Thursday, August 6, 2009

Savage Samurai Fighting Game Apocalypse!

The Samurai Shodown series (Samurai Spirits in Japan) is one of the staunchest contenders in my list of favorite fighting games and also helped bring weapon based fighting games to the forefront. Before Soul Edge/Calibur, there was Samurai Shodown. I recently picked up the Wii version of Samurai Shodown Anthology and thought it would be good to do a retrospective, since it was released in celebration of the 15 year anniversary of the series in 2008. It actually is a very interesting look at the history of the series because Samurai Shodown went through quite a few changes over the years. The anthology chronicles all the 2-D arcade games in the series (there were three games that were in 3-D, which I own one for the Playstation - Samurai Shodown: Warriors Rage, along with an RPG and others). I decided to play all of them, one after the other, and note the differences. For this purpose, I played them all with my favorite character, the silent, poetic Ukyo Tachibana. The inaugural Samurai Shodown actually felt a bit primitive. The control scheme was a bit odd. The attacks were divided into three different punches and kicks - weak, medium, and strong, just like Street Fighter II. Yet the Neo Geo arcade systems only had four buttons. The solution was to push both the weak and medium attacks to activate the strong attack, which doesn't seem to work too well. I kept trying to hit them both at the same time, but ended up constantly hitting one before the other, which made me do either a weak or medium attack and really wasn't worth trying over and over. Another thing is, while some of the characters have a full compliment of special moves, Ukyo himself got screwed. He has no sort of ranged attack. The only real special move he had kinda required you pin the opponent at the edge of the stage and it never really worked. To be honest, Ukyo was broken in the first game. Samurai Shodown II improved on the existing formula a bit. But while the game looked better and added some cool new characters (Genjuro Kibagami is another of my favorites), they still held onto the ridiculous attack control scheme and Ukyo still sucked. Some fans consider this the pinnacle of the series, but I have to disagree. Both the first and second games were quite hard (I think Samurai Shodown II is actually tougher than the first one), and the controls really aren't very forgiving for errors when it comes to pressing the right buttons for the attack strength you want. And these games aren't really the kind of fighting games where aggression gets you far, either. You have to land your blows, then pull back, because the CPU fighters blocked a lot of your attacks. You had to pick apart their defenses with a well placed shot and make damn sure you put up just as much of a defense because they will be relentless when they strike. Then came Samurai Shodown III: Blades of Blood, which did an enormous overhaul on the previous formula. First off, they finally changed the button scheme, mapping the strong attack on its own button and having only one kick button. Next, they implemented the Slash/Bust system, which gave players two different play styles for each character, each with their own movesets. Third, they shifted the focus of the story into a darker direction and away from Haohmaru in favor of a new character, Shizumaru Hisame (another favorite of mine) as he seeks revenge for the death of his family. Haohmaru, who is pretty much akin to Ryu in Street Fighter II as the primary character of his respective series, becomes a mentor to the young Shizumaru during this time This game actually got a lot of flak, some for the changes I mentioned above (which, in my opinion, I see as an improvement) but also because this game was buggy. It also made people feel ripped off in the arcades because damage for attacks were significantly upped, making for shorter matches. To be honest, I felt the matches lasted just as long are were just as hard, especially the boss, Zankuro, who is just plain hard. In hindsight, people did begin to appreciate some of the changes to the series in this game, but still felt it needed fixing. It must be said that, in this game, Ukyo actually did get a better moveset; finally having a move that can quickly bridge the gap between fighters in order to keep up with "fireball slingers" such as Haohmaru and Galford (fuck, I hate Galford. American Ninja, my ass). Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa's Revenge is probably my favorite of the series. They did fix some of the persistent problems of the previous game and kept the better changes to the series. Ukyo still plays solid in this game. They tightened up the new control scheme to a polished shine and toned down the damage one attack can do. Nonetheless, this seems to be one of the easier games in the series, that is, until you reach Amakusa, the original boss in the first two games. He took a boss hiatus in the third one (and became a playable character). His return heralds one of the most frustrating boss battles I've played. He's a pain in the ass in this game. Goddamn fruitcup sorcerer. After the collapse and resurgence of SNK in early millenium years, a new Samurai Shodown game arose. The game was developed by Yuki Enterprise, who pretty much did simulation and board games for the budget priced (read "cheapass") Simple 2000 series of games. While that does not bode well, they did entice japanese gamers by announcing that some of the new characters were to be designed by Nobuhiro Watsuki, famous for creating the great anime and manga series Rurouni Kenshin (once again, another favorite of mine, which I may post about some other time). The result was Samurai Shodown V, which was known a Samurai Spirits Zero in Japan, as it was a prequel to the entire series. Needless to say, though, this game is just watered down. It's not that bad, but it's not what should have been made to bring the series back to it's feet. One big thing that chafes me, though, is that they changed the mapping on the slash attacks back to what it was in the first two games! Why? So they could change the strong slash button into a defense button, which allows for you to dash and dodge with but a button press and a joystick direction. To this, I ask, "What the fuck is the point?" It wasn't that hard to double tap the joystick to do a backwards dash. Now I have to go back to hitting both the weak and medium buttons to do a strong slash. Fuck that. Most of the new characters that were added were also pretty unremarkable, with the exception of Mina Majikina, who was supposed to be a polar opposite to Nakoruru. She's kinda sexy and she uses a bow and arrow. They also got rid of the Slash/Bust system and took some of the Bust versions of certain characters into their own separate characters, such as the "Evil Ryu" version of Haohmaru, which is pretty weak. the way, Ukyo plays pretty much the same, with the exception of the strong attack being tough to pull off again. They did make a "special edition" of Samurai Shodown V, which improved the graphics a bit and changed the roster. It also changed the end bosses back to the original Amakusa and Zankuro from Samurai Shodown III. A couple of years ago, they made the final game in this anthology, Samurai Shodown VI. The anthology is the first time anyone can play VI in the States. According to the anthology game manual, VI takes place before all the others. The game is mostly remarkable because every character in every Samurai Shodown game is playable. It also goes back to the button scheme from III and IV because the defense button in V was stupid. Ukyo still plays pretty good, but they changed his moveset. He now has a fast-draw sort of slash move that hits at a certain distance away. Pressing weak, medium, or strong during the move changed the elevation of the move, which is good for hitting a jumping character, but doesn't make it as effective of a move as the one it replaced because you have to be at the exact distance to hit. VI also features some new characters. Most notably is Iroha, who is a crane who transformed into a woman. Wait, let me rephrase that - she is a crane who transformed into a fucking hot woman. Check out the tattys on this girl. Hot. Damn. You see, this young noble saved her life when she was still a crane. So she turned into a woman and does his bidding now. Holy shit, I have to find a crane to save. I better make sure it's a female crane, though. I don't want no beefcake bird trying to suck my cock. VI is actually pretty good, certainly better than V, but number IV gets my vote for all time favorite Samurai Shodown game in this collection. But I do have other games from this series not featured in this anthology. As I said before, I have Warrior's Rage for the Playstation, but I also have one for another system, which could give Samurai Shodown IV a good fight for my all time favorite game in the series. I'm not going to say which system it's on yet. That will have to wait for tomorrow, as this system warrants it's own post. It definitely fits into the "Games You Should Know About..." category. Until then, Kaiser out

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