Thursday, 20 September 2012

Max 330 Mega The Premier Collection - Round 1

Before we dive in, nobody can deny that Capcom are supreme professionals and undoubtedly created some of the most recognizable and famous fighting chars of all time.

For anybody who dared to oppose them, they not only needed to be good, they needed big brass balls.

It’s therefore convenient that when SNK were good, they’re really good.  In fact, they were truly exceptional.

We have four franchises left that dared to challenge Capcom’s domination and omnipotence in the 2D fighting world.

Even the most anti-SNK fan will give a nod of appreciation as to how truly great and inspirational the following are.

We’ll begin out journey with a franchise starring Haohmuru, sharp sticks and copious amounts of blood.

If you want a greater impact than a 3.57 Magnum at close range, then please stare down the barrel of Samurai Shodown.

While Namco's Soul series is globally famous, Battle Arena Toshinden succeeds as being the first 3D fighter to use pointy sticks and I'd like both to admit that without Samurai Shodown, neither would exist.

Soul Edge (or Soul Blade) first appeared in 1996.

It’s funny how a name sticks as many and most don’t call the franchise Soul Edge.

Instead, the world calls it Soulcalibur (even though that’s the sequel) as we are now up to Soulcalibur V.

SNK had to come up something big and I mean big to make the hearts of Ryu, Ken and co skip several beats and so it proved when the first game was released in 1993.

Street Fighter 2 was unsurprisingly still bigger than an overweight salad dodger and instead of dragon punches; gamers now had the refreshing alternative of slicing up their opponents with glee.

Rest assured, a tasty assortment of bladed weapons were unsheathed.

It’s intentionally great that the word Shodown is now written in folklore and we no longer spell the word as ‘Showdown’ anymore…

The series is set during 18th century Japan and many wonderful, eccentric and prolific sword bearers graced this historical stage.

So it’s a weapons based fighter, has a reputation as been the first of its kind and is slightly brilliant.

As a side note, I reckon it was also the first game of its type to use animal instinct.

You’ll find yourself hopping, hacking, sidestepping, crouching, dashing and retreating.

It’s bloody great fun.

Samurai Shodown series, SNK 1993 - 1996

The intro was suitably excellent and features its principal protagonist, Haohmuru.

The cherry blossom falls, lanterns flicker, a mysterious samurai sits in deep meditation and shortly, the screen goes black.

A few sword swipes later, we watch in awe as a tree tumbles and lanterns crumble.

Twelve warriors can be selected including Hanzo (based on an actual ninja), Haohmuru, the psychotic Wan Fun, Charlotte, Jubei, Galford, the emotionless Ukyo and the portly Earthquake.

It remains in essence a standard best out of three fighter but as we trade knuckles for blades, it's gonna get messy.

This is not Mortal ‘Kon’bat gore, as it’s a bit more subtle but nevertheless, applying a fatal blow to an opponent can see a geyser of blood erupt from his/her chest.

Aside from the standard swipes, you have the inevitable special moves which at the time, were the most elaborate yet.

Every so often, you can be involved in a sword grapple and if unsuccessful, you’ll lose your weapon which just left your fists and feet to make a difference.

Aside from the numerous missiles and general bloodlust, a guy in the background would run by and either allow the player to either benefit from a bomb or health power up.

There is a gauge but I’m pretty sure it just made you go red and had little effect.

The char sprites were nice and chunky (no offence Earthquake) and had decent but not great animation.

Landscapes belonging to each char were particularly tasty with a vibrant and colourful look, with most having more activity than the stock market.

Certain stages were intended to be fairly inanimate.

No attack or blow was missed as each match is carefully scrutinised by the flag happy referee.

As we've come to expect from SNK, subtle details and effects included waves crashing against rocks, snow falling and leaves blowing in gusts of wind.

Unlike Ken’s stage, the sea actually moved….

Due to its setting, the sound could be potentially very interesting and was unlike anything we’d ever heard before.

It was a wonderful mix of mystical whooping and standard rock as you’d journey to Japan, China and the USA.

