- This article is specifically about the original Samurai Shodown game. For information on the series as a whole, see Samurai Shodown (series).
Samurai Shodown, known as Samurai Spirits (サムライスピリッツ Samurai Supirittsu , Samu Supi in short) in Japan, is a 1993 competitive fighting game produced by SNK for their Neo Geo arcade and home platform. In contrast to other fighting games at the time which were set in modern times and focused primarily on hand-to-hand combat, Samurai Shodown is set in feudal-era Japan and was one of the first fighting games to focus primarily on weapon-based combat.
The game is set in the late 18th century and all the characters wield weapons. The game uses comparatively authentic music from the time period, rife with sounds of traditional Japanese instruments, such as the shakuhachi and shamisen, and a refined version of the camera zoom first found in Art of Fighting. True to its use of bladed weapons, the game also included copious amounts of blood.
The game quickly became renowned for its fast pace, focused more on quick, powerful strikes than the combos. As to emphasize the distinction of this gameplay system, slow motion was added to intensify damage dealt from hard hits. Also during a match, a referee held flags representing each player (player 1 was white; player 2 red). When a player landed a successful hit, the referee would lift the corresponding flag, letting everyone watching know who dealt the blow. To lessen the repetition of fights, a delivery man running in the background threw items such as chicken (that healed) or bombs, which could significantly change the outcome of a play.
The cast of characters, like many other fighting games of its time, spanned from fighters across the globe, allowing a wide range of weaponry open for the players' preference. Playable characters include:
- Haohmaru - the main hero; a ronin who travels to sharpen his swordsmanship and his sense of bushido.
- Nakoruru - an Ainu miko who fights to protect Mother Nature.
- Ukyo Tachibana - an ailing swordsman who searches for the perfect flower for his loved one, Kei.
- Wan-fu - a power general from the Qing dynasty seeking to recruit powerful warriors for the unification of China.
- Tam Tam - renowned Maya hero from Mexico (referred to as "Green Hell" in the game); he fights to retrieve the sacred artifact, the Palenke Stone.
- Charlotte Christine Colde - a noblewoman fencer from Versailles who fights to save her country from Amakusa.
- Galford D. Weller - American sailor turned ninja who fights in the name of justice.
- Kyoshiro Senryo - famed kabuki performer who wishes to strengthen his dances through swordplay.
- Earthquake - American ninja and Flunky-turned bandit, he wants to steal all the world's treasure.
- Hanzo Hattori - ninja serving Ieyasu Tokugawa. In this fictional account, he fights to save his son, Shinzo.
- Jubei Yagyu - similar to other fictional accounts, he is a ronin hired by the Shogunate to execute a demon.
- Genan Shiranui - an eccentric member of the Shiranui clan, he strives to make himself more evil.
- Shiro Tokisada Amakusa - last boss and villain of the game; in this fictional account, he is resurrected years after his death by the demon, Ambrosia. Due to a pact made with the demon, he wants to revive Ambrosia thus destroying the world.
- Kuroko - exclusive playable character in the Game Boy port. He is the background referee who acknowledges the winner of the match, in the GB game he wields two flag blades as his weapon. He did not get a console debut until Samurai Shodown II, in which he imitates moves of all the other fighters. The Game Boy port is the only game where he had his own original moves and weapons unlike his console counterpart.
- Hikyaku - exclusive playable character in the Game Boy port. He is the delivery man running in the background of stages who is forced to disrupt fights by Amakusa.
When SNK released the game for the home console version of the Neo Geo system, the AES, the fans bought it up in droves, and it still stands as the most successful run of home Neo cartridges ever produced. The game was ported to multiple other platforms, including the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Game Boy, Sega Mega Drive, Sega Game Gear, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, 3DO, FM Towns, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. All of the cartridge versions were handled by Takara, while Crystal Dynamics ported the 3DO version, and JVC handled the Sega CD port. All the ports vary in quality, given the individual capabilities of the systems on which the game appeared.
