Samurai Shodown is nothing if not inspired. It introduced many innovations to the one-on-one fighting genre. First and foremost the characters wield melee weapons - a development fighting fans were really excited about. Weapon lock-ups (resolved via button-mashing) can result in losing your weapon, forcing you to fight bare-handed until you retrieve it. Shodown also utilized scaling technology to zoom in and out to keep the fighters in focus, and it looks slick.
The stages feature breakable objects in the foreground, and it's quite satisfying to slash a barrel in half and watch apples spill out. A "rage gauge" improves your chances at a dramatic come-from-behind victory, boosting your offense but weakening your defense. Of the twelve playable characters, most are traditional samurai but there are oddballs like a green hunchback, a girl with a pet eagle, and the massive chain-wielding dude named Earthquake.
The sophisticated control scheme requires pressing combinations of buttons to perform some moves. There's some blood but only in Japanese mode. The CPU is hard as nails which makes beating it all the more satisfying. Spectacular stages include a shore with crashing waves and a shipping dock loaded with rowdy spectators. In the snowy cottage scene, notice how every single animal is animated with humor and personality.
Traditional music and crystal clear Japanese voice samples add realism. While fun to play, the action is a little slow and there's some collision detection issues. Fighters can be obscured by foreground objects below or the health bars above. That said, Samurai Shodown is far more than Street Fighter with weapons. This game is a showcase of innovation with style and personality to burn. NOTE: In Japan the series was known as Samurai Spirits. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Its overhauled roster includes a green-haired jungle girl named Cham Cham, a tiny old man named Caffeine Nicotine (no, really), a bald guy with a bionic arm, and a heavy-set dude wielding a stone pillar. It would be nice if their names were displayed on the character selection screen. The stages are less detailed but still extremely picturesque. I really love the snowy cottage surrounded by bamboo trees that get cut down in the heat of battle. Stages like the wheat field at sunset or the misty temple steps exude a remarkable sense of atmosphere.
The difficulty is still way up there, with battles so intense I can't help but work up a sweat while playing. When your rage gauge is full, button combos are actually indicated on the bottom of the screen, which is very helpful. Items that appear on the battlefield can play a pivotal role, from turkeys that replenish your health to dangerous bombs. More frantic and more dynamic than the original, you can really get into a zone playing this. In fact, Samurai Shodown II may just be the strongest entry in the entire series. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Each carries its own set of moves, although both are similar. You'll also select from three "grades" which tailor the action to your level of expertise. The basic controls have been revamped, so the four buttons now map to three slashes and one kick. This makes sense considering the weak kick was never very useful. It's possible to "charge up" your special attacks by holding buttons, but I'm not a fan of that.
New moves include a dodge move and a slick "turn" that lets you maneuver behind your opponent. Watching these fancy moves strung together has the look of a choreographed fight scene. The controls are extremely responsive and the action is frantic. When you perform a counter, a percentage is displayed which is very satisfying.
Once again the cast has been drastically overhauled, yet they still couldn't figure out how to display character names on the select screen. Of the new faces, Basara is an executioner, Shizumaru is a kid with a lethal umbrella, and Shiro is a magician with a crystal ball. I didn't find this new group quite as compelling and was sad Earthquake didn't make the cut.
Showdown 3's stages are more about artistry and color than playful animations. Serene natural scenes include a waterfall, tree orchard, and a serene snowy cottage along a river. With Samurai Shodown III, SNK was catering more toward the serious gamer than the arcade enthusiast. I think it lacks some of the fun of its predecessor but I have to admire its beauty and sophistication. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
The ugly fighting interface is marred by a pair of fat green health meters on each side. You might assume these imply longer matches, but attacks deal twice the damage, so what is the point?! The characters are large and move with fluid motion, but the matches have a cheap, rapid-fire quality. The CPU goes from being very dumb to very tough in two or three matches. There are so many percentages flashed on the screen they pretty much get lost in the noise. There's no score. Your goal is to finish the game in the shortest time possible, and that sucks.
The cinematic stage intros are nice, but the backgrounds are recycled from the previous game. Occasionally the backdrop will take on a psychedelic appearance, suggesting the evil magician Amakusa is pulling the strings. Whatever. When you win the game displays "VICTOLY!" Is that supposed to be a joke? Samurai Shodown 4 is so uninspired it made me lose interest in the series. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
The massive 28-character roster is loaded with new faces including arrow-shooting nymph, a blue zombie, and a monk with a silver cross. Kursaregedo, a deformed giant, has got to be the most disturbing sight I've seen in a fighting game. Considering everyone else got invited to the party I was surprised fan-favorite Earthquake is nowhere to be found. The fighting screen has been cleaned up with sleeker, more attractive meters and icons. As before, the matches tend to be quick as your goal is to play for best overall time.
