Samurai Showdown Sen
Samurai Showdown from SNK is a long running series that I've always respected, but never really played much, for whatever reason. The series has finally made its debut onto current gen consoles with Samurai Showdown Sen. This newest entry isn't without its problems, but for passionate, patient, and tolerating fans of fighters, it may be worth a look.
Slice And Dice
Sen brings in a bunch of new characters with new backgrounds, a new story, and support for online play. I spent the vast majority of my time battling the CPU as the online community is quite thin at this time and I'm not sure if it will see much growth or not. Anyway, offline modes available include Story, Versus, Survival, and Practice. There are Achievements for completing the game with each character. I focused in on a returning character, Hanzo, as my player of choice for most of the time. Each character is available from the start for any mode and as you hover over each you're given a very brief description of them along with a single word that describes their style of fighting -- be it Power, Speed, Skill, or Tricky as in the case of Hanzo due to his ability to teleport and his swift kicks.
Controls can be customized in the options but by default are set to Horizontal Slash (A), Vertical Slash (B), Kick (X), Special (Y), Strong Horiztonal Attack (LB), Strong Vertical Attack (RT), unblockable attack as LB, and HS+Special as LT. I didn't have much of any issue with the button layout, but the responsiveness and behavior of your character in battle can be a bit clunky and even unpredictable. It's also hard to consistently execute special maneuvers as in classic SNK fashion, most special combos require a mix diagonal directional inputs and buttons, which are always a pain for me on a gamepad. In addition, I wish there was a button for blocking -- that'd have been especially useful in fighting Draco, a cowboy character who was the only one smart enough to bring a gun to a sword fight. His ability to blast his double barrelled shotgun all the way across the screen seven or eight times in a row without pause is damn frustrating, and at that distance, your character won't block. Blocking seems to be half automatic and half dependent on the player holding back (or away) when near an opponent.
So to get started, I spent some time in Practice mode which isn't as full featured or as helpful as I would have liked. Players get to choose both characters and their background of choice, and have an infinite amount of time to practice tactics against the CPU. You can configure a few options or flags to change the behavior of the practice session, but I would have liked additional guidance. I've seen several fighting games that show you what input you are entering as you enter it, which is helpful in determining what the game is picking up from your controller. This would be extremely helpful in trying to learn the different combos that each character has. As is, you only have a name and a string of commands that must be entered -- no demo video of what the move looks like or much of description.
Moving onto Story mode then. Playing on Normal difficulty I had a hell of a time against the CPU and never actually completed the Story. The CPU is actually pretty darn unforgiving, especially in that classically frustrating 2nd round kind of way. Most fighting gamers will know what I mean -- so you win the first round, either with ease or by a lucky finishing hit -- well, in round two, the CPU character goes on a rampage and destroys you. It happens more often than not in Sen, whether on Normal or even Easy mode.
Like most fighters, Sen battles are by default based on who wins two out of three rounds. Patience, and I would argue even luck, are required here. I both liked and disliked the combat in Sen. On the one hand, I respect and liked that you have to play strategically, timing your attacks and executing precisely timed counters for whatever the enemy is attacking you with. For example, a swift vertical strike is perfect in keeping their oncoming horizontal slash from hitting you. Knowing when to kick them back or distract them with a swift kick to the ankle or using the quick dash and side step techniques are also vital. But for all of the satisfaction that playing in this way can yield when successful, you'll encounter as many or even far more instances where it really just comes down to button mashing and luck. This is partly due to some clunky behavior in the fighting system and the highly aggressive behavior of most CPU battles. By clunky behavior, I mean things like not being able to execute my special moves with any kind of consistency. That's partly my fault, but I also question the reliability of the game detecting my input as well; sometimes it just seemed like my input was dropped and I was left wide open for a CPU attack. Other times my input seemed misinterpreted. Where RT normally has Hanzo flipping in the air and coming down with a strong vertical attack, sometimes he would instead stay grounded and do something completely different.
Tough CPU battles are one thing, but what really wears on you is what happens after the conclusion of a battle. Of course a replay of the final seconds appears, which you can quickly tap Start to skip. Then you have the victory animation of the CPU character, the continue screen, then you have to wait a few seconds for the game to go all the way back to the character select screen. The character select screen comes up and instead of having your last used character already highlighted, it brings up the default select screen so you have to manually move over to select your fighter of choice. Once you select him, the battle map comes up again, then a list of moves for your character and the CPUs. Then a versus screen appears and then the introduction of the two characters. Now, a lot of that you can skip after a few seconds, but even going as fast as I can I was still waiting about thirty seconds per Continue just to get another crack at the battle. Why the hell can't I just select "Rematch" as soon my character dies and the fight just restart? Having to sit through all of these load screens gives you a lot of time to think about all of the game's issues and it gets harder to keep playing, to be honest.
As for the presentation, Sen isn't impressive, but it's not horrible either. I never had any framerate issues or really any significant technically problems which is a plus, but in terms of sheer visual quality it isn't impressive. I thought battles looked especially bad in some of the night fights (backgrounds have different lighting depending on time of day). And while animations are fluid and look fine, the textures, polygon count, and effects are all mediocre at best. That shouldn't keep you from playing, but, it's worth pointing out. As for the game's audio, it's okay, but not outstanding. I can tell you I got tired of the tune that plays during loading quickly, but in game effects and voice overs, what few there are, were fine.
To the summary...
Samurai Showdown Sen
It's good to see Samurai Showdown back, but Sen isn't what hardcore Samurai Showdown fans were hoping for. While I wouldn't quite call it a bad game, it isn't a very good one either.