All this is great, but if it played like a lethargic dachshund, Houston we have a problem.

As you primarily used weapons as opposed to fists and feet, the right balance had to be struck and nicely, it scored a high five.

It was nippy enough, chars felt different and blows felt satisfying.

Combos were non existent but to be fair, that’s to be expected.

During 1P play, intermissions kept things ticking along nicely and kept things mysterious.

The boss was Amakusa and with his magic ball and teleportation shenanigans, he made for a decent enough final confrontation.

Although pretty enough, his background was very static and left you thinking, would something give?

Well this suspicious background came up with the answer when you won a round…

That’s when it kicked off and made your jaw slightly ajar.

So the original was good, but the sequel was a showstopper and the ultimate crowd pleaser.

This is nearly the best sequel ever made and considering that the original was no couch potato, this made it one awesome bunch of pixels.

I still think Turrican 2 on C64 deserves that tag.

The intro text features some brilliant Engrish – it really makes no sense.

The first improvement was the char roster as we now have fifteen armed and dangerous hotheads to choose from.

Tam Tam was axed (good) and replaced with the far superior Cham Cham (predictably, the sister of the former) and three other brand new beasts.

Cham Cham’s brother does exist in spirit as you could task her monkey to re-enact most of his moves.

New weapons (together with general moves) were now available including a boomerang and iron fist.

The psychotic Wan-Fu discards his large sword in favour of a stone pillar.  He also liked to bash his head against it during a psyche move or upon victory.

I can really imagine a samurai duelling with a boomerang.  Ha ha.

Anyway, Haohmuru now has a direct rival in the form of the evil Genjuro.

Of the other two unmentioned, you had the geriatric and staff-wielding Nictotine and the ‘arm’our plated Sieger.

The others, we already know.

You could dash before, but now you can hop back and forth and crouch to avoid projectiles.

Presentation is up next and the char portraits were entirely redone and looked superb.

There is practically nothing that isn't better than the original.  Everything oozes more class than the aristocracy.

Like Art of Fighting 2, existing chars have travelled to new locations and even subject to a seasonal change.

For instance, Jubei now fights amongst snowy bamboo and Nakoruru is watched by her loyal following of furry friends during the summer.

These backgrounds are fabulous and the level of detail has to be applauded.

SNK really delved deep into the Geo’s palette and came up with many wonderful and intricate landscapes.

The only stage that was left largely untouched (apart from a colour change) was Wan Fu’s.

This wasn't an issue because it was a great stage anyway.

There is no mediocrity, only supremacy.

I thought the Neo Geo moon was a great touch in Genjuro’s stage.

The buck didn’t stop there as every other surviving sprite had his/her posture and movement substantially redrawn.

They even learnt new victory poses.

The result was superb and the slightly disappointing animation was subject to a huge overhaul to ensure that each char moved with sinuous grace.

Old chars can enjoy new specials and nearly as important, nukes are now available to each and unlike the first, we’d never seen such special effects.  It’s obviously time to unleash hell.

These acts of devastation were largely spectacular and the actual impact was devastating as it destroyed your opponent’s weapon.

A replacement was eventually kindly thrown back by the ref but this meant for nervous moments as blocking standard swipes acting in the same way as blocking any special.

The gore returned and was more pronounced than before but again, wasn't OTT.

Speaking of blood, the Neo CD version was defaulted to green but with some slight experimentation, unlocking a vampire's favourite drink was fairly simple, if not immediately obvious.

Selecting Japanese, leaving the option screen and then reverting back to USA, I'm sure it was that simple.

Whatever, I was proud of finding that out by pure accident.

Naturally, the audio was far more varied and improved greatly upon the excellent principle instilled by the original.

Speech was appropriately more emotional and clearer than a cave spring.  The lip syncing was even accurate.  Honestly, this game…

Taunting, unique dolls for each char and ‘magic moves’ were more new additions.

The doll moves were literally pointless but at least looked cool.

Only certain chars possessed a magic move which was basically a hidden nuke.

Galford and Hanzo disappeared, Haohmuru did a super special move chain and Nakoruru did some shit with her kestrel.  I’m sure these were the only chars privileged to have such techniques.