The moves are smooth and you'll constantly stumble upon interesting new animations. The stages however are just more of the same, lacking both destructible items in the foreground and interesting detail in the background. Samurai Shodown V strikes me as a desperate attempt to "fix" the last game while throwing in every character but the kitchen sink. Devoid of the personality and lacking the spirit of the original Samurai Shodown, this fifth chapter is a mere shadow of its former self. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
The stages are bizarre and the scenery is constantly changing. One minute you're fighting in the streets, and then you're whisked off to another dimension, battling an army in the clouds. Most of the enemies look like shogun warriors, but there are some huge, ugly monstrosities as well. I love how you can watch certain enemies approach from the background, thanks to some nice scaling effects. Three buttons are used in this game: attack, jump, and transform.
By defeating certain enemies, you gain the power to transform into different characters, including a samurai warrior, a ninja, or vicious dog. The game is loaded with power-up orbs that provide each fighter with unique special attacks like weapons and fireballs. I especially like how the dog can spit out tiny dogs that chomp on the enemies' legs.
For the first few minutes of play, I thought Sengoku was awesome. I couldn't get enough of all that kicking, punching, and slashing action. But you can only fight the same thugs so many times, and my wrist started hurting from continuously tapping the attack button! I suppose the real culprit is the unlimited continues - always a bad idea in this kind of game. It effectively removes any sense of challenge and tension, and they're awfully hard to resist. Sengoku had two sequels. This one's a wild ride, but you'll probably get sick of it like I did. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
The action is fast and furious, and there's never a hint of slowdown. A fine control scheme provides plenty of attacks, and well as letting you block and transform. Thanks to cool power-ups and diverse enemies, the action never gets stale or repetitive. Although most enemies are samurai-inspired, there's always something new lurking around each corner, including a few horseback-riding stages. Some of the bosses, like the giant skeleton at sea, are absolutely jaw-dropping.
But what really impressed me is Sengoku 2's attention to detail. Enemies keel over dramatically as they are sliced in half. Swords clash and lock against each other. Dragons fly in the background as crowds of people run in fear. Although the game is a CD, the loading times are not bad at all. On the downside, the two-player mode is pretty easy, and enemies tend to linger slightly off screen. But overall Sengoku 2 is terrific and a big step up from the original.
. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Three selectable stages include China, Italy, and Tokyo. Frankly I didn't find China and Italy to be very exciting; they're mainly just a series of streets and storefronts. The Tokyo-at-night stage is pretty awesome though. That vivid skyline in the background exudes a "let's go wild and kick some ass on a Friday night" vibe. Good stuff! The difficulty is fair, and the five continues are just about right. Sengoku 3 won't blow you away, but those who can appreciate a quality side-scroller are in for a treat. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
The violence is very gratifying as you toss grenades into bunkers, incinerate enemies with flamethrowers, explode helicopters with missile launchers, and engage in high-speed motorcycle shoot-outs. It's especially satisfying to watch guard towers and concrete bridges explode and collapse into rubble. Shock Troopers has a slick rapid-fire control scheme that lets you tap the button to spray or hold it down to strafe. It may sound shallow, but there's more to this game than meets the eye.
When close to an enemy you will automatically perform a melee knife attack, and this can be used strategically. Knifed enemies usually drop food or bonus items, allowing you to replenish life and rack up big points. Although your soldier is slow, a useful evade button lets you roll under enemy fire. It's easy to forget about, but I'd advise keeping a finger on that button at all times. You get a generous supply of grenades as well, so apply them liberally to bosses.
The scenery includes swamps, markets, caves, trains, and river boats. The locations are diverse and the level of detail is impressive, but there's nothing particularly memorable about them. Likewise the bosses are pretty unimaginative, usually assuming the form of giant tanks. The two-player cooperative action is a nice feature, but its slow-down is pronounced. Heck, I even noticed slow-down in the single-player mode. It may not quite be up to Metal Slug standards, but if you're in the mood to inflict unspeakable carnage, Shock Troopers is very, very good. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
The background graphics are the most compelling aspect of the game. The scenery is so detailed with rich textures that it almost looks digitized at times. Likewise the explosions are some of the best I've seen in any video game. Sadly, the characters are rendered in a goofy cartoon style that clashes with the semi-realistic scenery.
Not only does your soldier look like a dork, but enemies look like a bunch of bumbling buffoons as well. Shooting them results in silly animations that will have you longing for the splattering of blood. The stage designs are lacking. In the first game you were constantly forging ahead, but here you tend to remain in one area as enemies are air-dropped all around you.
