2D to 3D all that well. The game seems to get disjointed in an awful hurry. Fortunately, some character animation is still pretty good, and the stages are again beautiful. I did like some of the backgrounds new and old. Draco’s Wild West is among my favourite new ones while Haohmaru’s classic Cliffside stage retains much of its charm from the original 2D games. That being said, the overall feel is such that it seems the game needed more development time to get some of the bugs out.
Samurai Shodown Sen's audio is by far my favourite in some time. The music is perfect for the subject matter, far better than anything found in the newest fighters today. The game uses a lot of flute instrumentation to create music that fits the feudal Japan setting perfectly. Not only is it memorable, it had me wishing that an original sound track was available so I could listen to the music outside the game. There is also a feature that lets you use your own custom soundtracks, so cleaving off heads to such bands as Slayer, Kiss or Metallica is quite possible.
The game uses in game Dolby Digital so the aural effect is quite good on the sound effects. Sword slashes are satisfying and their volume increases depending on the power behind the shot and how cleanly it connects. Heads and body parts make great noises as they hit the floor. Perfectly-landed heavy shots sound like they’re slicing through flesh while lighter ones sound a little less impactful, but still damaging. Overall it’s very well done and I'd say that the whole sound package is pretty good.
Samurai Shodown's control scheme is simple. Those looking for uber specials and intricate combos maybe disappointed, but this does keep it in line with its simple heritage. The game consists of the traditional vertical and horizontal slashes with some special moves thrown in. To execute the special moves you simply tap the triggers and/or bumpers, and on the Xbox 360 controller it is not too difficult. There is also a special button, which consists of charging up and letting mayhem fly. Again it’s not very difficult to do; in fact you may get bored with its ease of use. The Xbox 360 controller is usually too big and bulky for most fighting games. I have found on more than one occasion how slow it can be to react with it. For Samurai Shodown this comes into play here and there, but overall the controller does an adequate job. I wish MS would put out a decent and affordable fighting stick controller, as I think some games are punished with a lower score in the control factor than they should due to this reason.
The game's core experience feels more like a button masher and less strategically inclined, which for some is a good thing. Others may like a challenge though; complexity is an important key for a fighting game to some in order to keep their attention. For Samurai Shodown, you will find that if you button mash you can compete with just about anyone out there. This is readily apparent when playing against another player as skill rarely plays a part in the matches. If you happen to land one of the overpowered specials you will see how to really take advantage of your opponent quickly. I was able to cycle into a pattern which took out anyone with 3 specials, so yes we are back to simplicity. Fun at first, but when it gets done to you over and over it becomes tiresome and boring.
Some of the power moves, when successfully landed, also stun your character momentarily. Any savvy online player will take the cue and wind up another attack, which will usually finish you. If you can see this coming however, you may be able to get out of the way in time, but the fact that these are one button moves on the controller make some matches more frustrating than they should be.
The game comes packed with all of your standard modes such as story mode, training mode, versus mode, and online mode. The single player game consists of the archetypal series of opponents with some bewildering cut scenes and eccentric dialogue in between them. My biggest complaint here is the huge loading times between matches. There are literally several screens showcasing various items that all take way too long to load. You can have upwards of 30 seconds of downtime between matches. This can kill the competitive nature of the game as you tend to cool off between rounds. I also found this to be true after installing the game to my hard drive; the loading times were entirely unacceptable for a game that focuses so much on fast-paced action.
One other problem of note is the character with a shooting weapon. On easy or normal this character is not really a problem, but anything in the higher difficulty settings is next to impossible. He sits back and takes pot shots at you from a distance, slowly chewing away your health. You will find that you cannot seem to get near him and when you do you are almost out of health which allows him to finish you off quite easily. I actually threw my controller in disgust after many repeated killings on his part. This was a real brick wall as I played through the story trying to unlock more characters, and of course the achievements. So be forewarned that the AI on higher difficulties does not like to lose, and be prepared for frustration at its finest.
On a more different note, I really liked the games new gore factor. The series has never really delivered on the gore front until now. In Samurai Shodown you can literally chop off body parts at the end of matches much like the original Mortal Kombat games. Hands go flying and heads roll away leaving a blood trail. You can even slice opponents directly in two by delivering a strong vertical or horizontal blow in the final round if your opponent’s health is below a certain level. There is something satisfying about lobbing off limbs to conclude the match, and will certainly have fans of blood and gore grinning with delight, which I have to admit I did.
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