If you met strict conditions; the ref challenged you to an unexpected duel.

He basically performed Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury moves and was quite a tough cookie.  He was also playable with a convoluted code.

Bonus stages were thankfully removed but the intermissions returned and grew more interesting as you eventually made your way to fight a new boss who boasted specials and a nuke so unfair, you’d have more chance calling a tail on a double-headed coin.

Mizuki commanded a wolf monster to heap much misery.

Like some of the endings, her background was great.

If I was being hyper critical, the only tiny discrepancy I can think of is that some normal moves were overpowered.

With such an incredible sequel, the third game would surely supersede it, but instead went more backwards than a car in reverse.

Okay, it’s pleasing to the eye and ear and did have some charm but compared to the former, it burnt my bread.

I’m likening it to one of Umbrella’s many biological weapons, a failed experiment.

Its intro is definitely the best yet which saw it showcasing new and old chars in various animation shorts.

The char roster has been slashed reducing it down to twelve.  Some of the more jovial and quirky chars have been given the chop including Gen-An and Earthquake so noobs have been included, and those from the sequel invited the family along.

These new additions include Shizumaru, Basara, Rimiruru (Nakomuru’s sister) and Gaira (Nicotine’s nephew).

New weapons include the yielding of an umbrella and a necklace.

Firm favourites such as Haohmuru, Hanzo, Galford, Nakoruru and Kyoshiro also returned for the third outing.

Nicely, Amakusa is now playable for the first time.

Those hovering or selecting Haohmuru and/or Kyoshiro will notice a radical and substantial hair growth.

I guess it’s uncool for samurais to have their barnet trimmed.

All existing chars have again been redrawn and look far beefier than before.

The new chars are unsurprisingly a great looking set of pixels.

On selecting a char, you now have the option of selecting ‘Slash’ or ‘Bust’.

What the hell does mean?

Well it basically means two types of the same char.  It’s a bit like having a good and evil side.

Choosing Slash is the nearest thing you’ll get to Sam 2 and Bust means slightly different moves or a variation of existing moves.

You can also benefit from new animals as Nakoruru swaps her trusty kestrel for a wolf.

It’s less exciting than what it sounds but still, a nice idea.

Before continuing with the ‘new’, I’ll revert to the bad.

The referee has now retired and items are now thrown by an invisible presence.

I miss his flags almost as much as his enthusiastic clap.

Like Sam 2, he can be fought but his new sprite is only temporarily shown and the duel with him is actually just a mirror match.

What’s the point in that?

The only thing I can think of is that SNK wanted to the series to develop into a more mature and darker look, so decided that the delivery man and the ref were too innocent to witness such violence.

So if I’m right, just give them a personality makeover and force a more menacing look.

I’m now scurrying back to the new.

Gameplay ‘enhancements’ allows mid air blocking, rage gauge charging (a la Art of Fighting) and dodge attacks which further allows an additional move.

Hmmm, not quite sure you could call them enhancements, more like setbacks.

Flame effects have been given a makeover but I didn’t really like the new-look plasma.

Sticking to the nature of the series, the overall sound is even better than before.

The backgrounds are again totally redone for existing chars and inevitably, unique scenery for the noobs.

Shining highlights include an excellent cherry blossom tree, a dilapidated house and a remixed frozen Nakoruru stage.

Subtle and smart effects can be shown throughout a battle such as lens flare and sunlight shining through bamboo.

The new end boss is a large sword wielding dude called Zankuro.  You fight a normal best of three and then after a short sequence, together with a stage transformation - he’s powered up.

It’s now becomes a sudden death situation.

While he’ll never achieve the status of a ‘cult’ boss, his sprite is great.

A cool credit roll follows displaying amusing images and dolls.

So despite the highs, there is definitely an appalling low.

A game can sound and look as opulent as it likes but if this prettiness masks a fatal flaw, it’s going down quicker than a man holding a smoking gun, with a confession message glued to his forehead.

