Developed by Yuki Enterprise, Code Mystics Published by SNK Corporation Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (also available on PlayStation 3 and Vita)
Samurai Shodown V Special is the latest Neo-Geo one-on-one fighting game release for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. Code Mystics and SNK Playmore’s versions of Garou: Mark of the Wolves and The Last Blade 2 contained plenty of features and provided an arcade accurate experience, and this game is no exception. Samurai Shodown V Special features fantastically designed weapon-based 2D combat that rewards careful spacing and resource management. Its original arcade version is also known for its gritty visuals, finishing moves, and visceral imagery. Players finally get to experience the game in its uncensored glory at home for the first time. Samurai Shodown V Special provides an excellent fighting game experience more than thirteen years after its original release, and being able to play it on current platforms is quite wonderful.
The Samurai Shodown series takes place in 18th century Japan, and it thematically revolves around battles between weapon practitioners and otherworldly supernatural threats. These characters include samurai, priestesses, ninja, element manipulators, and brawlers. The game’s eclectic roster leads to a considerable variety in play styles. Whereas the mainstay character Haohmaru holds his ground with powerful, slow slashes, nimble characters like Nakoruru and Yunfei confound opponents with agile screen-spanning actions. It can be quite entertaining exploring the extensive twenty-eight character roster, and the game always feels balanced despite its incredible variety.
Samurai Shodown V Special revolves around careful maneuvering and resource management, and it can take a bit of time to become accustomed to its mechanics. However, the game empowers players by providing plenty of ways to inflict damage on opponents and move around the playfield. The game mainly uses four buttons: Light Slash, Medium Slash, Kick, and Special. Combining buttons performs other actions: Light and Medium lead to a Heavy Slash, Medium and Kick lead to an overhead attack, Kick and Special plus left or right will grab the opponent, and Special and a direction leads to a roll, hop, or duck. The majority of the game’s special moves utilize traditional quarter circle and zig zag motions, so the characters’ unique moves and super moves are easy to grasp.
What sets Samurai Shodown V Special apart from other fighters is its Sword and Rage Gauges that affect the tide of battle. The Sword Gauge depletes with each attack and regenerates over time, and its length affects how much damage players can inflict. Consequently, recklessly attacking can temporarily reduce players’ damage potential. Taking damage fills the Rage Gauge, which leads to two major decisions. Players can meditate and drain this Rage Gauge to lengthen an end-of-match Concentration One mode, which slows down the opponent and can facilitate a major comeback. They can also let the Rage Gauge completely fill, which automatically activates Rage Mode. Rage Mode increases potential damage output and enables players to perform super moves. Players can even activate a Rage Explosion which will temporarily maximize damage output, but it will erase the Rage Gauge for the rest of the match. The game allows players to make major decisions that can turn the tides of battle in their favor, and this decision making process can lead to incredibly satisfying results.
The word Special refers to the fact that the game is a revision of the original Samurai Shodown V. Its changes are quite substantial, and they include a visual overhaul, game balancing tweaks, and even new moves. The character portraits notably feel edgier and more painterly than the original Samurai Shodown V’s colorful faces. Amakusa, Mizuki, and Zankuro – the extravagant bosses of Samurai Shodown 1, 2, and 3 – have also been added to the roster. Special also introduces Overkill finishing moves that can be activated in specific circumstances, and they eviscerate the opponent in violent fashion. These finishing moves are surprisingly shocking to watch even today.
This release has plenty of customization options that enable players to tweak graphical settings and controls to their liking. The game offers multiple scanline settings that simulate CRT monitor lines. One can disable these lines altogether as well. Since the game was originally released in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the game also offers different ways to fill the screen. It has a pixel perfect display mode as well as different zoom options, and it also provides excellent wallpapers for filling the screen’s side bars. Overall, this release marvelously showcases the original game’s gorgeous pixel art. It also has reconfigurable button settings, and the trigger buttons can be assigned to the aforementioned button combinations. An option to assign Kick plus Special to a button (for Super and Overkill Moves) and button combination descriptions may have been helpful, but the existing features allow for a more accessible experience.
Much like its previous takes on beloved Neo-Geo fighters, Code Mystics has provided a full set of features to keep players entertained. The new user interface is straightforward and basic, but it looks crisp and it suits the game’s Japanese-inspired visual motifs. The game contains Arcade, Versus, Training, Online, and Gallery Modes that encompass the fighting game genre’s typical offerings. Training Mode provides the original Neo-Geo version’s training options with plenty of adjustable parameters. This version also provides clearly written move lists for each character, and it satisfactorily describes the game’s meter mechanics within a separate Help section. Players can unlock gallery entries by clearing the game with each character, and the concept art spans some of the series’ history. The Online Mode is fairly basic and allows players to create and search for lobbies, but fortunately the game can search for a match while Arcade or Training Mode is running.
As the swan song of the Neo-Geo platform, Samurai Shodown V Special is a fascinating fighter to experience on current platforms. Its character design and pixel art still look astounding, and its fundamental-focused action can provide an interesting break from many of today’s flashier fighting games. The game rewards those who spend the time to learn its multifaceted mechanics, and it is fantastic being able to finally experience the game in its full uncensored glory.