It feels like 1995 all over again, and I am not saying this in a negative sense. In the glory days of arcade gaming hardcore gaming freaks, myself included, would gather around the glorious cabinet and toss our quarters on the machine calling “next” in anticipation of playing the reigning champion. While you young whipper-snappers of today’s “so-called” gaming culture are used to simply logging on to play against your rivals, back in the day it was the experience and smell of nerd sweat that brought us out into the sunlight. The best part about this time was that games were judged on their game play and not whether the main character had bump mapping and ran at 60 frames per second. You may have even read about some of the ancient games in your older brothers back issues of Ultra Game Players (oh yeah I went there!), the likes of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and a plethora of other fighting games ruled the arcades and we lined up in droves just to get our hands on them.
One of the lesser known players was SNK, a company that is best known for its rivalry with Capcom in the glory days of Street Fighter. While you may have heard of some of their titles, King of Fighters, Metal Slug, or even Fatal Fury, you more than likely have never been graced with playing one of their better titles Samurai Showdown. Think of it as a 2D version of Soul Calibur where every combatant dons a specific weapon mixed with a touch of Street Fighter with the inclusion of super moves and precision button combos. There hasn’t been a domestic release of this series in quite a few years so you can imagine the excitement of all 500 SNK fans when we found out it was coming to Xbox, complete with Live support and the ability to hold tournaments online. Now after numerous delays and even the introduction of a new console it has finally arrived, the question is was it worth the wait?
For those unfamiliar with the classics Samurai Showdown will not impress you visually, the graphics certainly haven’t aged well and playing them on a high-def TV really shows how bad 2D can look when shown at maximum resolution. The characters all still animate extremely well, but it does make you wish that SNK had opted to upgrade the engine to the glory that is Guilty Gear and its 64-bit sprite technology. The background are also lush and vibrant sporting some of the most vivid locales yet to be seen in a 2D brawler, unfortunately there aren’t as many stages to wage battle upon so you will see many repeating vistas as you continue to play.
The above paragraph will mean absolutely nothing to the people who have been waiting on this title as long as I have, we have known what to expect from this game. What is disappointing though is that SNK opted to not include the updated version of SSV that was released in arcades last year. The happily titled Samurai Showdown V Special included the addition of the vicious Zetsumei Ougi “fatalities” – which are very similar to Guilty Gear’s insta-kills and of course a playable version of Gaoh. While these improvements are missed they do not hinder the game much because most of us on this side of the ocean have never even experienced them.
If you played the previous SS installment part five doesn’t stray far from the formula. Unlike the previous games each character is now a combination of the previous “Bust” or “Slash” versions found in parts III and IV. This can pose a problem for veterans because the balance is now way off. For instance some of the more useless characters can now be exploited against some of the more staple characters. You can still disarm your opponent and force them to fight without their weapons and even tap the black button when your meter is full to enter Rage Mode, this powers up your character at the expense of your super meter.
The biggest addition to this version however is online play. You can now head onto Xbox Live and compete with your friends from the comfort of your couch. Thankfully the online play is smooth with very few hints of lag. You can also arrange tournaments with your friends and keep track of your winnings via the built in leader boards. Sadly as of press time there were only 400 registered players on Xbox Live, that means finding a match will prove a challenge at certain times of the day. I guess the market for great online 2D fighters simply cannot compete with the likes of Tom Clancy and our favorite Master Chief.
While this game may not be your cup of tea it is nice to see developers releasing some of these hidden gems in the US. Even if the translation and menus are busted “Are you sure to quit?” and the game seems archaic by today’s standards there is still plenty of fun to be had. I wouldn’t recommend this title to anyone that despises the genre, this game certainly won’t change your mind, but if you are a fan of all things 2D you owe it to yourself to pick up one of the best that SNK has to offer.