The Virtual Console might be dead, but via its Arcade Archives and ACA Neo Geo series, HAMSTER is doing a lot to scratch that retro gaming itch, with a constant stream of re-releases. Like a number of Neo Geo titles (including others from the same series) Samurai Shodown III is a one-on-one fighting game. As always you pick a character then battle it out against a series of opponents en route to a final boss showdown; weapons and the eighteenth century Japan setting giving the series a different feel to most other options.
The second game built on an already impressive opening instalment and this third entry adds and alters things a bit further. The button setup has changed with three of the four face buttons being used for the three strengths of weapon attack; the fourth being used for kick (now single-strength). Air-blocking has been added and it is possible step behind an attack when close to then launch a counter-attack. Each character now comes in two flavours: Slash or Bust, which provide alternate colour palettes (darker for Bust), and special moves. Having decided on your technique, you then must pick from one of three modes that determine the behavior of your Rage Gauge and blocking ability.
This is not just the previous game with extras, however, as the fighter lineup is quite different. Samurai Shodown II featured all but one of the first game’s playable characters and threw in four more, but here three of those have been dropped as well as a number of others. There are four new characters (including the omitted Nicotine Caffeine’s nephew, Gaira) and Samurai Shodown I’s end boss Amakusa is now available to play as, but overall there has been a reduction in playable characters: 12 compared to II’s 15. New end boss Zankuro Minazuki is also playable, but only in the two-player mode and only if you input a code – helpfully listed in the electronic manual.
Notable omissions include hulking brute Earthquake and fan-favourites such as Jubei and Charlotte, but there’s still a good range of fighting styles on offer with a range of swords, spears and other sharp objects. Newcomer Rimururu can freeze opponents and Shizumaru fights with an umbrella that can also be used to float through the air. Some are more effective fighters than others and there’s a slightly different feel to the previous games as some moves are very powerful which can lead to quick rounds, but there are still some similar fighting thrills to be had.
With the two fighting techniques (and super gauge/blocking options) it lacks the straightforwardness of simply picking your character and fighting, but they are good choices to have. Making this game less essential is the (already on Switch) followup Samurai Shodown IV. It drops air-blocking, but the fourth game in the series improves on this one, being a better balanced entry with the main 12 characters carried over, others returning and some new ones to boot.
The presentation in IV is slicker too, although this one is still impressive. The usual aesthetic is in place (albeit with a darker colour palette) with decent animation accompanied by the whistling, atmospheric music and slashes, smashes, yells and other noises of the battle adding to the experience. Some of the stages look a little plain compared to others in the series, but generally it all works well.
The game can be quite difficult (especially in later fights), but the options menu is on hand to knock the difficulty down – or up if you’d like more of a challenge. Another challenge is available via the one-credit Hi Score mode that comes with the usual online leaderboard for you to try and move up. The five-minute Caravan and regular arcade modes also have online leaderboards but as a fighting game most of the replayability comes from fighting and (should you tire of CPU opposition) a second player can join in at any time and challenge you.
Samurai Shodown III feels like a step back compared to the second game with characters dropped and some fights ending quickly; strange compared to the slower (but exciting) pace of before. There is still a good range of fighters available, however and the multiple modes for your fighter gives you a few options to consider. The fighting still entertains, but as good as the game is, the already available fourth game more or less does the same, but better. There's definitely fun to be had from the game, but like a number of Neo Geo titles Samurai Shodown III has been bettered by others from its own series.