Back in the early 90s, when SNK and its Neo Geo started making its way into the arcade, one of the fighting game series that really left a strong impression with players around the world was the Samurai Showdown series. Unlike other fighting games at the time, the game was unique in that players play as one of several swordsmen/women. Gameplay was slow and patient, emphasizing well-placed strikes, with the most skilled players rewarded with Finishing attacks, similar to Mortal Kombat's fatalities. Jump forward to the year 2010, and things ain’t what they used to be. Instead of keeping within its successful 2d roots, Samurai Showdown: Sen makes a transition to the 3rd dimension, and it's clear what made the game special was lost in transit.
From the first match, I knew something was wrong with this game. Instead of sticking to its slow methodical style of past 2d games, the game tries to play two tunes at once. One is slow and methodical, like past SamSho title. The other is quick and combo-oriented, much like Soul Calibur. The result is disjointed and clunky, with unintuitive attacks and stiff, restrictive movement.
The game doesn't hold up much better in the graphics department either. Despite the cast's unique character designs, the actual 3d models look muddled and action figure-like, highlighted by leathery, inhuman faces. This may have been acceptable early in the 360's lifecycle, but at this point in time, this is simply unacceptable. The backgrounds don't fare much better either, with poor geometry and uninspired flat areas. Finally, the animation is inconsistent at best. Some strikes look fine, while some look very awkward and forced, adding to the already-“forced” look of the game, and even adversely affects the gameplay.
Sound in the game does have some redeeming traits. The voice acting in the game is solid, with all of the original voice actors reprising their roles. Sound effects are also solid, with the proper sounds of slashing and striking sounding good enough. Finally, the music in the game is decent, if generally forgettable.
Considering the game asks for the standard $60, it doesn't offer as much as other similarly priced (or even cheaper downloadable) fighting games. Much like SNK Playmore's previous full-priced outing, the King of Fighters XII, this game only offers the bare minimum, both offline and online. It's almost disappointing since their previous games, such as the King of Fighters ’98: Ultimate Match for the PS2, offered more at $20 than this does at $60. There are some basic online modes available with the game as well, but at the time of this review, I was unable to find anybody to play with to test the game's netcode.
SNK Playmore seemed to have missed a great opportunity once again. For a company that has made great fighting games in the past, their two most recent outings have not been good. Despite a strong and unique cast of characters, the poor presentation, barebones features, and subpar gameplay make this hard to recommend, especially at full price. I can only hope the legendary fighting game creator looks back at what made the series so great before trying to make another entry in the series, because Samurai Showdown: Sen simply does not do the series the justice it deserves.