Samurai Shodown II Review
Even though the 360's lackluster D-pad does its best to hold it back, Samurai Shodown II still shines on Xbox Live Arcade.
Samurai Shodown II is one of the all-time greats when it comes to 2D fighting games. SNK's weapon-focused fighter offers enough moves to keep your opponent guessing, and the rage gauge and impact of the game's heavy attacks means that matches can turn on a dime. While it's received plenty of ports off of the Neo Geo hardware over the years, the Xbox Live Arcade release is especially notable for including online play. Thankfully, the online play is perfectly capable over decent connections and the quality of the emulation is just fine, as well.
There's a catch, of course. There's always one. If you've been playing 2D fighters on the Xbox 360 for any length of time you probably know where I'm going with this: the D-pad. The Xbox 360 D-pad is less-than-ideal for this sort of game, and the analog stick is probably worse. Normally, I try not to complain about the 360's D-pad because I don't normally have a ton of issues with it, but as many of SNK's games are filled with crazy controller motions to pull off supers and such, it's more of an issue here than it is in, say, Ulitmate Mortal Kombat 3.
The hardware issue can't keep a good game down, though. Samurai Shodown II still plays extremely well, especially with others. The accuracy of the emulation seems right on, as well. The game offers the same type of graphical smoothing that Metal Slug 3 and Fatal Fury Special had, and it looks pretty bad. You're better off disabling it so you can see every filthy, blocky pixel the way it was originally meant to be seen, red arterial spray and all. Who knew that HDTVs would be so good for displaying old sprite-based arcade games and finally banishing the blurry mess that we got used to back on our standard-definition sets?
The menus are rather bare, which is fine if you already know what you're getting yourself into. But you won't find a move list or anything else of use in the game's menus, so if you're getting into it for the first time, you might need to do a bit of out-of-game research.
The online support is the standard set of Xbox 360 options, with the one real difference being that the player matching screen actually shows a real ping time in milliseconds, not some friendly little green light or four bars or some other less-specific indication. As you might expect, lower-ping games play just fine, but once you get over the 200ms mark, things start to get a little funny. Furthermore, there don't seem to be a ton of people playing at any given time. Sometimes I was unable to find any opponents, other times I'd join games only to be kicked out, probably because the host is attempting to cheat his way through the game's achievements, which include points for 100 online wins and ten straight online victories. Many of the online players I've faced have been quite good, so expect an uphill battle if you're going to attempt to honestly earn your ranked victories.
Samurai Shodown is a great series, and as far as I'm concerned, SS2 is the best installment of the bunch. Between that and the game's online support, I'm well satisfied with this release. If you have fond memories of '90s arcades, I'd guess that you'll be satisfied, as well.