With the Neo-Geo now long extinct, its unique catalog of games bears a special kind of nostalgia in the hearts of many gamers. The appeal of its titles has become multi-generational, with SNK re-releases popping up regularly including Fatal Fury: Battle Archives and the recent SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 compilation. Gamers old enough to remember the original releases as well as younger game fans seem to appreciate the reminiscent qualities of these re-releases when they work out, though they can sometimes feel flawed when transitioned onto newer consoles.
Those who have long been searching through bins and store shelves to complete their Samurai Shodown collection need to look no further. As a refresher, the long-running Samurai Shodown franchise got its humble beginnings on the Neo-Geo arcade and home console in 1993. With its success, many sequels and spin-offs spawned including the Samurai Spirits collection as new gaming platforms have come and gone, and 2005 saw the final sixth installment of the Shodown series on the Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii. Compiling all six games into one package, Samurai Shodown Anthology marks the 15 year anniversary since the series’ debut, which is most recognized for its characteristic, two-dimensional artwork and for becoming one of the first weapons-based fighting games in the early 1990’s.
Ensuring the appeal hasn’t been lost, SNK has done its best to keep each of the six installments in Anthology true to the originals with a couple of small extras to boot. The Anthology also includes an Arcade mode and Practice mode as well as photo galleries featuring all characters throughout the six-game series to browse through. Showcasing the beautiful art that makes this and other SNK titles so appealing, fans of the series will enjoy looking at the designs and variations of its characters.
Players begin by playing the original Samurai Shodown and progress their way through each installment of the series, progressively becoming more difficult. Fans of the old series will have no trouble adapting to the controls, especially if you have played any Samurai Shodown title on the Wii or PS2 before, with the basic strong slash, quick slash, and kick attack setup, grapple moves and the devastating, life-draining use of the power bar. Those who have played the game will find playing it on the Wii or PS2 an easy transition. Those new to the series may have more trouble adapting. The timing of the controls can be hard to grasp, and those unfamiliar with the characters and storylines of the original series may not understand the appeal or enjoy a game well over a decade old.
The first installment of Samurai Showdown is as you would expect, with all the original characters from the classic debut including the now-iconic protagonist Haohmaru, the green demon Ge-An, and the beloved flatulent Earthquake. The second game of the series stays true to the original with all characters including Nicotine Caffeine from the original SSII, and the use of the power meter now used to finish off opponents to end the match.
The third Samurai Shodown is a completely redesigned, with darker-looking environments and characters, removing Haohmaru from the cast and adding several new ones including Shizumaru Hisame as the story’s protagonist. Gameplay also changes in SSIII, and it’s not a simple game by any means. Players must choose either a Slash or Burst version of each character, the former being closest to their original fighting style, and attack buttons are changed to three slashes (Weak, Medium, and Strong), and one kick attack. With the difficulty presented in SSIII, players are also given the option to adjust the setting to Beginner, Medium, and Upper before starting the game.
Samurai Shodown IV reverts back to the brighter and more cartoonish look of the original two, now featuring all characters from SSIII with the addition of ninja brothers Kazma Kazuki and Kazma Sogetsu. It also features several changes in gameplay with more intricate combos, elaborate finishers, and the infamous suicide move to take one’s own life in order to start with a full power bar in the next round. Unfortunately, Showdown IV is also where players may begin to notice slowdown in framerate and lag in movements, skewing the precise timing and rhythm critically needed to be successful.
Samurai Shodown V serves as a prequel to the original title in the series, with the addition of new characters and more changes in gameplay. The Slash and Burst system is gone, and players are given a more extensive defensive system that allows them to dodge attacks much quicker. Unfortunately, as the Samurai Shodown Anthology gets progressively faster, slowdown issues on this re-release seem to occur more frequently, making winning frustratingly difficult and time-consuming. The sixth and final Showdown features a total of 41 characters with an incredible catalog that spans the entire series plus new ones including Andrew, Iroha, Sugoroku Matsuribayashi, and Karakuri Ocha-Maro. With an incredible list of characters on this final Shodown title and noticeably improved graphics over its predecessors, SSVI is among the most enjoyable installments of the entire series.
What Anthology does well is present how the game progresses throughout the years. The alterations of character designs and game mechanics are all here, for better or for worse, as they appeared in the original releases. The game’s classic Kung-Fu soundtrack is actually one of the most appealing factors, if not stressfully repetitive when playing for hours on end. Visually, the signature two-dimensional graphics and use of camera-zooming while in the midst of a battle are a testament to the times each game was created, though it can also be straining on the eyes with time. It is unfortunate that the game suffers from obvious slowdown, especially with such dated-looking graphics, throwing rhythm off balance and interfering with the timing so desperately needed to win. Even though it’s old, the Samurai Shodown series is not for the inexperienced gamer.
When updating interfaces and control schemes to work on newer consoles, the appeal of re-releases such as this can sometimes become lost in translation, as games often just don’t run smoothly or become tacked-on with useless extras. While issues with framerate occur, it’s not common enough to ruin the experience of playing through this historic and sometimes unnecessarily overlooked game series. Those who have been longing to complete their Samurai Shodown collection and its cast of legendary characters should pick this one up.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
Visually, the series’ unique 2D design is one of the most appealing factors of this package. It’s unfortunate that slowdown issues occur at all. 3.3 Control
Controls are transitioned nicely, though issues with slowdown throw off timing and accuracy. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Vintage sound effects are a testament to the times, and the Japanese dialogue stays true to its roots, though the nostalgic soundtrack gets somewhat repetitive with time. 3.7 Play Value
Samurai Shodown Anthology offers hours of play action for fans of the series with a low price tag. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.