Samurai Shodown!

Release: December 25, 1998 | Size: 16megs 

Author: M.E. Williams

The first game in SNK's Pocket Fighting Series, Samurai Shodown! is a fun, jovial take on SNK's flagship weapons based fighting game series. It even has some surprises when playing on Pocket Color!

When the Neo-Geo Pocket was introduced in 1998, SNK needed a few killer apps that helped to bridge the gap between their arcade hardware and their new portable gaming solution. While King of Fighters R-1 was the first out of the gate, it was quickly followed by Samurai Shodown! (yes, with an exclamation point). Upon release critics praised the pixel art, animation, and overall design of the game, but also mention it's confusing to play and that it's short lived once the novelty wears off. What do I think? Let's dig in.

Fans of the Samurai Shodown series will immediately notice that the game is a parody of Samurai Shodown 4. From the setting, story, endings, and character selection and move sets, this is the forth game in the storied franchise in pocket form. Rather than trying to recreate the 374meg arcade game for hardware that is significantly less robust, SNK played to the strengths of the little console and created an SD, or Chibi, version of the game. There are humorous touches throughout the game that are not only present in the graphics, but the gameplay as well. Low slashes hilariously trip up the opponent, there are zippy wall bounces that add some unique flavor to the gameplay, and everyone has "Sonic the Hedgehog" spinning feet when they dash forward. It really is a fun game to watch, and all the humor injected to an otherwise serious franchise is a welcome treat for long-time fans. 

Gameplay is a little confusing, with context sensitive attacks being a little too wonky to pull off moves with any sort of consistency. A is essentially your slash button with B being primarily kicks. What type of slash or kick that comes out depends not only on the pressure you apply to the button, but also to spacing with your opponent. That said, the small characters and fast gameplay fit the gameplay well enough so it never feels cumbersome or frustrating. Still, for hardcore fighting game fans looking for a more technical game on the go, Samurai Shodown! is not it.

Graphics are great with well drawn and animated sprites, and little flourishes of humor spread throughout. What's more, when you play this game on a Pocket Color system you are treated to a full color presentation! It's not as colorful as a true Pocket Color game, but it's a nice enough touch. Sound is fine - nothing on the Neo Pocket is going to blow you away aurally, but what is there is as close of an approximation of the arcade soundtrack as you can muster on the little guy.

Samurai Shodown! is a great time waster, but it's not nearly as satisfying as other games in the Pocket Fighting series. Still, this game is a must play for series fans. Thankfully, it's pretty cheap as well! A complete copy in a snaplock case will cost under $40. This game only released in Japan, although it plays in English if you have the system bios set to display English instead of Japanese. While I would recommend the second SS! game, or some of the other fighters on the Neo Pocket more than this, it's still a great bang for your buck title given the low bar of entry.