Normal attacks are now so powerful, bouts can be over within seconds, and I mean seconds.  It means that any special or nuke is rendered virtually meaningless.

After all, this is not a Tekken game.

Hence it would be more enjoyable introducing an ice pick to your asshole.

It’s an appalling oversight and something that SNK rarely make the mistake of doing, especially in one of their flagship franchises.

Unlike a local council, SNK did listen to fans’ dissonance and set about creating a more enjoyable and far more balanced outing for the fourth game.

Amakusa is back and out for redemption.

It went someway in recreating the magic that Sam 2 brought and resulted in a much more pleasant experience.

The intro was even better and noticing that Charlotte and others are back, that can only encourage.

The gameplay mechanics needed a total overhaul and that’s exactly what SNK did.

There are so many new innovations and much was sliced and diced too.

We begin with the combo slash which means that after instigation, a combination of buttons later did exactly what you’d expect.

If timed correctly, a guard destroyer allows you to temporarily stun your opponent.  While this doesn’t deal any damage, it does leave your rival vulnerable.

Already, this has made things immediately more interesting and much more chopping was applied.

I’ve already mentioned that what looked stupid in the third was an invisible presence throwing items and literally, don’t expect anything like that.

You can’t charge your rage gauge, evasion moves and mid air blocking are all just memories.

So without a rage gauge charge, it just builds in the traditional fashion and then a nuke can be unleashed.  These are appropriately OTT and look great.

Perhaps the most radical gameplay tweak and/or addition is the rage explosion.

Well, that sounds pretty aggressive and certainly serves up an exciting slice of anger.  After a simple button combo, your rage gauge is converted to a rage timer.

This is the interesting bit; the length of this new timer is proportionate to your remaining life for that round.  This potentially turns your char into a rampaging maniac and other button combos are available but at the cost of reducing the timer.

Further to this, your nuke is even more powered up than before.

There is a tiny catch to this offensive boost…

After this lunacy subsides, your rage gauge is totally disabled for the rest of the duel so despite all the positives, this should be used sparingly.

For the first time in the series, you now have two energy bars which I suppose was done not only for the rage explosion, but also to prevent matches ending extremely prematurely.

Normal attacks are no longer uber powerful so SNK deserve a pint for addressing such a terrible mistake.

The char roster is the greatest it has even been with a total of 17 chars.  Earthquake excepted, the entire cast from the original returns to settle unfinished business.

So along with existing chars, two new warriors are introduced in the form of brothers Kazuki and Kogetsu.

Each are each skilled in the art of fire and water respectively.

The only thing retained is Slash or Bust.

A very nice Art of Fighting style map screen appears upon progression which only adds to its presentation.

So choose your dedicated warrior and off you go, but what the heck is that time limit?

Yes that’s right, you are now against the greatest enemy of all and if you don’t reach the end boss within the time limit; an ending will not be seen.

This leads to a different challenge in itself.

Of course, if you’re pressed for time it’s natural to begin panicking but try not to as it’s a case of more haste, less speed as the game doesn't expect you to slice through all 17 chars.

Nevertheless, casting a nervous glance towards that timer and seeing it increase can create slight pressure.

The timer counts up and not down to avoid any confusion.

The sound is a mixture of remixes and new audio excitement.

Stages similarly follow suit but even these remixes have ice cool enhancements.

Each now have a sort of intro featuring the principalities of what the stage contains.  These include burning embers, cherry blossom falling and crows flying.

It’s very nice stuff.

Two more cool additions also now exist.

Firstly, most stages feature Amakusa’s castle in the background and as you slowly creep towards his hideout, the scale of his residence is certainly emphasised.

Finally, Amakusa himself spookily appears towards the conclusion of a match and transforms the stage into a purple curiosity.

There are quite a few variations including his huge face and a skull.

Instead of a geyser of blood, you now can be sliced in half.  Okay, that could happen before but not in a graphically gory fashion.

I said there was a lot but there’s even more and this is when SNK went a touch zany.

For anybody who's read my 8 bits Part 2 feature, I mentioned a C64 game called Samurai Warrior.

