Samurai Shodown Sen Review (Xbox 360)

Posted by Jim Cook, Apr 13, 2010 09:18

Adding 3D mechanics to classic 2D fighting franchises rarely works well. Even when it’s decent, the result often isn’t as good as it could have been. This is the case with Samurai Shodown Sen, which has some good ideas and is at least competent, but with fighting games undergoing something of a revival in the last few years it takes more than ’competent’ to be worth buying and playing.

With its mix of weapons-based combat and extensive cast, Sen has at least some similarities to Soul Calibur though there are no Ring Outs in this game. You can move back and forth (and dash likewise), sidestep, make short jumps, and have a variety of options for how to ’wake up’ from getting knocked down; all competent but basic parts of the genre. The rest of the game follows this theme, having the bare minimums of what it should but rarely going beyond that. Single player modes mostly consist of a Survival Mode, Story Mode, and a very basic training mode. Online play offers the basic unranked and ranked match modes. The only thing significantly different from most 3D fighters is that Samurai Shodown’s traditional "Rage Gauge" is present in Sen, letting you briefly become much more powerful after you’ve taken a lot of damage.

The cast has about twenty-four playable characters, plus two unlockable bosses (though obtaining them could take a while, since it requires you to beat the game with half, then all, of the normal roster). Along with roughly a dozen new characters, several old favorites return, though not all of them have translated well to a 3D game. Others have, but it seems to be hit-or-miss with little middle ground. Regardless, you’ll have to make it work out for you because this roster is all you get; there is no character customization, let alone the ability to outright make your own. That might not matter to tournament diehards as much as it would to those more interested in such things, but they might find it more of a problem that several characters are hard to use well. Some have good, well-rounded attack lists that may contain a few ’mainstay’ attacks but also have lots of situational choices, while others struggle to mount much of a reasonable offense; either I’m missing something or a few characters are just plain terrible. Character variety on the whole is decent however, so I can’t fault the roster too much.

Online play is passable but likewise does nothing special. You can play in unranked matches, ranked matches, or get sessions going with your Xbox Live party. The network code seems to be decent and what few games I was able to arrange online played smoothly. However, the major problem with that is "what few games"; even just a few weeks after Sen’s release the player population seems to be extremely low and it was rare for me to find anyone to play against. Either I was looking at the wrong time throughout several days, or there just aren’t many people playing Sen. This leaves the party functionality a mystery to me, as the manual suggests it is the basis of some kind of lobby mode but I have no way of verifying that for lack of anyone to invite along to try it. Thus we have an online experience that is functional, but mostly bare-bones and apparently close to abandoned already.

There is only so much to say about Sen beyond that. One could discuss the music and sound, which are certainly good and perhaps one of the high points of this game; they hit an interesting variety of tones and are well done, though most of it seems inspired by historical Japanese themes. Visually the game is nothing special, with character models and stages that look somewhere between late-era PS2 and early-era Xbox 360 in quality. They’re functional, but certainly not impressive. The only unusual part is that this game tends to punctuate fights with the occasional burst of blood. Making no secret that this is a weapons-based fighter and that swords can kill people, it’s not at all unusual for a match-ending heavy slash to send an opponent collapsing to the floor in a fountain of blood... or even cut one of their extremities off. Watching deft ninja Hanzo slash off one of Rimururu’s arms and causing her to flail around the ground while bleeding non-stop was kind of odd, moreso given that she appears to be in her late childhood to very early teen years. I’m not specifically upset by this level of gore; it has been in the series to varying degrees over the years, but it has often been accompanied by some pretty inspired game mechanics and that just isn’t the case here. Nonetheless, the "M for Mature" ESRB rating is very apt in Sen’s case.

Samurai Shodown Sen is a competent 3D fighting game, but makes no effort to excel and just being decent is not enough when you face serious competition from other, already established games. By having none of the customization options of Soul Calibur IV nor the tournament scene of Tekken 6, and a seemingly deserted online play population, Samurai Shodown Sen fails to establish a meaningful niche for itself. Its $50 MSRP will net you a merely competent fighting game, but ’competent’ is not enough to recommend a purchase when the fighting genre and community are undergoing such an exciting revival lately. Remarkable for being unremarkable, Sen is perhaps best left as a weekend rental.

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Our Rating for Samurai Shodown Sen Review (Xbox 360)
4.0 Replay
Unlocking bosses through multiple story mode runs isn’t enjoyable, and one has to wonder why they would repeatedly play this in versus mode when there are better 3D fighters out there.
5.5 Graphics
While decently well designed, the visuals are not technologically impressive. Animations seem a tad less than fluid, and some stages are boring to look at.
8.0 Sound
The series’ penchant for great sounds, voices, and music inspired by traditional Japanese performances continues in Sen.
5.5 Gameplay
Basic but mostly uninspired 3D combat only goes so far when the roster is full of hit-or-miss character designs and the game mechanics fail to really improve on a genre that has been around for several years.
6.5 Multiplayer/Online Content
Functional but bare-bones; versus mode works fine locally, and also works well online but the latter option seems to be almost deserted already.
5.0 Overall
While not a bad game by any means, it does nothing to excel and faces real competition from other, superior 3D fighters. Not worth its $50 price when it is merely average in almost every way.

Rating: 0.0, votes: 0

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