Samurai Showdown Anthology Review
Friday, May 15, 2009 9:39 AM
Ian Dunt tries out the classic Samurai Showdown Anthology, and feels distinctly underwhelmed.
I'm a comics fan, so I know a thing or two about someone casting ignorant judgements on your childhood dreams. I've lost track of how many much-loved comic series have been turned into movies, just so I can watch deeply ignorant film critics lay into it without any knowledge of the source material whatsoever.
So I'm going to be honest with you; I never played Samurai Showdown in its day. And I am about to pass judgement on it. This is me giving you fair warning.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Like sleeping with an ex-girlfriend, the reality of going back to something is rarely what you imagined it to be. There are exceptions, of course. Sonic (the original of course) is one of them; a game that still forces you to the edge of your seat after nearly two decades.
I don't feel entirely able to say whether Samurai Showdown Anthology will satisfy your nostalgia, because I never played it. But I can say this: I didn't enjoy myself.
On the positive side, there were intriguing aspects to this collection, which spans Samurai Showdown I to VI. The gradual improvements in the game as it adapts through the years is actually pretty fascinating, like a miniature museum of gaming. It functions as an example of the progress of the 2D fighting genre itself, which Samurai Showdown did so much to influence. Some of its innovations, such as throwing opponents through walls to open up new level areas, are now standard.
Anthology's developers made the sensible decision to retain the originals' eccentricities, including most importantly their insane use of English. 'I overflow with contempt,' one character says to another, reminding me to fit this into a pub conversation at the next available opportunity. One fighting style is given the tagline: 'Overcame pinch by bursting rage!' That right there was the coolest thing I read all day.
The animation maintains a pretty cool Manga rhythm, a bit like watching Fist of the North Star on an old VCR. That sense of rhythm and timing is probably the best aspect of the game itself. The slow-motion deaths remain satisfying, while fights proceed slowly and carefully, with opponents frequently checking each other out for what seems like minutes at a time before launching a devastating series of attacks capable of ending the enemy with just three or four strikes. It was this style which originally differentiated the game from more frenzied fighters like Street Fighter 2, and it goes well with its ancient Japanese setting.
The control system is innovative and layered, which sounds like a compliment. And so it is, for the sort of person who likes that kind of thing. Personally, I lost patience. Each game introduces new subsystems to the fighting, such as a Rage gauge.
By the time you get to Showdown VI, each fighter (there are dozens) has nine different fighting styles (Spirits), one of which has eight variants. It just got too much for me. It'll get too much for you too, unless you familiarised yourself with it when the game first came out. It just seems like too much effort for what is, after all, an old 2D fighter.
Add to that the fact that the control system is extraordinarily problematic. Since I was playing the Wii-version, I was using the Wii-mote and nunchuk. If you're the sort of person to buy this game you'll already have a Classic Controller. It's pretty much mandatory.
For all its industry-changing innovation, the normal Wii controls are useless for this sort of thing. The old move familiar to Samurai Showdown, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter that consists of making a quarter circle with the direction pad before hitting the attack button (most of my friends still call it the Hadouken move) is extremely difficult to master using the nunchuk's directional stick. You just can't guarantee the character will respond.
Somewhere along the line, the developers decided not to provide a back option to the menu screen in each game so you have to revert to the Wii menu screen to play a different version in the Anthology. This proved utterly infuriating, and gives the impression that this was cobbled together quickly to make a fast buck.
The 20 price tag makes up for this, but then, how much more could you afford to charge for a collection of old 2D games? Wii points would have been a better way to go.
I can't stress enough that this is the view of an outsider. On the other hand: This is the view of an outsider, and I'm sticking to it. The project smells suspiciously like an attempt to make money, rather than a labour of love for those involved. That being said, if you want to go back to that childhood place and getting your grubby hands around this box is the best way to do so, nothing I write is going to stop you. Enjoy.