Samurai Shodown / Samurai Spirits (2019)

REVIEWIt is 1787, the 7th year of the Tenmei era. A newly appointed counsel to the Shogun, Matsudaira Sadanobu, has been chosen to usher in a new age of reform with the Kansei era. However, the land remains beset by fire, ruin, and famine, all while a sinister cloud darkens the air with a foreboding sense of dread.

A true reboot to one of the true OGs... Samurai Shodown is legendary.

ABOUTSNK announced a reboot of Samurai Shodown on September 10th, 2018. A long awaited "true 2D sequel" to one of SNK's most beloved franchises reunites the entire cast from the first game, reimagined in an all new 2.5D graphics engine (a series first) using Unreal engine. In addition the the original roster, newcomers like Darli Dagger, Yashamaru Kurama, Wu-Ruixiang join the fray, alongside returning fan-favorites: Shiki, Basara, Shizumaru, Mina, and Iroha. After a decade-long absence, the long-awaited "modern reboot" of Samurai Spirits (or Samurai Shodown as we know it in the West) revives the series, putting it back into the spotlight and onto modern consoles.

Classic match-ups reimagined in the new 2.5D graphics engine.


The initial launch roster included 16 characters: 13 veterans and 3 newcomers. New characters have been added via DLC character packs. SNK surprised fans with an attractive "100% free" Season Pass 1, which added returning characters: Rimururu, Basara Kubigiri, Kazuki Kazama & Wan-Fu. Season 2 features Mina Majikina, Sogetsu, Iroha, and one other (unannounced) fighter. SNK stated early on that if the game sells well and has continued support by players, they will continue to release additional DLC characters, stages, and seasons.

Samurai Shodown (2019) modes include: Battle, Online, Story, Practice, Database, Gallery & Dojo (featuring a new Ghost AI system). The Ghost AI system is said to learn from each player's in-game habits, combos, and strategies. Other players can download and fight against the ghosts of their friends and online players. All characters have a full story mode playthrough featuring several cutscenes and beautifully hand-drawn / animated endings!

For a fighting game release in 2019, Samurai Shodown feels like a fairly decent package, but is also bare bones in some ways. None of the modes listed above have particularly deep replay-value, and while playable, the netcode isn't great. SamSho 2019 would definitely benefit from more online features and better customization options, also. The "retro 3D" models are cute and nostalgic for those of us who acknowledge SS64's existence, but you can do better than 4 colors per character, SNK. Also, what's a Color Edit?

Like the old time...


Samurai Shodown (2019)
introduces a brand new style of 3D graphics for SNK, using Unreal Engine 4. Visually, the characters and backgrounds retain the classic look and feel of the original 2D installments of the series. The "pace" and flow of the gameplay also looks and feels very familiar to the first 2 games of the series... with slowed-down attacks (after impact), exaggerated special move animations, large characters who fill the screen, and colorful, detailed backgrounds. Interestingly, Haohmaru's in-game face render even favors early Shinkiro artwork - definitely a throwback for old school SNK fans.  In terms of how characters play, most characters also "feel" a lot like many of their previous incarnations - which is always an important element when bringing back a classic 2D fighting game.

In my opinion, SamSho 2019's visuals are impressive in most areas, but also have some jagged, not-so-great aspects about them. First, the good: Special move effects and cinematic super moves are fantastic for the most part. There is literally "artwork" behind some of the characters' special moves, like those from Genjuro and Yoshitora. Visually innovative stuff! The reimagined stage environments all have the nostalgic feel of past games, with cool little background details to appreciate. Again, some textures and background creatures / characters are rough around the edges, but forgivable.

My main "issue" with SamSho 2019's graphics would have to be the character models, and more specifically, character proportions. Like Street Fighter IV in 2009, SNK tried to keep the "classic" proportions of characters intact in this new version. While at a glance, the bold and bulky characters, though 3D, do resemble their 2D sprite counterparts and are easily recognizable. However, in general, characters seem too bulky in certain areas and have short legs and/or small torsos... making them appear "stubby". Alas, a few of my favorite characters from the series do not look as cool as I'd hoped, and now have a weird cartoony aura about them (again, similar to SF4).

Updated environments based on the classic stages look sharp as ever!


Furthermore, and I hate to say this, but the "heart" and "aura" - (be it comical, cool, or badass) - feels somewhat "lost" in the SS2019 versions of my favorite characters. Neither the voice actors or the stubby character models (which lack modern details) are doin' it for me, artistically or aesthetically. The way characters fall and hit the ground isn't doin' it for me either. That's a big one. In my opinion, Tam Tam's soul is gone... for example. His new voice actor and character "sprite" is so uncharismatic and boring compared to the way Tam Tam sounded and looked in SS4, for example. I could repeat the last sentence and replace Tam Tam's name with quite a few characters. The 2D character sprites and old voice actors really outshine the new ones, in many (most?) cases. (You'd be hard pressed to make a case against that.)