All the 16-bit Sega versions of the game (including the Sega CD version) omitted Earthquake. Both versions lack the camera zoom, and as a result the camera is zoomed-in, which gives better detail to the characters, but the fighting area is smaller. Of note is the Sega CD version, which contained a bug which caused the game to crash when the final boss was reached. Publisher JVC offered to replace glitched discs with copies of Fatal Fury Special (which they also published for the system). No "fixed" version was released.
The Super NES version, by contrast, has the character line-up intact, but has the game zoomed-out, which makes the characters look tiny and harder to time attacks. The stages, on the other hand, are less restricted. This version also supports Dolby Surround.
The Neo Geo AES version of the game was released for the Wii Virtual Console on October 16, 2007 in Japan; May 30, 2008 in Europe; and June 16, 2008 in North America. However, before the Virtual Console version was released in the North America, the game was released as part of SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1.
The game was edited when it was first released for the AES as it featured blood and graphic fatal attacks that kills opponents by slicing them in half. This was mostly due to the negative publicity that sparked involving the use of violence in video games of the time, a most prominent example being Mortal Kombat. As a result, it was decided to censor the game for most platforms, by changing the blood from red to white and disabling all of the fatal attack animations. These censorship issues were also carried over to the win quotes, and references to death or blood were altered. This release incited controversy in the United States, as many fans who bought the game were angry that the game they had paid for was not 100% true to the arcade experience, a notion which ran contrary to the professed point of the AES in the first place.
The Sega 16-bit ports frequently had the violence toned down. While the blood is featured, it is used sparsely and one of the fatalities is cut for each version. In the Super NES version the blood was recolored orange and the half slicing is removed. The 3DO version, however, was ported almost a year later, and managed to reach the console with all blood and fatality graphics intact. As a result, some retailers didn't even carry this edition of the game.
Samurai Shodown is justifiably considered the starting point for the wave of Neo Geo console modifications, which would enable users to set the system's region to Japan, or play in arcade mode, which would in turn allow the game to be played with all of the blood and death animations intact, even on a North American/PAL console. It also marked the beginning of SNK's nebulous and much-discussed policy of censoring their games for release outside of Japan, which still persists (albeit sporadically) to this day.
In the February 1994 issue of Gamest magazine in Japan, Samurai Spirits was awarded Best Game of 1993 in the Seventh Annual Gamest Grand Prize, being the first to win in the category of Best Fighting Game as well (Street Fighter II Dash, the previous Game of the Year, won as Best Action Game). Samurai Spirits placed first place in Best VGM, Best Album and Best Direction, and second place in Best Graphics. In the Best Characters list, Nakoruru placed No. 1, Haohmaru at No. 6, Jubei Yagyu at No. 8, a tie between Ukyo Tachibana, Galford, and Poppy at No. 11, Charlotte at No. 16 (tied with Duck King from Fatal Fury Special), Kuroko at No. 18, Tam Tam and Hanzo Hattori tied for No. 22, Gen-an Shiranui at No. 29, and Wan-Fu tied at No. 45 with five other characters.
- SNK Playmore. Samurai Shodown Character Profiles. Samurai Shodown Official Website. Retrieved on February 18, 2008
- Matozzo, Christian. Shodown Samurai Shodown. Sega-16. Retrieved on July 21, 2010
- "Two WiiWare Games and One Virtual Console Game Added to Wii Shop Channel". Nintendo of America. 2008-06-16. http://www.nintendo.com/whatsnew/detail/ilTtfbOhclAfaIhaLjZxZH-kd2vydunF. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
- Provo, Frank. The History of SNK~Banking on NeoGeo. GameSpot. Retrieved on March 1, 2008
- Provo, Frank. The History of SNK~Banking on NeoGeo. GameSpot. Retrieved on March 1, 2008
- PJ. Samurai Shodown (SNES). Neo-Geo.com. Retrieved on March 1, 2008
- "第７回 ゲーメスト大賞" (in Japanese). GAMEST (107): 20. February.
- Electronic Gaming Monthly's Buyer's Guide. 1994.
- Review of Samurai Shodown at Neo-Geo.com
- Samurai Shodown official website
- Samurai Shodown fan website
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