Samurai Shodown Sen Review
Samurai Shodown Sen box art
System: X360 (XBLA) Review Rating Legend
Dev: SNK Playmore 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Xseed Games 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: March 30, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-2 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Hari-Kiri
by Leon Hendrix III

SNK has made some good fighters. I think that could be what makes this all such a shock. What I mean is, I've played games I did not like before, but I rarely play games that come from such venerated publishers that suck so much. At one point, SNK was among the pioneers that laid the foundation for the modern fighting genre. Today, with the shallow, hollow laugh in the face of all things fighter, SNK just dimmed the world of gaming a bit more. There's nothing especially disturbing about Samurai Shodown Sen, and maybe it is unfair to judge the game based on SNK's prior work, but Showdown's gameplay just doesn't take too many positive steps. To put it frankly, I enjoyed Showdown's Super NES counterpart much more than 'Sen'.

Samurai Shodown Sen screenshot

Fighter's are definitely among the trickiest genre's to pull off. I'm not drawing on sales figures here, but I think it's a safe bet that most gamers aren't holding their breath for the next Mortal Kombat (as awesome a franchise as it is). As gamers move closer to interactivity, social gaming has taken off in a big way. Gaming is becoming a group sport and, in fighters, two's company, three's a crowd. They can be a bit of a member's only affair. The genre that popularized the 'Vs. Mode' caters to fans with such rabid devotion that competitive entry into the social world of top tier fighters can be disturbingly difficult. Remember the days when Street Fighter was big and you had the one friend who was amazing with E. Honda? Do you recall watching round after round as you fell prey to the Thousand-Hand Slap? It's that indefinable and very frustrating quality that makes so many gamers identify themselves as casual fans of the genre. Samurai Shodown Sen has it in spades.

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Having very little in the way of originality-I suppose they had to replace it with something-SNK Games has managed to jam-pack as many fighter clichés as possible into 'Showdown Sen'. As a result, this game plays like a very standard fighter that has learned exactly zero lessons of the last decade or so. Excessive load times are made all the more irritating by transparent attempts to cover them with information on a half dozen screens before every fight. Characters and their abilities are often doppelgangers from more popular series, and annoying problems that have plagued the fighter genre for years are commonplace. The game's design seems to have been more cautionary than focused on any particular advancement of the genre or fun factor, which is a real shame. SNK seems to have been trying so hard not to make something terrible that they forgot to make something good.

Samurai Shodown Sen screenshot

This is probably the most un-evolved fighter I've seen in a while; simple things that are staples in other fighting genres are absent here. There are only a few main modes (Versus, Survival, and Story) and they are as basic as you can get. Showdown looks okay (until the blood starts flowing in very uninspired and Itchy and Scratchy-esque sprays) but backgrounds and character designs rely heavily on what we've seen before. Gameplay is equally tepid. Sidestepping, counters, and the like are non-extant, impossible for the average gamer to pull off, or simply matters of chance. Here's the million dollar question: why do I need to shell out my hard earned yen for a next-gen fighter that plays worse than some of its Nintendo 64 cousins? I still haven't found an answer, but I couldn't stop wondering as I mashed buttons and tried to stave off the ridicule of the reaper for a few moments more.

It's not that there's no strategy to this 'Showdown', there may actually be too much. This is one of those Tekken wannabe's that has a million moves on a skills list that sends gamers on wild goose chases attempting to differentiate moves titled 'Rising Thunder Fist Combo' from 'Wolf's Howl Three Piece with a Side of Slaw'. Most fights require you to determine (annoyingly, through trial and error) whether or not your opponent is aggressive, powerful but slow, etc. and time your attacks to take advantage. If you bother to read the ridiculously long skills list at all you'll notice that the commands are all but impossible to read and interpret, on anything but the largest screen available (a growing problem in games, I think). If you're like me, you'll resign yourself pretty quickly to a simple blocking plus B and A button strategy.

Samurai Shodown Sen screenshot

There are so many commands to master that you will very soon realize that unless you play with one character for your whole life there is a very distinct possibility that you will never escape a hollow button-mashing existence, and all your victories will amount to simply forearm-exhausting lucky breaks.

Screenshots / Images
Samurai Shodown Sen screenshot - click to enlarge Samurai Shodown Sen screenshot - click to enlarge Samurai Shodown Sen screenshot - click to enlarge Samurai Shodown Sen screenshot - click to enlarge

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