Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: January 17, 2006
Buy 'SAMURAI SHODOWN V': Xbox
The Samurai Shodown series is probably the most famous fighting franchise SNK has, but that's not saying much. It's not as hard to find a Samurai Shodown cabinet or two strewn throughout the pizza parlors and surviving arcades in the Midwest; by comparison, Fatal Fury or King of Fighters cabinets are as rare as hen's teeth.
If you haven't played a Samurai Shodown game, you're missing out. It's one of the better 2D fighters to arrive in the wake of Street Fighter II's rise to popularity in the early '90s, and it's somehow managed to stick around throughout SNK's 96 bankruptcies and subsequent revivals.
As the name might suggest, it's a weapons-based 2D fighter set in 1786 Japan, during the era when Westerners were just barely beginning to filter into the country. Against this backdrop, for a variety of reasons, samurai, ninja, monks, kabuki artists, and just about anybody else with a weapon and a grudge are finding reasons to cut each other to pieces.
As a fighting game goes, this is a particularly high-risk one. As you might expect, getting smacked in the face with a katana kind of sucks, so many of the cast of a given Samurai Shodown game can cut you in half without really breaking a sweat. Rounds can be over very, very quickly, and that's part of the game's appeal.
Obviously, this is another port of a Neo-Geo MVS game, so its graphics consist of beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites. The gameplay's here if you want it, but there's barely a polygon to be seen. If you're one of those people who absolutely needs a game to be in 3D, this isn't your thing.
Samurai Shodown V mostly concerns itself with the events during the great famine of the Tenmei period. A renegade military commander has plunged an already chaotic nation into further turmoil, and against that backdrop, 24 warriors set out on journeys for reasons of their own.
Most of the cast from Samurai Shodown IV has returned for the fifth game, with the exceptions of Amakusa and Zankuro. They're joined by four brand-new characters, and six characters that are only sort of new. Those last six – which includes Yumeji and Sankuro, the formerly-unplayable midbosses from the arcade version – are the interesting part.
In Samurai Shodown III and IV, all characters entered the fray with two basic "modes," Slash and Bust. You got different moves and character colors depending on which mode you chose, and generally, Bust Mode was the dark and scary version of the character.
For the fifth game, all the returning characters have either been given a combination of their Slash and Bust moveslists, or their Bust moveslist has been made into a brand new character in its own right. For example, Rasetsumaru – who was a palette swap to begin with – is just Bust Haohmaru from SSIV.
Some characters have been vastly improved by the abolishment of the Slash/Bust system, like Charlotte, who's now a force to be reckoned with. (She's like the Terry Bogard of this game, in that she can just repeat special moves over and over again until she wins.) Other characters, like Ukyo Tachibana, have been pretty much boned, especially in the face of powerful newcomers like Mina (whose reliance on missile attacks can be difficult for newbie players to get used to) and Yoshitora.
While the character balance is a bit off, . The abusable 14-hit strings have been removed from the game, along with the life recovery and ABC auto-combos. In their place are some new tweaks, like the ability to dramatically slow down your opponent as a desperation move. You can also hit the Black button at any time to pull off a Rage Explosion, powering up your character at the expense of his super meter.
It's worthy of note that this game is not Samurai Shodown V Special, the arcade upgrade that was released last year, and as such, several of those new features are not present here. Gaoh isn't playable, the various gameplay tweaks in Special aren't present, and the vicious Zetsumei Ougi "fatalities" – which honestly have more in common with Guilty Gear's Instant Kills than anything else – aren't in this game. Hopefully, SNK won't try to pull off a 20-dollar re-release of SSV in a few months, a la Capcom... but the potential's there, unfortunately.
With 26 characters to play with, even if some of them are completely worthless, Samurai Shodown V is a quality 2D fighter from a developer that usually knows its way around a quality 2D fighter. The traditional SNK problems are present here, like character balance, and the hand-drawn art will probably put off polygon-addicted modern gamers. For people like me who grew up on this stuff, this is a solid installment in a quality series, and belongs in the library of every former arcade fanatic.