Firstly: yes. There is an exclamation point after Shodown and you will see it a lot in this review. And no. We’re not talking Samurai Shodown! 2 on the Neo Geo. That game is an absolute classic of almost ungodly proportions. This is instead the Neo Geo Pocket Color version – if you couldn’t tell by the title screen above because that level of quality wouldn’t fly on any other system FYI. Now, let’s be clear here and say that even though Fatal Fury First Contact was a bit of an anomaly in this system’s plethora of fighting games, Samurai Shodown manages to create the stools by which the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s fighters sat upon.
On one stool, you have the lovingly detailed and story-driven circumstances of Samurai Shodown games of the past. This game quite clearly sits on this stool and is joined by a few others (The Last Blade and SVC: Match of the Millennium for example). On the other stool, you have the slow-paced, slightly ropey fighting mechanics that this game also, sadly, portrays (joined quite unceremoniously by Fatal Fury First Contact).
It made a few more stools of its own of course but… er… I think I ran this analogy into the ground somewhat.
To be clear on whatever it was I was trying to explain before, Samurai Shodown! 2 is a halfway decent enough game. There is plenty to be liked here and it is a game that tries to do something slightly different. It is also INCREDIBLY faithful to the whole series of games.
However… it is actually incredibly dull.
And for that, it cannot truly be forgiven. I mean… Samurai games being dull? You cannot ever get away with that shit. And this series should know that more than most. It’s six deep in the main franchise (seven if you’re willing to include SEN… eight if you’re even more willing to accept 64…) and after the third game… it’s sorta gone vastly downhill. After going off at a massive tangent somewhere in game five, the series has died a death and the attempted 3D debacle of SEN just compounded the misery even further. Don’t get me wrong, there were elements of SEN that were absolutely gorgeous but the fighting engine and lack of finesse were inexcusably bad. Laughable even. It was a sad end to a once-great franchise. It ought to come back though. Just better.
Constructive criticism for the win. Apparently.
In terms of story, essentially, Samurai Shodown! 2 is the same as the godawful SamSho 64 game. A dark power has risen to try and take over the land to turn it into a utopia in their own design. Yuga, the antagonist, needs sacrifices and controls puppets to fulfil the task. The more bodies pile up, the more powerful the utopia will become. But of course, quite a few people don’t like this idea of having the land destroyed by some evil presence and decide to fight against it. Asura/Asra in particularly, the game’s SORT OF protagonist only not, is out for revenge on Yuga for trapping him in the Netherworld. Rightfully pissed, he goes out to defeat the bastard. Because of course you would.
Alongside Asura/Asra, the game also introduces Shiki to a 2D game before she appeared in SVC Chaos or Neo Geo Battle Collisseum, albeit in teeny chibi form. Shiki is, in my opinion, a desperately underused character in the series. She appears in this game, the woeful 64 game and the aforementioned spin-offs. Nothing more. She is CRIMINALLY overlooked as a character. There’s so much drama and pain to her that she needs more attention and fleshing out as a character. LE SIGH.
We also get Taizan, the evil-sealing, paintbrush-wielding, glasses-wearing fighter also introduced in BLAHBLAH 64. Again… underused and unappreciated, Taizan is one of those characters that could easily have been brought into the rest of the universe, potentially with an evil, dark side ready to burst out, given that he’s got such a tragic backstory (family killed, formerly-retired man now seeks venegance, has to stop self from becoming demon, etc, etc… you know, the usual).
QUIBBLES ASIDE, both characters slide into 2D action very easily and work in the context of the story. The trouble is that… everyone else is just sort of… there. There’s no real reason for anyone else being there. They realistically have very little effect on the outcome of the story other than being the one who stops Yuga. Their lives are not as affected. Hoahmaru I suppose does have something at the end of his story – he finds a child and raises it as his own – AND THAT CAN ONLY GO WELL OF COURSE WHAT ARE YOU SUGGESTING? Seriously? Haohmaru with a kid? Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure. Wouldn’t be surprised if he sold him/her for some more sake or something. True facts.
Outside of this, you have your standard set-up of SamSho characters: Nakoruru, WITH Mamahaha (whoop whoop!), and Galford WITH Poppy the wolf (whoop whoop!) – even better is that his default moves all involve USING Poppy. Without these two characters and their animal companions, I think I would have had to destroy every trace of it. There’s no excuse for there NOT to be those two in any SamSho game. Well done SNK. Gold star.
