Samurai Shodown Sen
Samurai Showdown Sen could easily be mistaken for a poorly made Nintendo 64 title
- Large character roster, hilariously cliche violence
- Clunky combat, unpolished graphics, unbalanced fighters, weak story mode, uneven online matchmaking
It's sad to see what's become of the Samurai Shodown franchise over the years. Back in the day, this was a fighting game that you could mention alongside the likes of Street Fighter and King of Fighters. It had rich, beautiful artwork complimented by an anime-inspired style, and it had exciting weapons-based combat, which was huge for a 2D-fighting series. But ever since SNK moved the franchise to 3D, the quality has degraded to the point where you're left wondering the series is still around. Samurai Shodown Sen, the newest addition in the lineup, is further proof that some franchise should retire gracefully rather than hang on long after they've worn out their welcome.
I first encountered Samurai Showdown Sen at last year's E3, when the game was still in the hands of Ignition Entertainment (they were also there showing off SNK's The King of Fighters XII and Vanillaware's Muramasa). Although my time with this upcoming game was brief, I walked away surprised by the clunky combat and horribly unpolished graphics; I didn't completely write it off, however, because it carried the Samurai Shodown brand. I chalked up my poor experience to the vagaries of the E3 showfloor and an unimpressive demo that had most likely been rushed for the conference. Perhaps the final product would look and play vastly different once the game hit store shelves, I thought.
Less than a year later, I'm looking at a final product that shows absolutely no improvement over the lackluster E3 demo. Honestly, I never thought I'd say this but Samurai Showdown Sen is the worst fighting game I've played since Castlevania Judgment. In fact, it's actually worse than Samurai Shodown: Warriors Rage, and that was considered to be the worst game in the series yet.
Samurai Showdown Sen could easily be mistaken for a poorly made Nintendo 64 title. All of the fighters look terrible, built from overly blocky polygons with washed out colors. Moreover, the static backgrounds are cramped and unappealing, with sparse artwork that just appears thrown together. None of this does anything to benefit the story mode, which is little more than varying pages of scrolling text at the beginning and end of several repetitive fights. If you've beaten the game with one character, you've essentially seen everything Samurai Showdown Sen has to offer.
What makes it even worse is that the game's combat is so poor. While it's obvious that the developers were trying to emulate SoulCalibur, the result feels unoriginal and incomplete. The animation isn't fluid, making the already stiff fighting mechanics feel even more static and unresponsive. While playing the game, I'd often try to execute combos and special moves, but I'd have no indication of my success due to the lack of a combo counter. Even that basic element isn't present in the Training Mode, which sports very few tools to help you master any of the characters.
Speaking of which, Samurai Showdown Sen at least manages to bring a huge number of classic and new characters to the mix, all with slightly varying styles of combat. But while the game tries to establish benefits and drawbacks to each fighter, the reality is that the entire roster lacks balance. Characters like Haohmaru, Galford, and Ukyo are essentially useless compared to certain lighting fast and over-powered newcomers, such as Angelica and Killian, making most victories a simple matter of choosing a superior fighter and button mashing your way to victory.
At the very least, the online combat provides some fun, provided you can find another player. After three days on Xbox Live, I found a few gamers online in ranked matches, and for 30 minutes in each instance, I'd wind up playing the same person for multiple sessions despite actively looking for new players. Online play for the most part has been completely lag free, which was a plus, but I oddly went from fighting people with 10-match records to 150-match players after only a few fights. Not that it mattered: there's little difference between fighting an experienced player or a novice, since spamming buttons and timing blocks doesn't require much strategy here.
Of SNK's two oldest franchises, it's clear that Samurai Showdown can't keep up with King of Fighters XII -- or any other fighting series, for that matter. It's no surprise to me that Ignition Entertainment jumped clear of this train wreck while they still could. Unless you're one of the most hardcore fans of this series, stay as far away from this game as you can. Despite the improved character roster and so-bad-it's-funny decapitations, Samurai Showdown Sen has very little to offer you except easy Achievement Points.
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