TURN TO CHANNEL 3: Ahead of its time, Neo Geo’s ‘Samurai Shodown II’ could take on ‘Street Fighter’
What often makes a sequel to a game so great is the chance for developers to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work with the original game. In the case of today’s final topic in this month of Neo Geo games, developers decided to take something that was enthusiastically received by the masses and rebuild it from the ground up to something even better.
SNK was also wise enough to know that one fighting game wasn’t going to be enough to sway gamers away from the established “Mortal Kombat” and “Street Fighter” franchises. We end March with a showdown with “Samurai Shodown II” on the Neo Geo AES!
“Samurai Shodown II” (Neo Geo)
The reason I give the soundtrack to “Samurai Shodown II” a high score is not because of how good it is. It’s far from terrible, but there’s not too much that really makes it stand out. What makes the soundtrack so great is how it fits each level and fighter so well. Believe it or not, in the plethora of fighting games out there, you definitely encounter stage tracks that just don’t match the fighter at all.
In addition, and perhaps the most important aspect, are the sound effects that go on as the level music plays and the fight commences. Effects like the rush of wind through a wheat field or the splash of waves upon a shore further immerse the player in the game.
While the character and announcer voices are nearly inaudible, that’s OK because the voices aren’t in English anyway.
Like “The King of Fighters ‘94” that I reviewed two weeks ago, the artistry in this game is simply breathtaking and astounding. Stages have so much going on, with spectators moving around, effects like lightning flashes and waves crashing, and then there are the characters – man, what an eclectic, but awesome bunch! Yeah, you have your stereotypical spikey haired samurais, but you also have little green trolls with Freddy Krueger claws, a muscle-bound dude with a huge shoulder pad and metal fist, what look like two medieval knights, and a guy carrying a chained sickle who is so huge that, in a beat ‘em up game, he’d surely be the final boss.
If that isn’t enough, some characters have animals that can actually attack you! You haven’t lived (or died in a fighting game) until you’ve had to defend a dog or hawk attack!
Like its SNK fighting brethren, “Samurai Shodown II” also created a first for the genre – the use of parry, which could be used at the last second to block an opponent’s attack and leave them vulnerable for a counter. This was later used in Namco’s “Weaponlord” and popularized by Capcom’s “Street Fighter III.”
Overall, gameplay was expanded from the original “Samurai Shodown” with more responsive control and more moves, including a special POW meter that could do severe damage and break an opponent’s weapon, causing them to have to fight unarmed until a replacement weapon was issued. You can also roll forward or backward to avoid attacks, as well as duck to avoid high attacks and take small hops to avoid low strikes. These are common things in fighting games these days, but in 1994, this was a revelation.
“Samurai Shodown II” also had plenty of Easter eggs, including a hidden character that would show up to fight from time to time, to further the edge against its biggest rival on the fighting scene, Capcom. Some have said that rebuilding this franchise, just after one game, showed SNK’s dedication to the genre, as well as a cocky two finger salute to Capcom who, despite being more well-known, just couldn’t keep up with arcade perfect games like this, with their only line of defense being, of course, that many consumers in the United States just couldn’t afford a Neo Geo console in their homes.
If you’re salivating over this game and can somehow track down a reasonably priced Neo Geo console, then I have some good news for you. Copies of this game can range anywhere from about $26 all the way up to $100 which, for a game of this caliber on a console like the Neo Geo, isn’t that bad. Keep in mind that digital copies of this game, or even the “Samurai Shodown Anthology” on the PS2 that includes this game, are most likely far easier (and more likely cheaper) to find and purchase.
That does it for me this month. Now that we’re all counting our pennies to save up for this luxury ‘90s console, we must also prepare, together, for April and what has become a tradition here on Turn to Channel 3 – a month of some of the worst and most absurd games imaginable.
Brace yourselves and game on!