Graphically, the game is a mixture of GLORIOUS (those backgrounds look absolutely terrific) and actually a bit… meh. The character sprites are my main gripe. There’s a certain amount of detail to them, granted but they look positively tiny in comparison to other games on the system. They’re not awful, I’m not suggesting that. The colours are very washed out though and they have a tendency to fade into some backgrounds quite easily. Depending on whether you choose the good or evil version, you might even find they camouflage very well into the background. A fire-based character dressed in red against a flaming backdrop, mostly of different shades of red? Good move guys.
On the flipside, the backgrounds are even nicer as the fights progress. After the first round, assumed to be in the afternoon, the backgrounds change into a night setting to give that feeling that these fights are going to be more epic than they actually are.
It’s a beautiful feature, nothing new for SNK to introduce though, but it works really nicely on this system. The King of Fighters ’99 managed to do this very well, particularly with the rain-soaked garden stage. That was bloody lovely.
As fights progress and with certain events taking place in the game, you can collect cards that upgrade your characters before you begin with them, adding a bit of customisation to the games. These can range from adding special moves to the character’s roster to upping their attack and defence. This is definitely a nice little incentive to keep on playing the game AND to try out all of the characters to see what moves you can add to their list. You can only equip two cards to each character though so you have to think about what strategy will work for you. If you want that move that works wonders for you most of the time but you also want to up your defence AND attack, well boo you. You can’t. Deal with it. Make a choice. Stop being so indecisive.
There’s no rhyme or reason to the cards you obtain (for the most part you get them based on the character you’re fighting as, but not always) and it can seem quite random when you get one. You WILL get some for completing the game and I got one for getting to the boss as well. I think I remember getting some for double perfects when I played it back in the day but don’t quote me on this. I’d need to delve back into the game for longer periods to remember.
Good thing is that the NGPC cartridges have save states in them so you can keep hold of the cards you collect. Bonus.
Bonuses aside… I can never shake the feeling of why this game isn’t anywhere near the quality of SNK’s other titles. I don’t know whether the tainted feel of CrapSho 64 has bled into this at all (probably not) but the fighting itself doesn’t feel as fun as it does on the major console versions. The aforementioned Samurai Shodown 2 (minus the exclamation point) is the pinnacle of the series and that game managed to make the game tense, exciting and fast-paced for the time. This one doesn’t really have that element of speed or tension. I mean, it was always going to be difficult to create tension on a console where most of the sounds are tinny beeps and boops without any idea of what a lower register is. It has to try and do that in different ways and it… really doesn’t manage to. One thing that was missing from this version that was in previous version was that feeling that a well-timed slash across the face/chest/whatever in the original series could have lead to death. A spurt of blood, a sliced torso sliding off the body… a removal of the body in the background in a casket… those things are absent in this version and strangely it has made a difference. It feels too nice. I’ve used that word a few times in this review so far and it… sorta does feel way too nice. It’s nicely presented, the combat is quite nice… SAMURAI FUCKING SHODOWN ISN’T MEANT TO BE NICE. IT’S MEANT TO BE SAMURAIS (SORT OF) SLICING EVERYONE UP FOR GLORY AND VICTORY AND ALL THAT.
But… can I begrudge the system for that? I mean… it would have been difficult to recreate that vibe on the system somewhat. And yeah, I suppose it’s not designed to be that sort of game. The machine itself felt like a much more family-friendly console (mass of fighting games aside!) so I suppose shoving ‘blood’ spurting from a corpse wouldn’t have really endeared itself at all. Also… having blood spraying on a console where for the most part sprites have all of about three colours to them (four if you’re lucky!) would have been… interesting to look at.
Also: Gandara. Mid-boss. Chained to a fucking wall, hard as nails, attacks with rocks falling, ground pounds you can’t block and then punches you constantly? Cheap-ass bossery at its finest, people. He’s epic in size and idea but the execution is a mixture of cheap and pattern-following. You can tell what attacks he’s going to do and you generally have enough time to avoid them… but still. Fuck this guy.
It’s odd to think that this is actually one of the weaker fighting games on the NGPC when the selection you have is so limited. It’s NOT a bad fighting game at all but it’s just got some distinctly lacking moments. It could be an awful lot faster. The combat could be a lot more free-flowing than it is. The B-button is an odd mix of blocking/parrying and sometimes used for attacks. There aren’t really enough buttons for this system to handle that kind of fighting system, but that’s again a shortcoming of the system rather than the game itself. But it doesn’t help.
And at the end of the game? Everyone fucking well runs away as fast as they can from the scene of Yuga’s defeat and then the rest of the story plays out in badly translated text with the usual ‘ninny’ and ‘simp’ commentary/insults.
Thanks guys. You twits.
You can easily have quite a lot of fun with this but the feeling of it being a chore does come thickly after a while. As such, I’m not going to call it a good game. It’s merely alright. But I’ll let Haohmaru say it better:
Yeah. You sorta aren’t.