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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Samurai Shodown is a downloadable fighting game for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PCs set in feudal Japan. Combat is frenetic and intense, with characters using their fists, feet, melee weapons, and magical abilities to viciously attack opponents. Fast stabbing and slashing moves generate large sprays and splashes of red blood, and some finishing moves result in characters getting cut in half, though players can opt to switch off the blood and dismemberment effects. The fighters -- a mix of men and women mostly from Japan but also a few from other parts of the world -- are provided simple motivations that make them lean towards good, neutral, or evil inclinations, but all of them clearly enjoy the prospect of fighting. Parents should also be aware that one of the female characters briefly appears almost naked in the midst of combat, her breasts and midsection cleverly obscured. One character also appears to drink something alcoholic in a victory celebration.
What's it about?
SAMURAI SHODOWN is the 12th entry in a long-running fighting game series, and is being billed as a light reboot of the franchise. Like most fighting games, characters battle each other one-on-one in a variety of two-dimensional environments. It has a feudal Japanese theme and features Japanese dialogue, weapons, and settings, though a handful of characters hail from other parts of the globe. Players must learn button combinations to carry out attacks specific to their chosen character, who may be armed with a sword, dagger, shield, or some other type of weapon, as well as magical abilities. A series of tutorials leads players through basic and advanced techniques, teaching how to attack, block, counter, disarm opponents, and carry out special attacks. Once players are comfortable and understand the basics, they can choose from a variety of modes, including a story that provides a simple background and motivation for each fighter, local matches with other players in the same room, and online events. Players can also train a ghost character for asynchronous online play (your fighter is controlled by the computer, but mimics your personal style), as well as take on other player's ghost fighters. Players earn digital rewards as the game progresses, including character movies, artwork, and music that can be accessed from a separate menu.
Is it any good?
This is a game meant for serious fighting game fans. You don't need to be familiar with the rest of the series to enjoy Samurai Shodown, but it helps immensely to be experienced and skilled with fighting games in general. Tapping buttons at random won't get you very far, not even against the computer. You'll need to learn specific button combinations, be able to identify subtle movements that telegraph your opponent's attacks, and have lightning fast reflexes in order to properly block and counter. Using a proper arcade controller with a joystick and big buttons probably wouldn't hurt, either. Still, expect a lengthy learning curve. Even the tutorials -- which explain how to perform moves without actually showing you how to do them -- can be surprisingly challenging to complete. This isn't the sort of game that gently leads players by the hand through its many intricacies, or offers cheat-like combat shortcuts to make newcomers feel insanely powerful. Nor does it dangle many of the progression carrots seen in many other modern fighting games, such as loot, gear, and character level progression. It has all the expected modes and means of play, but it feels stripped down compared to games like Mortal Kombat 11 or Injustice 2.
That said, fans of a pure fighting game experience will likely find a lot to like. The hand-drawn art style is stunning, with an almost painterly feel possessed by some of the environments. And the combat is tight and satisfying. It may take time to learn how to properly play a character, but once you know the buttons and have the timing down to be able to reliably pull off a few good attacks and counters, the fighting can be magnificent. It turns into a beautifully choreographed martial arts dance in which fighters gracefully attack, disarm, and outmaneuver one another. It all but begs players to capture and share clips of their best fights. All of which is to say that Samurai Shodown clearly targets a niche group of players who adore and obsess over 2D Japanese fighting games, and that this group ought to find itself properly satisfied.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in media. Is the impact of the violence in Samurai Shodown affected by the fact that it's a fighting game with weapons and characters can be cut in half? Is the intensity of the violence lessened if you turn off the blood and dismemberment effects?
Samurai Shodown takes strong inspiration from feudal Japan, so what did it get right (or wrong) in its depiction of the era's architecture, costumes, and culture?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.