Forgotten Fighters of the 90s: Samurai Shodown
Forgotten Fighters of the 90’s is a 5-piece retrospective on the lost titles from the “Golden Era” of fighting games, a time when everyone and their mother was trying to cash in on the Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat hysteria. With the recent release of Super Street Fighter IV/Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, and the upcoming release of Mortal Kombat (the reboot), are remakes of these hidden gems far behind? Only time will tell.
One of the greatest challenges for fighting games in the 90’s was the inevetable porting to home consoles. Even though fighting games pushed the limits of consoles at the time, the differences between ports were often glaring. In an effort to combat this, a Japanese company called SNK released the “Neo Geo” in 1990. Because Neo Geo’s home console price exceeded $600 for much of its lifespan, the system was more prominently featured in arcade cabinets across the globe. Because the cabinets housed a full gaming system and not just a board for the particular game, Neo Geo cabinets generally featured more than one game. One of my favorite Neo Geo games was 1993’s Samurai Shodown, a Japanese fighter that featured fast place game play and more importantly, weapons!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while Samurai Shodown was a super popular game in Japan, and spawned countless ports and sequels, I consider it “forgotten” by my simple American standards. Despite the neglect it received in American arcades, it was no slouch in the gameplay department. In fact, of all the fighter “ripoffs” of the 90’s, Shodown had perhaps the best gameplay (at least by speed and responsiveness standards). It combined the blood of Mortal Kombat with the cartoonish style of Street Fighter, and mixed it with traditional Japanese characters, weapons, backdrops, and music. Just for good measure, there was also typical American thug character with a fart attack (see 1:42 in video below), because… why not?
As an ignorant Yankee, I preferred Earthquake over other characters, mostly because he was HUGE. He was so huge in fact, that he had to be omitted from the Sega Genesis port of the game, because the system didn’t support camera zoom, which was necessary to render the girth of the Earth relative to his opponents. Between that omission and the general toning down of the blood and violence for American audiences, Samurai Shodown didn’t have much of a chance to really stick with American audiences.
The game’s strength as a fast-paced arcade standout was ultimately its weakness, as home ports never did true justice to the core game. Over the years, the series has spawned seven numbered sequels, as well as various special editions and ports. In 2008, Samurai Shodown: Sen was released on the Xbox360 with limited fanfare and received a lukewarm reception from critics. No matter how many games are released under the Samurai Showdown banner, I will always prefer the Neo Geo cabinet version, and will likely continue to toss my spare quarters into the machine at my laundromat as long as it remains there.