Title  : Samurai Shodown! 2
Platforms  : Neo Geo Pocket Color
Publisher  : SNK
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 8.5
Review by  : Robert Boyd

Samurai Shodown! 2 is the latest game in a long running series of one-on-one fighting games. The Samurai Shodown series has never been as popular as many of the better known fighting series like Street Fighter or Tekken, but it has enjoyed a small and dedicated cult following which should be pleased with this latest portable installment. 

The game looks very nice for a portable game. The characters may be small and simple (usually only composed of 3 different colors), but the backgrounds are quite detailed, and the many attacks are beautifully animated and full of style. Sometimes your character's sidekick (a few characters are helped by a pet — a dog, wolf, bird, or sentient ball of ice) would flicker, but other than that, I noticed no problems with the graphics. 

The game controls extremely well thanks to the Neo Geo Pocket Color's unique mini-thumb pad. Beginning players may have trouble jumping when they didn't intend to, but once you get accustomed to the controller's sensitivity and precision, the game controls fine. As an added bonus, since the thumb pad requires little effort to move, sore, blistered thumbs (a common result of long fighting game sessions) are easy to avoid. And the game avoids the problem of the system's lack of buttons by differentiating between quick and long button presses. 

The game's character roster is one of its strongest features — there are 14 playable characters and each feels distinct, whether you're playing as them or fighting against them. In addition to this, each character has two personalities — slash (honorable) and bust (treacherous). Each personality has different special moves and with some characters, the personalities are so different that they feel like completely different characters. It's almost like having nearly 30 different characters to play and fight with, giving the game much variety. 

In addition to the standard attacks, throws, dodges, and basic special moves, each character has a powerful and visually impressive special move that can only be used when their power meter is full (it fills up as your character is damaged). Also, each character has a special desperation move that enables powerful attacks for a short time, but disables the power meter for the rest of the match. Both are nice additions to the gameplay. Another addition isn't so neat though. Cards can be won in combat and then attached to your characters to increase their power and enable new moves, however attaching cards often feels like it's more trouble than it's worth. 

The games' flaws are minor. The music and sound effects are very weak (a common problem in today's portable games). There's next to no story and the translation is poor — not essentially elements for the genre, but I've seen much better in other fighting games. Also, the game doesn't have a practice mode or any other special modes other than a survival mode. 

Samurai Shodown! 2 is well designed and surprisingly fun. Is it worth buying over one of the other excellent Neo Geo Pocket Color fighting games or some of the excellent fighting games available on the home consoles (which have better graphics and more accessible two player modes)? That's hard to say, but the game's tight control, large character roster, wide variety of moves, and style make it well worth taking a look at. 


This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 08-May-00