There's no question that Digital Bridges took a risk in acquiring the Samurai Shodown license for use in mobile games. Fighting games rely on fast gameplay and cutting-edge control--attributes that are very difficult to execute on cell phones with any degree of success. Furthermore, SNK's 2D fighting extravaganza could never have fit on mobile in arcade-perfect condition, so Digital Bridges has taken some liberties with its version of Samurai Shodown, shrinking its scope and simplifying its control scheme to preserve the audiovisual feel of the original. Unfortunately, no matter how nice the resulting game may look, it plays like it has been through an edit too many.
This version of Samurai Shodown encompasses two gameplay modes: story mode and survival mode. In story mode, you must play through each of the four included characters from the arcade version: Haohmaru, Nakoruru, Gen-An, and Charlotte. You duel each of the other three characters in turn, before taking on your evil alter ego in a final battle and moving on to the next warrior. In survival mode, you pick your favorite of the four and wade through as many duels as you can handle on a single life--and the small amount of healing you receive between rounds for besting a foe. Samurai Shodown also includes a quick tutorial called the temple, which gives you the rundown on each character's attacks and special moves.
The ability to access several gameplay modes is appreciated, but Samurai Shodown's real strength has always been centered on its stellar fighting mechanics, which the mobile version simply doesn't deliver. The controls are laid out well for the handset, but they are very unresponsive. The lag time between pressing a button and having your character respond onscreen is sluggish and quite disruptive. In addition, Samurai Shodown's hit detection feels extremely buggy. Your attacks sometimes seem to travel right through your target to no effect, especially if you are standing close to your enemy. These problems are exacerbated by Samurai Shodown's lack of combat animation: For instance, it's difficult to tell if your enemies are successfully blocking an attack or if the lax hit detection is giving them an unwarranted assist.
Each character in Samurai Shodown is outfitted with a weapon attack, a kick, and two special attacks. It's not surprising that the mobile version's range of attacks would have to be pared down from the arcade, but this thin assortment of moves leaves the game feeling repetitive and bereft of any tactical depth. There are no jumping or crouching attacks for defensive or evasive purposes, so the winning strategy is usually to get up into your opponent's grill and outstab him or her with your basic and power attacks. The special moves are mapped to a few specific button combinations, but they are difficult to pull off on a consistent basis; due to Samurai Shodown's poor control response time, you will often find yourself erroneously stringing together basic moves rather than entering in special attacks. When you do successfully use your special techniques, you will notice that they are considerably more powerful than regular attacks. This is especially apparent with projectile moves like Gen-An's slow-moving poison cloud, which can damage its opponents up to three times. If you wait for your special meter to fill up and then nail an enemy with one of these maneuvers, you can take away well over a third of your enemy's stamina. If you can't beat your opponent in the race to pull off as many power moves as possible as fast as possible, odds are you won't win many matches.
It's a shame that Samurai Shodown is so difficult to play, because the game's graphics and sound have made an excellent transition to mobile, at least on Series 60 Java handsets. The background graphics are incredibly vivid and detailed, and the character art has been faithfully reproduced from the arcade. On the other hand, the game runs at a slow pace, with only a small fraction of the original's flowing animation--although you can still disarm your enemy, which is a nice touch. Samurai Shodown's music and sound effects are both excellent on the Series 60, featuring several sonorous tunes for the title screen and beginning of the levels, as well as loud, varied combat punctuations. Haohmaru's guttural screams come through as sharp as a knife, and special moves produce a vibrating, magical shimmer that will strike fear into the hearts of passersby. The game's usage of sound adds a lot to an otherwise lackluster combat experience.
Overall, Samurai Shodown looks and sounds lovely, but it ultimately fails the playability test due to slipshod control and boring, depthless gameplay. Since the fighting genre has always been all about gameplay, the development resources would have been better spent optimizing Shodown's gameplay for mobile rather than focusing on its audiovisual presentation. No matter how nice this game looks, you won't want to play it.