It's no secret that the Samurai Shodown series played a huge role in vaulting SNK up to the big boy fighting game table. And as popular as the original release was, it was the sequel that would set the standard by which all future titles of the franchise would be judged. Samurai Shodown III would mark the first time the series underwent any major changes, and while many of them certainly improved the playability of the game, they also ended up rubbing some longtime fans the wrong way.
Many of the same fighters from past games return in this third instalment, although there are a few new ones tossed into the mix. While it still retains the hack 'n' slash feel of past releases, there are quite a few noticeable changes that won't take diehard fans long to notice.
When your fighters are getting ready to begin the match, they can now move around from side to side in order to get into position for their first attack. The old combination of pressing two buttons at once to initiate a strong slash or strong kick has now been replaced with three slash buttons – light, medium, and fierce – and only one kick button. This is definitely a much-needed improvement and offers a very small trade-off since the kicks have never before played a large role in the overall scheme of things.
These button assignments aren't the only new features, as the two-button combinations open up a few new gameplay twists. The first new function is the ability to dodge by pressing the A and B buttons simultaneously. This will cause your character to quickly move around to the other side of their opponent, thus being able to not only avoid an oncoming strike but also catch your opponent off guard with a quick attack from the opposite side. The other new feature involves the ability to charge up your power gauge by holding the A, B and C buttons down. Of course, you have to be careful as this opens you up to an attack.
There's no denying the very different feel the game has when compared with past releases in the series. Everything seems a little looser at times, but in a good way that allows you to string together attacks and defensive moves on the fly with a bit more freedom. The cast of characters is fairly balanced, but you'll soon find that the game can be quite the handful in single-player mode, especially as you get closer to the boss. As long as you can accept the different feel of it, you're likely to find the added playability a nice surprise and one that definitely makes for a smoother experience for those who put in the time to master it.
The Samurai Shodown series has always been known for its beautiful backdrops and highly detailed cast of fighters, and while there's still plenty of eye candy to be found in Samurai Shodown III, there are also a few backdrops that look downright bland and have an almost unfinished appearance to them. The characters themselves all look amazing and even surpass past renditions in terms of both detail and animation quality. It's clear the developers put some serious time into creating a gorgeous world for the battles to take place in – it just would have been nice if they'd been a bit more consistent.
The audio package will be immediately familiar to fans of the series as some of the tunes from previous games make a return and join a host of new tracks. The same classic eastern themes are still in full force, and the developers managed to update many of the character sound effects to give the game an even fresher sound.
How you warm up to Samurai Shodown III will depend heavily on invested in the fighting engine of the first two titles you are. The new play controls of the game do a great job of giving the game a more modern feel while still retaining many of the classic elements of the first two releases. If you're a fan of the series that's open-minded enough to appreciate the improvements of this third release, you're likely to find a very rewarding experience and one definitely worth your time and Wii points. It might not be quite as solid as Samurai Shodown II, but it's a nice change of pace for the series and one worth checking out for fighting fans.