Arriving at a time when the company was having financial difficulties, SNK handed development duties of Samurai Shodown V over to Yuki Enterprise. On the surface, it seemed like they’d crafted a typical sequel with all but one of part IV’s sixteen playable fighters making it across - along with a bunch of new characters and some combat tweaks. There are some changes and omissions, however, and these make the game a little different to what has come before.
The differently behaving 'Slash' and 'Burst' variants have been dropped along with the three modes that determined your blocking ability and the performance of your Rage Gauge. Instead, you just pick your fighter, and although a couple of the newcomers play like alternate versions of the existing cast, there's only one flavour of each character. Other changes include a dedicated button (used in conjunction with directional input) for hops, rolls and lying down, whilst combos don't really feature in combat anymore.
It's not all omissions, however. You now have a sword meter and its power decreases when you attack. It fills back up, but should it not be at full when you perform your next swipe, the impact is lessened. Patience was often key in previous instalments and it is good to see it has not been completely abandoned here.
Suicide inputs are still available, allowing you to forfeit a round in exchange for a full Rage Gauge in the next, giving you a few options like a Rage Explosion (brief invincibility) to get out of a tight spot and a super attack. This game also introduces 'Concentration One'; available when low on health, this can be used to slow down time for your opponent whilst you continue to move at normal speed.
Overall there’s a different feel to fights and, although there are several things to consider, bouts do tend to devolve into a challenge of who can get in a few heavy blows first. The system also seems to favour the new additions over the returning fighters. There are eight newcomers in all and these include multiple sword-carrying Yoshitora, arrow-firing Mina, and powerful creature Kusaregedo, whose sprite is huge. The best addition, however, is not one of these new characters, but a hidden one: Galford’s dog, Poppy!
Samurai Shodown V may have arrived seven years after the fourth game, but presentation-wise the game doesn’t really stand out from the rest of the series (in fact, some stages look quite plain). The centuries-old setting is still used to good effect, however, and the traditional sounding music adds to the atmosphere. One notable change is that the violence has been toned down, with the finishing moves gone, although you can visit the options menu to turn the blood white if you’d like to go for that SNES Mortal Kombat feel.
Play the English version of the game and there’s little in the way of story - just win quotes and, upon defeating the final boss, a credit roll. Luckily, like all of these ACA Neo Geo releases, the Japanese version is also selectable from the main menu and this features scenes throughout the game and character endings, too.
The usual eight difficulty settings are available to adjust the challenge to your liking, but it’s only with the three (non-playable) boss characters that the game ever feels unfair. Mallet-swinging Sankuro is encountered part-way through your playthrough, and wouldn’t be too bad if not for his three friends who run onscreen to attack you or provide him with food to replenish his health. Penultimate fight Yumeji is able to morph into other characters, whilst final big bad Gaoh has great reach with his spear and can transform into a powered-up armoured version.
Despite the changes, the fighting can still entertain and, as always, a second player can buy into the regular arcade mode to challenge you to a fight. One thing to consider, however, is that this game was soon followed by Samurai Shodown V Special which, amongst other changes, fixed some balancing issues and brought back the gore. Two of the boss characters were removed - as was Poppy (boo!) - but three returning bosses were added, with all fighters being playable. It’s unclear if this update will make it to Switch (it will be included on the Neo Geo Mini), but it is an improvement over this earlier version of the game.
As always, a second player can buy into the regular arcade game and challenge you to a fight, and solo-wise there's some added replayability from the online leaderboards. Whilst fighting games typically gain little from this due to wins being more important than points scored, Samurai Shodown V is one of a handful of titles that use the time taken to clear the game to determine your placement. Tables are available for both the one-credit Hi Score mode and the regular arcade experience - where you can switch to single round fights to set super quick times and also have the benefit of continues should you mess up.
The Caravan mode has a different approach, simply tasking you with getting as many victories as possible within the five-minute limit. Finding ways to speed up your combat in any of these modes is fun but, despite this added aim of winning quickly, thought still needs to be given to your strikes to prevent an equally quick defeat.
Despite bulking out the fighter roster, Samurai Shodown V feels cutdown in other areas. Slash combos and the different fighting modes have gone, and although there are still a number of options available to you in fights, some well-timed heavy strikes tend to be the best option for success. Fights are thus fairly straightforward, although this does work well when trying to improve your times to move up the online leaderboards. Other instalments provide a fuller experience and, even if this particular take appeals, it was soon improved upon by its Special update. Samurai Shodown V can still provide fighting fun, but with so many decent fighting games already on Switch it is far from a must download.