The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Samurai Shodown has retained a modest fan following for nearly two decades thanks to its stylized, hand-drawn characters and uniquely Eastern flavor. The franchise’s previous attempts to transition to 3D failed to garner the same adoration as the classic titles, but that hasn’t stopped SNK from trying to update the series’ formula and make its weapon-based fighter relevant once again. But while Sen’s core combat is a frenzy of entertainment, the underwhelming graphics, perplexingly bad story mode, and countless poor design decisions will disappoint even the most nostalgic fans of the series.
The problems begin with Sen's story mode. Most fighting game fans consider story modes to be an appetizer for competition against other human players, but Sen takes single-player gaming to new lows. Balance is my chief complaint; some matches will be ridiculously easy, while others will take multiple retries, so how quickly you progress through the story mode essentially comes down to luck of the draw. The second-to-last character, Draco, is the cheapest opponent you will ever come across in a fighting game. This cowboy-inspired sheriff brings a rifle to a sword fight, and spams you with unblockable gunfire as you are helplessly juggled in the air at the end of the screen. There’s a difference between difficult and cheap, and Draco is on the wrong side of the line.
Adding to the frustration is the fact that when you lose a match – and you will lose plenty of matches – you’re automatically taken back to the character select screen. I appreciate the ability to switch characters when I’m making my way up the storyline ladder, but the inability to simply retry a match is a major stumbling block. Waiting for the character screen to load, selecting your character, then waiting for the match to load will often take longer than the fights themselves. Some rounds can be over in as little as five seconds, but I’m not complaining about the brevity; it’s Sen’s saving grace.
Adopting a gameplay style that is evocative of Bushido Blade, Sen’s bloody rounds are the definition of short and sweet. Each character has dozens of moves and combos in their repertoire, but the regular two strong attacks and one slow, unblockable attack will dominate most rounds, as they eat up massive amounts of the opponent’s health bar. These powerful moves will also sever an opponent’s hand, lop off their head, or slice them in two at the torso if it’s the last blow of the round. The ease at which you can pull these moves off may discourage you from taking the time to learn your character’s more intricate combos, but it also means that any round can abruptly end in a surprise upset.
The element of unpredictability makes versus mode exciting, albeit somewhat shallow compared to more robust fighters. I had fun decapitating my foes in fevered fights to the death, but the lack of additional modes or customization, and long load times left me feeling bored after trying each character a couple of times. A few novel gameplay mechanics – like Fatal Flash, which allows players on death’s door to land one extremely powerful blow each round – make Sen unique, but can’t save the overall experience from being dragged down by plentiful flaws.
Sen’s online play performs admirably, but suffers from the same barebones approach as the rest of the game. Players can choose between ranked and player matches, as well as an Xbox Live Party mode. Ranked matches count toward the leaderboard and Microsoft’s TrueSkill ranking system. The ranked mode will not allow you to replay a round against an opponent however, meaning you have to wait to be paired with another challenger and sit through the long load times for every match. Player matches do allow a quick retry (assuming you and your opponent both agree), but opponents playing in this mode are few and far between given the fact that your performances don’t count toward anything.
I’m happy to report I didn’t have any lag issues when playing online, and the matches were as frantic and fun as local multiplayer matches, though ultimately still a little shallow. The main problem with Sen’s multiplayer is the lack of participants; a week after the game’s release, there were only 1,200 players on the leaderboard. That’s not a good sign for a thriving and competitive community. I routinely had to wait about a minute to be paired with an opponent. This downtime, paired with long load times and short matches, is a recipe for frustration.
Some fans will consider Sen a diamond in the rough, and if you’re playing with friends and can overlook its problems, there’s some decent action to be had. The more I played the game the more it grew on me, but I never shook the feeling that fans deserve a lot better than what Sen has to offer.
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