I've never really been much of a fan of portable fighting games. For the most part they tend to be overly simplified imitations of their console counterparts. SNK is (or was, rather) a company known for it's many, many, many fighting games, so it's only natural they would include such on their short lived handheld. Results here show a lot of promise but might leave most people looking elsewhere.
Apparently this particular version of Samurai Showdown is a port of Samurai Showdown 64: Warrior's Rage, and as such includes several different characters who were not in the original Neo Geo game that this version takes it's namesake from. Instead of going for a direct arcade port the characters are presented in Super Deformed style - big heads, little bodies - which seemed to be a phase that most fighting game franchises were going through at the time (Virtua Fighter Kids and Puzzle Fighter come to mind.) Despite looking like cute little big-headed Cabbage patch dolls there's still plenty of bloody swordplay to be found.
Each character has at least three different specials (more in most cases) as well as a "CD combo," which is this particular game's version of the dial-a-combo first popularized by games such as Killer Instinct. Thankfully combos in all SS games tend to rely more on actual skill than memorization, and I was happy to see some of the same two-in-ones from the arcade version were possible in this game also. Nakoruru and Galford even have their animal companions. It's the little things that make life enjoyable.
Each character also has their"Slash" and "Bust" (or good vs. evil) forms like their arcade counterparts. In addition to this as you progress through the game it is possible to unlock various attribute cards (8 for each character) that do things like increase speed or damage. To be honest I stopped following the Samurai Showdown series after part III so I'm not sure exactly how much of this comes from subsequent arcade games or what. However I doubt major play mechanics would be introduced in a handheld version.
Now all this is well and good, however then you get into how the game actually plays. Well.. it plays like a handheld fighting game, i.e. very simply. The main problem is that since there's only two buttons, then all different attacks need to be done with those two buttons. A button slashes, B button kicks and dodges. Thus to get different levels of sword attacks one must hold the button longer, which is a good idea in theory. In practice it makes it hard to bust out strong sword attacks at the right time.
Add to this the fact that the A. I. is mediocre at best. A decent player could probably proceed all the way thorough the game on one try - until one meets Gandara, who is this huge gigantic animated corpse thing who I thought was the last boss but isn't. At this point you might as well give up unless you want to devote the next six months to ruin and frustration. Anyway the potential for two players to get a somewhat involved game is there, but the chances of you ever just randomly meeting someone else with a Neo Geo pocket color and a copy of this game are slim.
Good, cute graphics, great animation, and a large amount of characters help this one stand out from the usual crappy handheld fighting game, but somewhat shallow A. I. and simplistic controls keeps it off of top tier status.
Graphics: Small, big headed characters with a limited color palette make it hard sometimes to tell exactly what is going on. Is the opponent trying to punch you? Kick you? Throw a brick at you? Can't tell. This is countered by really smooth animation.
Sound: Sound does not seem to be a highpoint of the NGPC in general. This particular game however does have a few clear voice samples used to good effect.
Gameplay: Simple, easy gameplay hampers the title. What's the point of having all these different moves if you can get to the last guy with just one? Then again I've never seen the end level boss because I can't get past Gandara, who is able to kill you in two hits. Just a little unbalanced there.
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