Published on March 15th, 2020 | by Paul Stuart
Samurai Showdown Nintendo Switch Review
Summary: A brilliant remaster of a unique fighter classic.
A classic returns!
As someone whose prior relationship with Samurai Showdown consisted of pumping in quarters to SNK arcade machines, I was nostalgic keen to give its Switch remaster version a whirl. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed. But it was also quite the experience to revisit a classic with decades of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat then Injustice in the interim.
To explain, Samurai Showdown is anything but the modern fighter. It prides itself on counter-attack, methodical combat. Big combos, juggles, and/or overpowered KO meter attacks are nowhere to be found. In its stead are counters, dodges, surprise attacks, and disarm maneuvers. Slow and steady wins this race.
Moreover, the diversity in fighter styles and movesets are astounding. Samurai Showdown’s roster is so incredibly varied, each fighter is literally unique. As the game relies heavily on swordplay, maximizing each fighter’s preferred weapon is paramount to winning matches. Yes, there are special moves for each. But most important is understanding a fighter’s samurai genre and counter-attack preferences.
With this being said, learning curve is immense. I would suspect most fighter fans will find Samurai Showdown a bridge too far. Payoff doesn’t come until hours of experimentation with a particular fighter, when true understanding of a specific fighting style comes to pass. Also – and while Samurai Showdown features light, medium and heavy attacks – these are balanced within faster quick, dodge and counter movements. On anything but lowest difficulty settings, button mashing will not end well.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in Samurai Showdown are the non-sensical button combos requires to execute key moves. Thankfully, the Switch maps these to shoulder buttons, where up to three simultaneous button presses are executed via a single shoulder one. It’s more so familiarity with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat half circle movements that threw me for a loop. It’s hard to unlearn decades long mastery via left stick heavy movements in favor of timing.
With this being said, it’s a pleasure to play something truly different. But…Samurai Showdown may be too different for its own good. While online modes exist, it was literally impossible to find matches with individuals at lower-mid level difficulty settings. The single user (versus) story and ghost fighter (obtained from emulating online user matches) modes are there, but neither really has long term value. Story plots aren’t enough to keep one’s attention, and ghost opponents are, well, stupid. The latter may simply be a product of not enough lower-mid level players to pull patterns from.
Moreover, SNK made the peculiar decision to require a paid DLC to unlock several playable fighters. An egregious mistake for a reboot.
Despite these foibles, I can’t help but be extremely impressed with Samurai Showdown. Graphics are absolutely stunning, music and sound effects stellar, and the authentic Japanese feel is omnipresent. Finally and importantly: as someone very critical of Switch ports, Samurai Showdown is the rare offering that stands up to its big brother consoles. No slowdowns, everything is sharp, and it looks and plays fantastic.
Samurai Showdown for the Switch is a brilliant reboot of a terrific classic fighter. Its unique fighting mechanics persist, backed by a beautiful presentation upgrade. Still, its online community is lacking, and its uniqueness may be off-putting to many.