In this peculiar oddity, if you killed an innocent, you committed suicide and/or performed an honourable death.

Well guess what?  You really can guess can’t you?

Yes you’ve guessed it, SNK decided to allow this act in Sam 4, only this end could be chosen.

Apart from shits and giggles, there was a point and/or benefit.

Yeah, a benefit exists in killing yourself.

Your rage gauge would be fully charged for the next round.

If this is done during the third round, expect to lose….

You may do this to prevent your opponent from having the satisfaction of finishing you off.

The final incision during this operation is the craziest of all.

This even features Mortal Kombat fatalities.  Upon dealing such a horrific attack, blood is even splattered on your clothes.

I’d never thought I’d say that in an SNK game.

I’d expect blood; I’d expect quality, but not fatalities.

The only disappointing aspect is that for the first time in the series, every sprite (Kazuki and Kogetsu excepted) was not redrawn.

Predictably, Amakusa awaits, then Zankuro and finally a rival.

I realise that he is a central char and existed from the beginning but given the choice, a new end boss should have been introduced.

So despite being technically better, boasting vast gameplay additions, it still doesn’t weave enough magic to trouble the brilliance that Sam 2 was.

As a sequel, there are few that could claim to be better.

If you’ve never played it, somehow try but it does help if you play the original first to appreciate how good that game is.

Still, this is a great effort (considering the debacle of the former) and in the traditional sense at least, SNK’s last Shodown; but one final sword would be unsheathed.

Samurai Shodown RPG, SNK 1997

This is a diversion, but just simply must be mentioned.

A year later on from Sam 4, SNK decided to have the nous of releasing Samurai Shodown RPG and was supposed to be a Neo Geo CD exclusive.

Supposed?  Well that was the idea but because of increased financial pressures, SNK agreed (or forced) to release it for the Saturn and PS1.

However, while the other ports had slight differences, the Neo CD version remained technically superior...

Was it a conspiracy?  Who knows?

Anyway, moving hastily on...
This was undeniably a great idea but what of its application?

The signs were positive from the off as it had a great intro and bizarrely, far better than any other Shodown.

The various chars are showcased with superb large static stills and animated pieces.

A nice intro is meaningless unless the game is protected by an enthusiastic quarterback.

You choose your fave char (albeit from a fairly limited selection) and embark on a wandering mission.

These include principal protagonist Haohmuru, along with Genjuro, Nakoruru and Galford entering unknown terriotory.

It is worth noting that apart from dialogue, the game remains largely the same, regardless of what char is chosen.  However, it’s cool that the dialogue is spoken.

Other instantly recognisable chars throw their hat in the ring and some join your party as you progress.

Of these chars, they will form part of special scenes depending on who you’ve chosen as the primary char.

During your journey, you’ll find many other unique chars who can be interacted with.

I’m 99.9 per cent that you visited Kuroko to save.

At heart, it remains very similar to most 2D RPG’s.

The usual roaming in an overhead world, encounter a variety of chars in towns, explore dungeons and experience old Final Fantasy style battles on a separate screen.

When engaged in battle, motions are required to perform special moves so the spirit of the arcade games is retained.

This is an excellent idea instead of one been forced to participate in a pseudo game of chess.

You do have the option of choosing the specials to be done for you by way of just selecting them but is ultimately a less satisfying experience.

These special attacks looked very much akin to previous games.

Along with the ubiquitous specials, normal sword swipes are eminently available.

Evasion, rage gauge and defence manoeuvres all feature.

You could even escape and level up.

Battles are activated ‘randomly’ and there’s a nice assortment of bizarre enemies who in turn can use status attacks against you.

Heck, there are even sequences and bosses.

Yup, there’s not a lot missing from making this a really decent RPG.

The stereotypical menu screen exists with items and numerous accessories available to use and equip respectively.

The game is split into various chapters and there’s so much that is different to what fans’ are all used to seeing.

Expect to move inside and outside regularly during your quest.

Weapons can be upgraded by blacksmiths but each char does not have the privilege of using any other weapon.

You can also look forward to fighting other household chars and learning secret skills.

