I believe I was 15 the first time I walked into an arcade and saw the awesomeness that is Samurai Showdown. This was during the peak of the fighting game craze of the early 90's, back when there still were arcades in malls and cabinets in your local 7-11 and such. Back then crowds and crowds of people would gather around machines and get loud - tensions would rise, people would scream with laughter when someone got their ass handed to them, large, collective "Oooohs!" and "Woahs!" would burst forth upon a successful finishing move. Sometimes the trash talking would go over the line; Sometimes even fights would break out. I really feel for the kids today because you just don't get this same experience over Xbox live. Anyway hot on the heels of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat came the Samurai Showdown series for SNK's Neo-Geo, which instantly blew us all away. At first glance you may thing it's just like Street Fighter except instead of beating the guy down with your fists you use a sword or something, however there is just so much more going on here that elevates this game nearly into masterpiece status.
Each character has their own signature weapon, with it's own unique idiosyncrasies and three ranges of attack power. Some characters like Charolette hit multiple times when up close, others like Horomaru will miss up close with a hard slash completely. Unlike other games here large combos aren't necessary in order to do sufficient damage, each character seems only capable of absorbing three or four hard sword strikes. You also have a "Pow" meter that when full doubles your attack power, can dash forward and backwards, and can barrel roll to avoid strikes. Occasionally upon collision match up the characters will enter a grapple whereupon whoever loses the ensuing button mashing will drop their weapon. Drop your sword and you're meat. You lose the ability to attack and defend effectively and if the other player is quick he can keep you blocked in and just cheeseball your life away.
There's some innovation for fighting games going on here, in the background a character runs around and drops bonus items, food, and hazards (bombs) which if you're not paying attention can screw up your rhythm and turn the tide of the match. Also two characters have animal familiars that fight along side them, a good idea that wasn't readily copied in other fighting games.
The Super Nintendo Version gives us all of the gameplay elements but at some cost; First thing you notice is that the "camera" that zooms in and out in the arcade game is absent. Here the screen is set in Zoomed out mode, that while you're able to see everything does make the characters rather small. They are pretty detailed for being so tiny though, and they don't seem to be missing any animation frames. Second major hit is the sound, the quality of the music, voice samples, and sound effects is way off, far below the arcade. The music is tinny and sparse, like a badly ripped Mp3 ten years before Mp3 existed. Half of the voice isn't even there (like the announcer, the opening speech for some of the characters, etc) and what is there is noticeably downgraded.
What is preserved though is the gameplay, which is spot on to the Neo-Geo Version. All characters are present and they move and handle like their arcade counterparts. The cut scenes, bonus rounds, and endings are retained as well. There are a few small items that were censored for this home release (as in it's a lot harder to get the fatalities at the end of a match) but what the hell, you can't have everything.
Despite the flaws I think they did a pretty good job of squeezing a gigantic Neo-Geo arcade game into a tiny little Super Nintendo cartridge. In the age of emulation and MAME I can't really see spending the time to track this version of the game down, however if one should come across it lots of asskicking here can be found.
Graphics: A permanently zoomed out screen means small characters, which is strange because the same Zooming in and out effect is present in other Snes conversions of Neo-Geo fighting games like the Art of Fighting. What is there is pretty detailed and decently animated.
Sound: Sound is noticeably sub-par, missing voice, bad samples, thin music, the Snes can do way better.
Gameplay: A near exact duplicate of the Arcade game's playability, down to the at times brilliantly hard (and inhumanly fast) computer A. I. At times playing the computer can be a little unfair, such as Kyoshrio's ability to nail you with a flaming kick thing as you wind up to hit with a hard slash, displaying a reaction time that no human being could manage. However a one player game is not unbeatable, and playing your friends is what it's really all about.
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