In the visuals department, SNK still seems to have "upped their game" since 2016's style of 3D in The King of Fighters XIV, showing more impressive 3D graphics and animation capabilities. The 3D characters onscreen appear to utilize a variety of "filters" or graphical effects, with strong black outlines, unique textures and shaders, and blood-spatter effects. The overall animation, Ink-blot effects, particle-effects do give off a similar vibe to 2009's "Street Fighter 4"... but the vibrancy of SamSho's great character designs and the subtle attention to detail on clothing, stages, outfits, and special moves (and moves) sets the game apart from other 2.5D fighters.

In terms of presentation, Samurai Shodown really feels like a high-quality package in some areas. It might not have the 2-hour Story Modes, but the soundtrack, endings, and cutscenes are all pretty cool and definitely a "step up" from all past iterations. Samurai Shodown (2019) might not be the best installment on paper (or even top 3), but at least it succeeds in some areas: a solid, enjoyable soundtrack, extras & unexpected cool visuals to appreciate. An interesting question I decided to ask myself: "Would this game look good at an arcade with a proper arcade cabinet in 2020." My answer is yes. I might not ever see one in real life, but I'm glad such a thing exists. (Thanks Japan.) In that way, 2019's Samurai Shodown looks like an arcade-style fighting game that I would deem "on par" in a 2020 arcade, one with a respectible amount of fighting games, that is. Some arcades of this generation may never recover from the COVID-19 outbreak, but Samurai Shodown (2019) arcade cabinets, in this world, are still a thing. And I think that's pretty cool.

Everyone's favorite American ninja is back! Galford, not you... EARTHQUAKE!


Online Mode seems to have average-at-best, but playable netcode on PlayStation 4. I've never played the Xbox One version (and Google Stadia is unplayable so we don't have to talk about that failure of a system). Samurai Shodown's online interface and features could definitely use more polish and features, but Practice Mode and the staple options to "master" your character(s) are there. Other modes like Dojo, Survival, and Ghost seem decent (although, the Ghost AI system seems broken and not functioning quite as originally advertised).

Page Updated: October 28th, 2020
Developer(s): SNK
Publisher(s): SNK
Designer(s): Nobuyuki Kuroki        Director / Art Director
Artwork By: Yumi Saji        Story / Endings Art
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Arcade, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, PC, Xbox Series X/S
Release Date(s): June 25th, 2019              /   PS4, XB1
June 27th, 2019
                PS4, XB1
Oct. 24th, 2019                 Arcade
Nov. 19th, 2019              Google Stadia
Dec. 12th, 2019
Feb. 25th, 2020               /   Switch
Spring 2020                       PC (Steam)
Characters Haohmaru, Galford, Hanzo Hattori, Earthquake, Nakoruru, Jubei Yagyu, Genjuro Kibagami, Charlotte Colde, Kyoshiro Senryo, Shiki, Ukyo Tachibana, Tam Tam, Yoshitora Tokugawa, Darli Dagger, Wu-Ruixiang, Yashamaru Kurama, Shizuka, Rimururu, Basara Kubigiri, Kazuki, Wan-Fu, Shizumaru, Mina Majikina, Sogetsu, Iroha, Warden, Gongsun Li

Featured Video:

Related Games: Samurai Shodown, Samurai Shodown 2, Samurai Shodown 3, Samurai Shodown 4, Samurai Shodown 5, SS5 Special, Samurai Shodown 6, Samurai Shodown 64, Samurai Shodown 64 - Warriors Rage, Samurai Shodown Pocket, SS2 Pocket, Samurai Shodown Warrior's Rage, Samurai Shodown Sen, Samurai Shodown Anthology, Street Fighter 4, Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition, The King of Fighters XIV, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, The Last Blade, The Last Blade 2, The Last Blade: Beyond The Destiny, Soul Calibur 6, Granblue Fantasy Versus, Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late[c-lr]

Gameplay Engine  7.5 / 10
Story / Theme  7.0 / 10
Overall Graphics  6.5 / 10
Animation  7.0 / 10
Music / Sound Effects  9.0 / 10
Innovation  6.0 / 10
Art Direction  8.0 / 10
Customization  4.0 / 10
Options / Extras  6.5 / 10
Intro / Presentation  7.5 / 10
Replayability / Fun  6.5 / 10
"Ouch" Factor  5.5 / 10
Characters  8.5 / 10


 7.5 / 10

 Review based on PS4 version  


Final Words:

As a Samurai Shodown fan since 1993... I was ecstatic about the announcement of a modern 2.5D title, yet skeptical about the new 3D graphics direction. (We all know we've been in this situation many times before, with a beloved 2D sprite-based game going fully 3D.) Overlooking some visual imperfections, SamSho 2019 still looks and feels like Samurai Shodown at heart, and that's a good thing. As a "reboot" of more than one of the most beloved SNK fighting games of all time, SamSho 2019 has massive Ninja Tabi Boots to fill. {{Earthquake size}}.