It was quite a large game, I’d say about 20 hours and while pale in comparison to a Square epic, this was a commendable effort.

Before going under, SNK helped Sacnoth publish Koudelka on sworn console enemy, the PS1.

This was quirky and ultimately smelt not too bad.

The graphics are awesome and remain authentic to the style of the series.  SNK handled the translation and style from fighting to role playing with aplomb.

The sprites and backgrounds are suitably detailed and used a vibrant colour scheme, they also moved rather fluidly.

Sound is perfectly permissible and gameplay chugs along at a decent pace.

As with any 2D RPG, expect a lot of back-tracking which is as surprising as Monday featuring during a week.

There was one huge problem; it was never released outside of Japan so those who are not bilingual are ultimately going to struggle.

Those with the greatest of patience could struggle through using trial and error but most will give it a wide birth.

It clearly suggested that SNK thought it would be ground-breaking success…

If only they’d been a bit more confident but who knows?

A proper English translation never materialised.

For those who managed to beat the game was rewarded with a new chapter which involved cameos from other chars in the SNK universe.

Before that though, the ending was superb, I mean really good.

You can expect a lengthy series of gorgeous scenery, featuring none too shabby animation shorts and even a song.

The cherry on top of this cake and a touch with more cheek than Beyonce was the proper sprites appeared near its conclusion with their own unique look and animation.

Bar none, it’s the best ending to any Neo Geo game.

So, most would find it virtually unplayable but what a smart little gem.

That’s the end of SNK’s involvement with Samurai Shodown (on the Neo Geo at least) but the franchise was far from finished.

Samurai miscellany

Soon after, this is when Sam Sho went here, there and everywhere; passed from pillar to post and various games appeared on numerous platforms and had nothing to do with the Neo Geo AES, apart from some being developed by SNK.

I feel it’s unnecessary to delve really deep into these side quests as that would be digressing from the main issue in question.

Instead, a brief history will be given before I mention the ‘other’ two Sam games released for the Neo.

First off, it’s the translation of 3D.

Due to the influx of Tekken et al, SNK introduced new hardware in the Hyper Neo Geo 64.  There were less than ten games released and that basically summed it up.  Thankfully, SNK did not abandon the Neo Geo and still supported it, much to the delight of many die-hard fans.

There were two Sam games released for this ultimately doomed from the beginning hardware and while on a technical front, they exploited the decent specs that the Hyper Neo offered, it was never gonna catch on…

Samurai Shodown 64 and Samurai Shodown 64: Warrior’s Rage were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively.

In brief, because fighting took place in this new dimension, it allowed the player complete freedom of the ring.

The main innovation was being able to smash an opponent through a wall or even to a different section of the same stage.

This innovation is frequently and wrongly associated with Tecmo’s Dead or Alive series.

Together with a rage gauge which allowed a nuke, the commonplace and cheap ‘ring out’ system was also introduced.

The graphics weren’t exactly brilliant with lego looking chars and low-res textures.

So doesn’t sound particularly good and in truth, it really wasn’t.  The transition from 2D to 3D was always going to be the main stumbling block and its gameplay unfortunately glamorised this hindrance.

The movement of the chars was so stiff you could take them surfing and resulted in the want of SNK returning to traditional routes by creating another Sam on classic hardware.

Apart from firm favourites returning, a few more and forgettable chars were introduced.

It wasn’t very well received and was of minimal success.

Undeterred, SNK set about fixing and tinkering and instead of dashing back to the Neo Geo, they chose the same hardware for the sequel.

The sequel couldn’t have been much worse than the original and it proved to be a better game, but not a good or great one.

In truth, fans were still gasping for SNK to revert Haohmuru and friends to become two dimensional.

So what we have here is an attempt to restore a 2D feel to a 3D look.

Foreground and background dodging was now favoured over full 3D movement.

Different strengths of special moves and using the returning rage gauge, the powering up of those moves were all new features.

Again, a few more chars were introduced.

It did play better and looked prettier, but despite these enhancements, it failed to butter anybody’s bread.

