Samurai Shodown V Xbox Live Hands-On

We bust and slash our way through a nearly complete, Live-enabled version of this NeoGeo fighting game.

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Samurai Shodown V
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Fighting game fans know the name Samurai Shodown, since it's one of the most respected series among SNK's crop of NeoGeo classics. Granted, many fans would argue that the series hit its peak more than a decade ago with Samurai Shodown II, but that hasn't stopped SNK from trying to recapture the magic. You're not liable to find NeoGeo arcade machines as common these days as you would back then, but thankfully, SNK's keeping that fighting game spirit alive with its arcade-inspired lineup.

Look at all those characters to choose from. And look at how few of them could accurately be described as samurai!
Look at all those characters to choose from. And look at how few of them could accurately be described as samurai!

Like most of the company's other games, Samurai Shodown V for the Xbox is mostly just a straight port of a NeoGeo game, so we're talking hardware that dates back to the late '80s, here--don't expect any whiz-bang effects from this game. However, judging by this latest version we played, you can expect all the classic Samurai Shodown characters to make a comeback, and for the action to play just as well against the computer as against other players on Xbox Live. We just hope SNK manages to iron out a few remaining hiccups in the action before the game ships.

Samurai Shodown V is a one-on-one fighting game like all its predecessors, letting you pick one of more than two-dozen colorful characters and take on your opponent in a fight to the finish. While these characters frankly look pretty crude by today's standards--the 2D graphics are highly pixelated and betray the game's old arcade roots--there's plenty of charm and personality on display in this game's roster. Pretty much all our old favorite characters are back, from ninja master Hanzo, to the terminally ill swordsman Ukyo, to the arrogant samurai Jubei, to the vengeful, muscle-bound Genjuro.

A number of new characters are present as well, like Yumeji, a well-mannered warrior who can use many of the other fighters' best moves against them; and Yoshitora, who carries not just one or two swords, but four. While the new fighters have their own moves and looks, most of them are based on alternate versions of the original characters found in Samurai Shodown IV. For this reason, they do fit in reasonably well with the others, but not every single character is completely unique. Still, the game's broad variety of characters is definitely one of its stronger suits.

Will Samurai Shodown's style of 2D one-on-one fighting action still cut it after all these years?
Will Samurai Shodown's style of 2D one-on-one fighting action still cut it after all these years?

The gameplay over Xbox Live seems to be working fine. You're able to set match parameters when creating a match, and in a nice touch, when finding games through the quick-match feature, you're prompted to accept the opponent's conditions (for example, if you don't want to play a five-round match, you could opt out). Like other recent online-enabled SNK fighting games, this one will also let players set up their own tournaments for hardcore online competition. The one snag we ran into when testing the game over Live was that the rematch feature doesn't seem to work quite right yet, so we're hopeful that this will be fixed. After all, once you find a good opponent online, you just want to keep playing.

Samurai Shodown V plays a lot like IV. You've got weak, medium, and strong slashes as well as kicks and various evasive maneuvers to choose from, plus a smattering of special moves for each character. Some characters are wildly different from others, making for fairly unusual matchups, like when you've got tiny Nakoruru fighting against the screen-filling, hideously ugly Kusaregedo. And while the graphics aren't razor-sharp or anything, the battles are surely pleasant on the ears, thanks to some great Japanese voice acting for all the fighters, as well as an arranged soundtrack featuring unique musical themes for all the main characters. A lot of the sounds and voices are recycled from previous Samurai Shodown games but still hold up well. The music's new, though it features remixed themes that fans of the series will instantly recognize.

Ukyo is as cheerful as ever in this installment.
Ukyo is as cheerful as ever in this installment.

This is a game best suited for those of us who've held on to the fighting game spirit despite the untimely demise of the glory days of arcade gaming. Samurai Shodown V plays just like the NeoGeo classics, and notwithstanding the brief but present loading times between matches and the occasional hiccups in the action, this version seems to be arcade-perfect. However, there's really no reason the Xbox shouldn't be capable of pulling this game off flawlessly, so we're anxious to see how it finally turns out, and to get online and take on other Samurai Shodown fans around the world. The game's release date has kept getting pushed back this season, but we're hopeful Samurai Shodown V for the Xbox will see the light of day without too much further delay. Stay tuned for our full review when the game's finally released.

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