Samurai Shodown Xbox Series X review: razor sharp

For the longest time, it seemed as if SNK was going to focus solely on its King of Fighters series when it came to all things brawling. But then 2019 rolled around and the company presented us with a skillfully revamped version of its classic Samurai Shodown, complete with a roster of old and new fighters, awesome 2.5-D visuals and gameplay that paid loving tribute to the classic titles in the series.

Now, nearly two years later, the game has made its debut on Xbox Series X with a number of enhancements, along with all of its fighters in tow (some through a Season Pass, fair warning). And it’s easily the best version to date, though a couple of flaws do keep it from being the sharpest sword on the block. Still, if you’re a fan or have great appreciation for classic, thrilling beat-em-ups, this is one you can’t be without.

Taking place in the olden days when combat was settled with weapons, Samurai Shodown features a number of returning favorites, like Nakoruru, Haohmaru, Ukyo and even Earthquake (and his fart grab). There are new combatants as well, mixing some fresh ingredients to the series with surprising results.

That said, it can be a bit on the tough side. If you approach Samurai Shodown the same way you’d approach, oh, let’s say Tekken, you’re likely to get slaughtered very quickly. However, once you nail down the finesse needed to strike your opponent mercilessly, as well as the special moves and super techniques for each fighter, you’ll find this game to be worth the investment.

The gameplay is stellar, still feeling as smooth as it ever has on the Xbox Series X. Even with the boost in frame rate (up to 120FPS with the right hardware and TV), moves come off naturally. And there’s some good skirmish opportunities here, whether you’re going at it solo against CPU opponents, or mixing it up with friends in versus, online or otherwise. Match-ups are fantastic, though you may want to practice first before challenging the best out there.

That said, the game’s story mode was slightly disappointing. What should’ve been a deep dive into the lore of the Samurai franchise is instead built upon basic bullet points where you simply bop around from fight to fight. Mortal Kombat taught us how an effective story could be told with a fighting game – and it’s just not here for some reason. Fortunately, the other modes more than make up for it, and you’ll have lots to hack and slash.

Samurai Shodown’s audio is exquisite. The traditional combat tunes and announcer are right on par with other games in the series; the voice acting is excellent (if untranslated); and the sound effects couldn’t be better, thanks to authentic weapon effects.

But the real reason to come to this show is the visuals. Samurai Shodown looks spectacular on the Xbox Series X, loading up in about half the time as the original game and featuring a trailblazing speed. Even in stages where it appears there’s a lot going on (like the hustle and bustle of a nearby city), the fights run incredibly smooth without missing a beat. I was also surprised by how well the game ran online, compared to lag that hurt other fighting games in their stead.

The game is available digitally through Xbox Network, though you can also buy a physical version that comes with additional fighters, including Samurai Shodown II favorite Cham-Cham. The only downside to this is that the digital version doesn’t have said bonus fighters, and you need to buy them separately. It would’ve been nice to have Cham-Cham around as an all-around gift to newcomers. Or, hey, where the heck is Gen-An?!

I digress. Despite the flawed story mode and the strange structure surrounding new combatants, Samurai Shodown has never been better than it is on Xbox Series X. The gameplay is still rock solid after nearly two years passed; the audio is something else (especially with a headset); and those visuals are literally to die for. If you’re a fan of the series or just want a showcase fighter that puts the Xbox Series S/X to the test, this is a sharp addition to your collection.

RATING: 8.5/10