Very briefly, SNK did create super deformed samurais on the great but very short-lived Neo Pocket and two Shodowns were released.

Other unique games appeared on other systems such as the PS1 and Atomiswave.

The title of the PS1 exclusive was Samurai Shodown: Warrior’s Rage.

Okay, why did SNK decide to release a port of a sequel to their ill-fated 3D series?

Well uncork my wine, they didn’t.

This is nothing to do with the Hyper 64 game and just decided to instigate mass confusion by giving it virtually the same title.

Yeah, what a great move and further than that, it was even less of a great game.

Admittedly, it looked quite smart as it was a 2D game with some 3D prettiness but wasn’t really a return to form.

Sam 6 appeared on another piece of obscure but technically impressive arcade hardware known as the Atomiswave.

There was one more in Samurai Shodown: Sen.  This was originally created on the Taito Type X2 board and later ported to Microsoft’s full circle.

Wait a sword, what happened to Samurai Shodown V?

Well it did exist, and ignoring ports, originally on Neo Geo.

If you disregard the RPG, seven years on and Sam Shodown V was shat into existence.

Let me cast no illusion, this was bereft of quality and do you know what’s great, I mean really great?

Well, not a great deal.

Samurai Shodown V, Yuki Enterprises 2003

As most know, there’s a vast difference between SNK and SNK Playmore (before this, just Playmore) and Yuki were given this mammoth responsibility.

What a brilliant idea, let a virtual unknown handle one of your flagship franchises.

That's the equivalent of allowing a village ignoramus to run a country.
First and foremost, let’s momentarily dally with Sam V.

The intro was staple diet but unlike the rest, didn’t showcase unique char animation and it’s actually set against the end boss background…

I’m fair and impartial so let’s be horrible before being nice.

Actually, I’ll just be plain nasty.

The char roster was a mouthful and definitely a case of quantity over quality.

A line-up of 24 new and old samurais made it and if given a choice, the firm favourites would have faked an illness.

To be honest, if sprites had emotion, they’d be embarrassed.

Anyway, the original cast included Haohmuru, Genjuro, Hanzo, Galford, Jubei, Tam Tam and Kyoshiro.

There were several new warriors ranging from awful, particularly awful and incredibly awful.

Sticking with the char screen, some portraits admittedly looked good but others were just plain peculiar.

So hovering around the original cast roster highlighted environmental issues.

Like Metal Slug, those that made a sequel and/or new game decided it would be far easier just to recycle previous sprites and backgrounds.

Yuki was no different and adopted this technique.

The noobs included Mina with her over powerful bow and arrow, some shit called Yoshitora and Sankuro wielding his hammer (replacement for Wan Fu)?

Yeah that’s Sankuro and not Zankuro.

There are two new chars that really insulted me.

Yumeji’s sprite is clearly ripped from Hibiki from The Last Blade 2, she really is that similar.

She also smacks of Ukyo too.

The worst ‘thing’ was Kusaregedo.  What sort of char is this?

Put it this way, Earthquake was big but at least playable, this on the other hand was just a huge and unplayable mess.

The Slash or Bust choice was chopped but was pointlessly reinvented in the way of other ‘new’ chars basically becoming a ‘Bust’ choice.

What a waste of time.

The recycling continued with the stages and okay, new landscapes did exist but these were largely static, crudely animated and offensive.

These included a statue shrouded in mist, a floating boat and a battlefield.

Like the SNK gloss, stage intros were also retired.

One small highlight is that it was subject to a slight speed increase which made things a bit pacier.

Yuki decided to reintroduce the amazing balls up that SNK made with Sam 3 and while it wasn’t as bad, bouts could certainly be ended quickly.

The 1P game was devoid of a story and hence, featured no intermissions.

They did come up with an original end boss and even dared to be slightly interesting as he could transform into something straight out of Sengoku.

Despite this, he remained a limp final challenge and failed to pump my tyres.

So that’s the first slice of stagnant pie so let’s dig into the final piece.

Let’s walk before we trot as this may taste a bit better.

With the subtitle of Special, it is merely an update of the former which sometimes means that the previous game had some problems.

