Prior to the announcement of Samurai Shodown getting a new entry in the series this year, I started getting reacquainted with the original. My nostalgia for the franchise primarily comes from playing the 3DO version at a computer store demo kiosk. Back then, I didn’t really understand how to play fighting games well.
During my time with the SNES port and more recently, the arcade port to the Switch, I noticed something odd about the game that I didn’t notice before. Unlike almost every fighting game I’ve played that was released after Street Fighter II, Samurai Shodown didn’t seem to have much in the way of combos. For the last little while, I chalked that up to this being the first game in the series, or me not knowing what I was doing.
Most recently, while watching gameplay footage coming out of PAX East of the new game, it appeared that the lack of combos carried over. What’s going on here?
Watching fighting game pro LI Joe speak about the game while streaming his gameplay footage on Twitch was an illuminating experience. As a longtime fan, he spoke to the fact that combos have never really been part of the Samurai Shodown DNA. None of the moves area really designed to chain together in the way that they do in most fighting games. Instead, the game puts the focus on positioning and taking big staccato slashes with your sword.
With the way that fighting games have evolved over the years, it’s an odd choice. Combos are such a staple of the genre that it’s hard to imagine them not being part of a modern fighting game. Then again, within the context of this particular fighting game where fighters are taking big swipes with their swords, it makes sense that this world wouldn’t necessarily feature flashy combo chains or juggle sequences.
Is the world ready for this style of fighting game? I don’t know. As someone whose background comes from more combo-heavy games like Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Mortal Kombat, it can be hard to appreciate the action in Samurai Shodown. Take for example, the video about from LI Joe. This is a match he played against one of the members of the development team, which they said was one of the best examples of high-level play they’ve seen to-date. Without understanding the game’s de-emphasis on combos, I could see how someone would watch this match and think it was boring because it didn’t have flashy multi-hit sequences.
Knowing what I know now, I realize that I was playing the original Samurai Shodown wrong. In advance of the new game’s release in June, I’ll try and go back to it to see if I have a better time with it playing the game as it was meant to be played. Until then, I’m still looking forward to trying the new game and I think that a focus on footsies, counters, and big strikes can still be a lot of fun and possibly a refreshing take on the genre!