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Samurai Showdown V’ fills its target niche

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Two-dimensional fighters are a dying genre. They had an impressive run in the world of gaming, but like Nintendo, its time of dominance is past.

Most fighters currently out on the market boast fully three-dimensional engines, with the latest aliasing and polygon effects. They push the boundaries of modern technology, with “Dead or Alive” and “Tekken” being primary examples of this. But that is the primary reason that the choice to release “Samurai Showdown V” is an odd one.

“Samurai Showdown” was popular during the height of the two-dimensional fighter craze, and even then it never quite reached the same level as “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat.” The attempts that were made to modernize it were not nearly as successful as it’s brethren, so it remained in its original format. So now, 13 years after the release of the original, gamers are treated to a home console release of the fifth iteration of the series.

Story-wise, the game is exactly what one would expect from the golden age of two-dimensional fighters. A powerful being issues out a call to the strongest fighters around, and they converge on his location, getting into random skirmishes along the way. It’s not the deepest plot, but in fairness, it does not portray itself as having such.

The characters are a diverse bunch, with a total of 26 playable. They range from agile ninjas to large Japanese ghouls of oriental lore. There are a number of hidden and unlockable ones as well, adding to the replay of the game. There are some clones in appearance and fighting styles. This characteristic is a staple of its genre, as both “Mortal Kombat” and “Street Fighter” employed clones to round out their rosters.

Most of the characters show a unique sense of style and ability, however. The aforementioned ghoul is a giant, taking up a quarter of the screen. Another character employs an oversized shuriken on a chain, a reasonably unique weapon in the world of gaming.

The game held a unique niche back when it was released and still manages to retain some of its distinctiveness. The focus of “Samurai Showdown” was weapon-based combat, and while games like “Soul Calibur” now occupy that same genre, it still manages to maintain its own identity. Unlike other weapon-based games, the emphasis here is not on combos or juggling the opponent. Instead, the focus is on defense and timing strikes to disarm the adversary.

Single, powerful moves are the primary form of combat in the game. A special move, titled a “rage explosion,” can be triggered at any moment and used to perform more powerful moves. But if it does not connect, or if the timer runs out, the player loses the ability for the rest of the match.

Efforts have been made to modernize the game in the form of making it compatible with X-Box Live. For the first time, one can play “Samurai Showdown” competitively over the Internet. Since the main draw for two-dimensional fighters was playing against other live opponents, this is a welcome feature.

“Samurai Showdown V” is an obvious throwback to the older days of gaming. The majority of its appeal lies in the retro nature of the game, and it appeals to an older crowd of gamers. People who grew up with the PlayStation 2 or even the original Playstation, however, may find the game inevitably underwhelming.