At least Yuki were self aware.

This was a recycled mixture of Sam 3’s darker side and Sam 4’s gameplay mechanics and gore, with other new bits and bobs thrown in for good measure.

This was also the Neo Geo’s final game and at least Yuki ensured that it was an improvement.

It was hardly the swansong that the black box deserved but you can't always get what you want...

Samurai Shodown V Special, Yuki Enterprises 2004

At its apple core, it’s business as usual but there were some aspects which deserved a muted applause.

The intro immediately suggested something fresher as it’s the usual set (set against a new background) but with some drastically improved portraits.

This new background is an improved and tinkered version of Haohmuru’s and Ukyo’s stage from Sam 2.

The char roster was chopped and changed with Sankuro and Jumeji departing, making way for one off Sam 2 boss Mizuki returning.

Zankuro and Amakusa are also back for another match of slicing and dicing.

Familiar favourites were still recycled but there was more to this than just Yuki going through the motions.

The line-up was beefed up to a massive 28 chars.

The Bust principle remained from V resulting in old chars having alternative personas.

As before, these new versions were negligible. 

It’s apparent that new artists were employed as the smaller portraits are now a more subtle drawing meaning a far better style.

The pile of pixel putrescence Kusaregedo returns and the boss Goah is now playable.

The fairly awful stages returning from Sam V underwent a makeover and colour change so that’s only good.

The Sam 4 effects of stage transformations are retained but this time, it’s not Amakusa forcing things, as a nuke or bloodlust move is now more responsible.

However, the application in Sam 4 was more appropriate.

The stages for chars from other games benefited from moving location but even then, Amakusa just moved to a recycled stage that wasn’t his own.

Nevertheless, it’s good stuff from Yuki.

There was a dojo full of various Kurokos, the aftermath of Kuroko and co going to bed and a large wooden bridge.

The sound was a welcome sparkle and was clearly improved from the former but the whooping was nearly ruined by some out of place rock ballads.

Overall, the most radical improvement in the gameplay department was the addition of an Overkill move.

I am suggesting this to be very similar to the Ulimate K.O which was used in Art of Fighting 3.

If conditions are met, this would result in an instant death, regardless of how much life your opponent may have.

Yuki also made the choice of inviting rage explosions which the technique gladly accepted.

Attacks seemed to be less powerful so it seemed, problems were addressed.

It also reintroduced the availability of fatalities.

Okay, you may expect that aspect but what I didn’t expect is the variety.

The blood drenching from Sam 4 was all but present and most were shockingly depicted.

It’s definitely the most goriest and bloodthirsty Neo Geo game ever and the thirst was further compounded by audible screams.

This didn’t go unnoticed by the community and was subject to much controversy.  I can only imagine what the BBFC would have done to this…

Anyway, SNK Playmore decided to heavily censor the home version.

The arcade is the only version to remain uncut and the chances of playing that in the flesh nowadays are slimmer than that of the waist of a beanpole.

Final Slash

Okay, Sam V was an unsatisfying and soulless experience and naturally a huge comedown from Sam 4.  Comparing it Sam 2?  Let’s not go there…

Sam V Special was altogether a better game but let’s not blow its trumpet too hard because it isn’t fit to sharpen the SNK’s second blade.

Let’s be brutally honest, SNK did virtually all the hard work and it would have been interesting if Yuki had the cohonies to create a sequel and/or reboot from scratch.

To be slightly fair, Noise and Mega are as guilty (if not more) of recycling than Yuki.

Poor old Super Vehicle-001...

To a degree, it’s perfectly permissible to recycle from your own creation but when it’s not your own, that’s a different animal.

In a few sentences, I’ll sum up.

The original introduced the mayhem, the sequel built a mansion, the third knocked it down and the fourth ordered a thorough renovation.

Yuki made the fifth a near disaster and went some way of salvaging some pride with an updated and superior version of its own calamity.

So despite some inherent problems, it remains an iconic and inspirational franchise.

Who'll be up next for my own kind of unique scrutiny?

Insert coin(s) to find out.

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