Aug 22 2009
If one were to compile a fighting game Hall of Fame then Samurai Shodown would be in the Top 10. Alongside Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, King of Fighters and Fatal Fury. That’s some prestigious company right there.
SNK spearheaded a new lease of life into video arcades with their cartridge-based arcade machines, meaning operators could change games easily and cheaply. As well as hardware, their internal development teams also created huge franchises such as Samurai Shodown, World Heroes, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and their longest-running – King of Fighters.
Samurai Spirits, known as Samurai Shodown in the West, is probably one of the best known games from SNK’s catalogue. It enjoyed enormous success both in the arcade and on SNK’s home system – NEO-GEO AES.
Huge sprites, a trademark of the NEO-GEO combined with the zooming that had proved so successful in Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting and would go on to feature in most of their other fighters.
Weapons were unusual in fighting games but featured heavily in Samurai Shodown also the introduction of familiars for many of the characters was a new addition, especially the attacking kind! Weapons would occasionally lock together requiring some serious button-bashing if you didn’t want to lose yours. Fatalities, later to seen to scandalous effect in Mortal Kombat were also present, though no special move was required to deliver a bloody geyser.
As usual with fighters, in later games the cast list gets a bit out of control but it was relatively sane in this initial offering. Set in the 18th Century and drawing on Japan’s history for characters including the famous 16th century Japanese ninja – Hattori Hanzo, also used by Tarantino as his Japanese master-sword-maker in the film Kill Bill.
Despite a myriad of styles and speeds, play-balance was excellent – counters, blocks and throws stopped any one character from dominating. The introduction of a ‘rage gauge’ which only increases when the characters take damage was also new, this allowed super-specials. The moves were largely based on Street Fighter II’s special move system, with many of the moves such as haduken and dragon punch remaining in the game, however SNK’s four rather than six button layout and the combination of weapons meant a different attacking style. A & B were light and heavy strokes and C & D light and heavy kicks. Kicks were used predominantly to throw one’s opponent off balance until weapon attacks or specials could be employed.
Samurai Shodown was ported to many systems with varying degrees of success. In particular the Genesis / Megadrive and the Super NES versions were disappointing, losing much of the showy graphical effects and making some heavy speed concessions.Sequels have been largely well-received though the popularity of the first has never been eclipsed. There are at least four Shodown sequels across multiple formats.