With its weapon-based combat and gameplay that often rewarded patience, Samurai Shodown was a different type of fighting game, but a very good one. SNK thought they could do better however, so went away and came up with Samurai Shodown II, a game similar to its predecessor but with some additions to the lineup and gameplay.
Eleven of the twelve playable characters from the first game have made it across to this one along with four newcomers. You pick your warrior then fight against twelve others en route to new end of game boss Mizuki. There’s a good range of fighters and weapons in the lineup including twin-blade wielding Jubei, boomerang-throwing cat girl Cham Cham and huge and imposing kusarigama user Earthquake - an extreme visual opposite to diminutive staff-master Nicotine Caffeine.
As before in addition to weapon-swinging, you can throw a kick at your opponent or perform a special attack including rolling, jumping and projectile moves. There are three strengths of attack available with “strong” moves requiring you either push the other two strengths together or make use of the fact these combinations are mapped to the Switch’s Z buttons.
Spying an opportunity for an opening is still a more sensible approach to jumping in and flailing about wildly, but the introduction of the roll does a lot to up the pace of battle compared to the first game. Similar to the dash ability rolls are a good way of quickly closing (or putting) distance between fighters, but with the added bonus of letting you get under certain attacks. Once combat is initiated there’s an increase in slashing and kicking whether the fighters are trading blows or hopping back to avoid an attack or blocking; it’s even possible to deflect an attack, which after a moments pause allows for a counterattack.
Another useful addition which can help turn the tide of battle are the special weapon attacks. Your “Rage Gauge” fills up as you are attacked and while the more powerful moves that result when full are useful, a bigger help is that you can now input a command to perform a move that not only removes the opponent’s weapon but destroys it. Helpfully (via the options menu) you can have the game display the required input, so it doesn’t matter if you momentarily forget it. After a while a replacement weapon is thrown on screen, but until then they must rely on their fists. Should you find yourself weaponless, it’s a good idea to avoid combat unless necessary, but you can still do plenty of damage will well-timed punches and kicks and it’s even possible to catch the opponent’s weapon before impact, throw them and launch your own offensive.
Complimenting the action is the wonderful presentation, with detailed and varied environments fought in. There’s a few bits of destructible scenery allowing bamboo to be cut down and barrels smashed and the dynamic camera system that zooms in and out of the action (based on fighter positions) adds to the experience. There are also some good background animations, whether that’s spectators, lightning, crashing waves, a Xenomorph bubbling in a pot, or simply corn blowing in the wind.
Atmospheric, traditional sounding music enhances the experience and the range of slashing and clashing weapon sounds work well as does the voice work: yells, chatter and background chanting. Entertaining in a different way is the amusing Engrish peppered throughout: “Long Long ago, there were a man who try to make his skill ultimate. Because of his bloody life, it’s no accident that he was involved in the troubles”.
The game can get quite tough it it’s later stages, with final opponent Mizuki having the ability to turn you into a pig as well as having hard to get through defences. Master your various abilities and it of course gets easier. The game has the usual eight difficulty settings to adjust the challenge to your liking or you can try and beat the game on a single credit (default settings) in the Hi Score mode, which as always features an online table for you to try and move up.
The five-minute caravan mode (with its own scoreboard) offers another alternative way to play, but the most fun and replayability comes from the game’s two-player mode. Simply have a second player buy in to the regular arcade mode at any time for lots of entertaining multiplayer battles as you dash, slash and roll about the screen, some fights quickly ending, but others being lengthy more tactical affairs with the tide of battle constantly shifting.
The first game was already a well put together fighter, but Samurai Shodown II improves on it with an expanded cast and additions to the gameplay that add to the fighting experience without over-complicating things. This is still a game that requires thought, but when you do spy your opportunity fights can be over quickly. Even if they're not, they can still be fast-paced as you each use various means to avoid getting hit and the new weapon-breaking moves can help turnaround certain defeat - or lead to you looking a bit foolish if you get defeated by an unarmed opponent. There's plenty of one-on-one fighters on the Switch, but this is one of the best.