The Samurai Showdown series has travelled a rocky road. The 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. Samurai Showdown: Sen marks the first entry in 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 Showdown and that is really the main hook for Xseed’s latest release.
For a game that features some of the most deadly weapons in existence, the series has never really delivered on the gore front until now. In Sen you can literally chop off body parts at the end of matches in the same vein as the original Mortal Kombat games. Hands go flying, heads begin rolling and you can even slice people directly in two by delivering a strong vertical or horizontal slash 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.
While the gore is certain to appease some fans, others will likely be upset with the direction as the gameplay has definitely been dumbed-down to compensate for a more casual appeal. The controls are simple consisting of the traditional vertical and horizontal slashes with some of the special moves being executed by simply tapping the triggers and bumpers. There is also a special button, but the core experience really feels more like a button masher and less strategically inclined. This is readily apparent when playing against another player as skill rarely plays a part in the matches. This is due in a large part to the overpowered special attacks that can literally deplete half of your health bar.
These power moves when landed also stun your character and give your opponent another chance to plan their next move. Thankfully they take a few seconds to wind up so if you see it coming you do have a chance to get out of the way, but the fact that these are one button moves on the controller make some matches more frustrating than they should be.
All of your standard modes are here including the story mode, training, versus and online. 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 right off the bat was the 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. Even after installing the game to the hard drive the loading times were entirely unacceptable for a game that focuses so much on fast-paced action.
The other main problem I ran into was the difficulty of the story mode. While on normal the game was a nice challenge for most matches until you hit the guy with a gun. Yes as you can imagine a melee combat game that relies on close-combat weapons and it introduces a guy with a gun. As he sits back and takes pot shots at you from a distance, and don’t get me started on his constant juggling until your health is so low a comeback is impossible. This was a brick wall as I played through the story. Of course the only real reason to finish story mode is to earn the Achievements associated with beating it with each character, or to unlock the hidden characters, but it is still quite annoying. When you bump up the difficulty prepare to be in for a world of frustration as the AI is not intended to lose at all on Expert.
The inclusion of online really helps the game’s cause as versus is where this game shines. The balance may be off and moves overpowered, but I had the most fun while taking on people across the globe. Be warned that the Japanese players have had the game a bit longer than we have, and to be honest, they play quite a bit. I literally lost every match I played during the review process as the game had not hit US shelves yet, and my only opponents were the ones who really have mastered the intricacies of combat. Another annoyance is that it can be hard to get into a game simply because of the lack of players. Now that the US release has come hopefully the community will grow a bit, but as of this writing it was not uncommon to wait in the lobby for several minutes before getting into a match.
Visually Samurai Showdown: Sen is not a terrible looking game, but it definitely has some hints of archaic style about it. Facial animations look ridiculous in some cases and the environments can feel a bit bland at times, but it does have style. I liked the presentation of the game even if the translation was horrible. So horrible in fact that the wording of the Achievements still makes me laugh. A perfect example is the Achievement for playing an online match: “To have Xbox LIVE fighting for once”. The music feels ripped right out of the past games and the voice acting is only available in Japanese so purists should be thrilled. Of course I cannot imagine how bad the English voice over would have been.
Samurai Showdown: Sen is not a terrible game by any means. In fact I loved the kick-back to old-school design and simplistic gameplay. The gore will certainly be a bright spot for fans of games like Mortal Kombat and the laundry list of selectable combatants goes a long way for fans of the genre. Still it is hard not to feel the cheap and dirty motif of the game from top to bottom. There is a severe lack of polish here and it shows. Still if you love fighting games and have been a fan of the series I recommend giving it a rent to see if it grows on you.
Review copy provided by publisher.