A modern, expandable engine & roster with potential to improve via DLC? Hell yeah, I'm rooting for you SNK! (And I will buy your DLC.) Next question. Is this Samurai Shodown at its best? Hard NO. It definitely isn't as pretty as Samurai Shodown 2 (in fairness, there's no fighting game in existence as pretty as SS2), and with very comparable (and simplified) gameplay mechanics to the old games, I find myself strongly preferring more than one of the 2D sprite-based classics (and for more than one reason).

Samurai Shodown
is one of the unsung heroes of the rise of the fighting genre in the 90's. Most old school players from the arcade days have fond memories of this series. Samurai Shodown was always an underrated, yet majorly influential part of the genre's evolution, both artistically and technically. Seeing the series finally return to the spotlight in 2019 is another indication that we live in the best time period ever to be a fighting game player (whether you're taking full advantage of it or not). Old school and new school players, welcome back to Japan... it's time to get reacquainted with the Samurai Spirits.

While the series had a strong start in the 90's (with at least 3 amazing sequels), it struggled to stay relevant into the 2000s, with lackluster 2D and 3D iterations. It's been 10+ years since the last true sequel, Sen, which was disappointingly a mess in terms of gameplay, visuals, and other reasons I'd like to forget. That said, no other 2D fighting game series is more deserving of a true reboot right now as much as Samurai Shodown. (No, not even our beloved Garou: Mark of the Wolves. That game is perfectly fine staying 100% 2D.)

It's been a decade since the "rejuvenation of 2D fighters" with 2009's runaway hit, Street Fighter 4. Interestingly, Samurai Shodown never experienced a true 2.5D makeover in the modern era of consoles. Bout damn time! While the visuals might seem "dated" in some areas and not nearly as flawless or charismatic as the original 2D spritework, SNK fans can still find much to love about the 2019 installment. Sadly, the PS4 version on a 1080p monitor looks like a early PS3 game; but the PS4 Pro version on a 4K TV is razor sharp and gets a nice visual bump! Even so, if you told me this game was actually made in 2008-2009... I'd believe you. While some character proportions, animations, and the overall graphics style has its quirky moments, this 2019 makeover does retain the nostalgic feel and character of the series.

Even though I'm having fun with the game... from a technical standpoint, SS2019 hasn't "evolved" the forward direction of the first 4 installments. Even though the strong emphasis on neutral game is still there, I could go back to SS2 or SS4 and have the same exact (and arguably more dynamic) matches and match-ups. What happened to taunt cancels? Multi-hit C+D combos? Destructible environments (which actually added gameplay depth in SS2)? Bust / Slash character variations? Those are things I severely miss in this new version.

The series always revolved around strong 2D fundamentals and neutral game. The SamSho2010's combo system is particularly minimal (like SS2), so it's all about single powerful strikes, smart movement and well-timed trickery. It's fun... but it still shows its age in the era of more technical fighting games. I hope SNK decides to refine / develop the combo system further by giving characters more options & freedom... because currently, the constrictive combo system hinders the game's fun (and longevity), in my opinion. Faster, more mix-up heavy, combo-heavy characters like Iroha make the game more fun, but most characters have more limited movesets, IMO. In other words, the same "3-hit combos" 2 years from now might feel old.

"Whatever bro, I just like to push buttons and play neutral game all day." Cool... but I got that out of my system in like '94-'95. I personally enjoy the technical aspect fighting games, with life or death relying on just frames, hidden cancels, and unorthodox combos (all possible in the earlier games).   I like to see evolution - even out of a classic reboot. For example, in 1996, SS4 reinvented / evolved the traditional gameplay formula by adding a variety of new maneuvers, attack angles, and longer, deadlier combos. Alas, Samurai Shodown 2019 is a step backwards technically (and some 2D purists would say visually, as well).

For better or worse, Samurai Shodown (2019) has a low skill-ceiling. Players who aren't patient enough to le
arn combos in more technical fighters will probably claim to love this game. (But will they actually play this game long-term?) If you catch my drift, there are many long-term benefits for a fighting game that has a deeper combo engine - making those games fun and rewarding to play for years. I don't think I should be able to master a character's full combo potential in under 30 minutes. While the mechanics are easy-peasy, the higher skill-level elements of the game are all about reads, calculated decisions, and risk-taking... like the old games. And all of that, can still be fun. (It just looked better in the old games.) Fair enough.

What do I like most about the new SamSho? For one, SNK put impressive polish into Story Mode... with beautifully hand-drawn character endings & cool cutscenes. (More would be nice.) The boss battle with Shizuka was really well done, and it seems like SNK intends to add more boss battles to the game (which would be sick!) In closing, this installment was a respectable package at launch and Season 1 & 2 content added some great characters and new stages to the game! The roster is solid. The fact that SNK announced a Season 2 before Season 1 was even finished is definitely unorthodox, but also a pretty good sign of things to come. 
~TFG Webmaster

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