Although these days most gamers would associate SNK with the King of Fighters or Fatal Fury series, there’s still a sizeable following for the third major string in its fighting game bow, Samurai Shodown.
Focusing more on weapons-based combat and less on having all the W’s in its title, the Samurai Shodown series is much loved for its 18th century Japanese setting, its generally more powerful attacks and its occasional over-the-top death blows often resulting in geysers of blood or opponents being sliced in two.
In recent years Nintendo systems have been no stranger to re-releases of the Samurai Shodown games. Wii owners were treated to the Samurai Shodown Anthology back in 2009, while fans of the ACA Neo Geo series on the Switch eShop will know that Samurai Shodown I-V and V Special are all available to purchase individually. If you’re a devotee of the series, then, there’s a chance you already own the games in some shape or form.
It’s time for the retro compilation experts at Digital Eclipse to have a crack at it, though, and the result is Samurai Shodown Neo Geo Collection, which comprises the seven Shodown games released on the Neo Geo MVS arcade system. That’s Samurai Shodown I, II, III, IV, V, the upgraded Samurai Shodown V Special and – for the first time ever – Samurai Shodown V Perfect.
For those not familiar with it, Samurai Shodown V Perfect was originally developed back in 2004 right after work finished on Samurai Shodown V Special. The studio behind it, Yuki Enterprise, got as far as putting a single test arcade game in a single location in Japan before SNK found out about it and cancelled it (because it wanted to focus on the upcoming Samurai Shodown VI). This collection marks the first ever time Special has been available to play, and now that SNK acknowledges it, it’s officially the last ever Neo Geo game.
Each of the games appeals in its own way. Which is best comes down to personal taste: some believe the more serious tone of Samurai Shodown III gives it a unique feel the others don’t have, whereas others believe II and IV are masterpieces of the genre and have rarely been bettered to this day. Whatever you believe to be the case, temper your expectations for the mythical Samurai Shodown V Perfect: while it’s incredible that we’re even able to play it, it isn’t massively different from SSV Special.
The characters in SSV Perfect have new endings (which were designed to tie in with Samurai Shodown VI) and there’s a new cutscene halfway through where the game explains to the player that the final bosses have to be defeated with Overkill moves (something that wasn’t explicitly explained in SSV Special). Other than that, though, this is more or less Special with a few extra bits and pieces: an incredible inclusion from a historical and preservationist point of view, but slightly underwhelming if you were hoping for a drastically new update.
Since this is a Digital Eclipse release, the presentation and emulation are virtually flawless. You’ve got your usual selection of zoom options (original resolution, zoomed to fit the screen’s height and zoomed to widescreen), filters (no filter, TV filter, arcade filter) and an impressive selection of 47 different background images to choose from. Game options are surprisingly limited: other than switching between the US and Japanese versions of the game, most of them only let you choose the difficulty level and remap your buttons.
Digital Eclipse collections are also known for their brilliant Museum modes though, and this one absolutely knocks it out of the park. There are over 2000 images here, including official artwork, character illustrations and even behind-the-scenes sketches showing how many of the game’s moves were originally designed. There are a lot of Japanese notes written on these sketches, and while it would have understandably required a lot of extra work it’s a shame there’s no captions translating them, so we could see what the designers were thinking at the time.
The Museum mode also includes a Music section where you can listen to the complete soundtracks for the games included (which comes to more than 200 tracks), and – perhaps most impressive of all – more than two hours of video giving you interviews with the developers and even some footage of legendary pro Samurai Shodown tournament fights. The only disappointment is that none of these videos can be made fullscreen: you have to watch them in a smaller window, which is a bit rubbish when you’re watching two hours of video on your TV.
So far so good, then: seven great beat ‘em ups (well, five and a couple of updated versions) and a superb Museum mode that anyone with an interest in game history will spend countless hours sifting through. This isn’t a compilation without issues, though, not least of all being the fact that the online multiplayer – which is allegedly available on all seven games – is completely dead on arrival. We tried for ages to find a single match on any of the games and couldn’t find one. Unless you’ve got a pal who also has the game, you should just assume this one is local multiplayer only, because it might as well be.
It would also have been nice to have had some sort of training or tutorial mode to help introduce the game to newcomers. While this compilation will obviously be most of interest to fans of this series, general fighting game fans may also be interested in seeing what the fuss was about and some of the later games’ more complex mechanics are left for you to either figure out yourself or head off to Google and try to get a guide online.
For us, though, the most disappointing aspect of this compilation is in the title: Samurai Shodown Neo Geo Collection. By limiting things to just the Neo Geo entries in the series, it’s missing out a number of other interesting Samurai Shodown games which would have made for a more interesting compilation all round. Obviously we aren’t expecting anything like last year’s Samurai Shodown reboot (which arrived on Switch earlier this year), but there were two Samurai Shodown games on the Neo Geo Pocket which would have been fun little additions.
There was a sixth Samurai Shodown game, but because it was released on a different arcade board (Atomiswave) instead of the Neo Geo MVS, it didn’t quality for this compilation. SNK also released two polygonal games – Samurai Shodown 64 and Samurai Shodown 64: Warriors Rage – for its Hyper Neo Geo 64 arcade board (not the N64, despite the titles), as well as a third on the PlayStation. We’d have loved to have seen these on here. Even something like the Mega Drive or SNES versions of the first game would have been great to have on here, to show how they compared to the arcade originals.
This is just us being entitled, though: what’s here is perfectly fine and fans of these games or fighting games in general will have plenty to fight their way through and a whole host of characters to master. There’s no shaking the fact, however, that despite the presence of the long-lost Samurai Shodown V Perfect, we could have had even more in here had the ‘Neo Geo-only’ boundaries not been laid down. After all, the Samurai Shodown Anthology on the Wii launched a full 11 years ago and it had the sixth game in it, which doesn’t feature here.
The Samurai Shodown games are among the best in the fighting genre: the seven games on offer here are perfect examples of this, and the exceptional Museum mode will keep you busy for hours. Its online may be a non-starter and it may have offered even more titles if it had lifted its self-imposed Neo Geo-only restrictions, but that doesn't take away from what's an otherwise strong collection of brilliant fighting games.