Since you're constantly finding yourself completely surrounded, the evade button is your one saving grace. Sadly, it is assigned to the C button which is less-than-optimal. Another problem is the extreme slow-down, and we're talking about the single-player mode. Don't even think about playing this with two players. Shock Troopers 2 has some sharp-looking set pieces but if you're a fan of the first game this sequel is bound to disappoint.
. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Powering-up players is no problem (hold down A), but the attacks are not the least bit satisfying. In addition, it's impossible to "head" the ball with precision. Your viewing angle is fairly close, so by the time you get the ball in proximity of the goal, the goalie pounces on it. Shooting from a distance is also problematic since your limited perspective prevents you from knowing where the goal is with respect to your man. You can only shoot from three angles, although walls that enclose the course do provide carom opportunities.
These walls are great in concept, but inexplicably there's still an "out of bounds" zone in front of them. Predictably, the ball always winds up in that zone, resulting in constant throw-ins, and that truly sucks. Soccer Brawl's single redeeming feature is the two hot chicks displayed whenever a goal is scored. If anyone ever accused the VGC of being influenced by the inclusion of gratuitous, scantily clad babes in a game, well, they're right. But even that can't elevate Soccer Brawl above the average mark. The game is interesting in concept, but the execution is weak. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Your default yo-yo weapon is extremely effective, especially since you can throw it diagonally and in a rapid-fire manner. Other weapons include fireballs, bombs, and boxing gloves, but my personal favorite is the throwing stars. Spinmaster's sprites are absolutely huge, but the on-screen chaos never feels overwhelming. Exotic layered backgrounds call to mind Indiana Jones, and the stages are short enough that they never wear out their welcome. Playing alongside a friend is especially fun.
Although much of the game tends to move at a breakneck pace, you'll definitely want to take your time when it comes to the platform jumping. Spinmaster's difficulty is very fair, but you'll still find yourself wanting to use the continues. The game's musical score is so good that it sometimes reminded me of a Zelda game (high praise indeed). Coming off like an easier and more whimsical version of Metal Slug, Spinmaster is one Neo Geo title worth hunting down. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
The controls are somewhat mysterious. You tap A to gallop at a steady pace and hit B to use your whip and pick up the pace. You can tap the stick forward twice to bump a horse ahead of you out of the way. It's possible to tap backwards to slow down, but I have no idea why anyone would want to do that. The races are pretty chaotic as the horses tend to crowd each other, and frankly it's hard to tell if your button tapping is having any impact at all. A close-up of your horses' face indicates his energy level, and apparently much of the strategy lies in pacing your horse correctly.
The collision detection is a little fishy around the rail, so be careful not to get caught up on it. Your best shot at victory is to grab that cheap speed boost icon (wings) that often appears in the final stretch. Placing in the top three advances you to the next race, and each contest is unique in terms of track length and shape. Triumphant music and colorful victory screens do a great job of conveying the pomp and circumstance of the sport. Stakes Winner is a real conundrum of a game. I could never fully grasp the controls or strategy, yet I never get tired of trying to figure it out. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
The controls have been tweaked a bit, with a third button added to kick in some extra energy down the stretch. Although the steering controls are inexact around the turns, you have pretty good control over the speed of your horse. Unfortunately, one serious problem from the first game has returned with a vengeance! Cheap icons appear on the track at certain intervals, and more often than not they determine the outcome of the race.
You may have paced yourself perfectly and jockeyed for position with precision, only to find yourself languishing in last place after running into a "paralyze" icon. These icons appear so suddenly that there's no time to avoid them, much less decide if you want them. Your best bet is to anticipate where the icons will appear on the track and try to avoid those spots.
One thing I like about Stakes Winner 2 is the ability to select between U.S. or European tracks. The U.S. selection includes Belmont Park, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, and Pimlico in Baltimore. Between races you can purchase items from a store, including special moves that require special joystick manipulations (horse racing meets Street Fighter 2!) There are also four training "bonus" stages including one where you navigate through a swimming pool. I can appreciate the fact that Stake Winner 2 has more depth that the first game, but the low difficulty makes its racing much less satisfying. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
The simple, two-button control scheme is sweet, and there are no fouls or goal tending to slow things down. I especially love how you can knock down defenders while slamming a dunk. Unlike other sports games which drag on for too long, Street Hoop contests are surprisingly short. As a matter of fact, this is the first sports game that my friends complained about being too short!
The thumping hip-hop music is outstanding, and my friend Scott can't stop singing "Standin' on the black top pickin' our teams". One weak link is the announcer, who yells nonsense like "dunk shot!" and "upset!" at inappropriate times. The game takes a while to load initially, but once it's running, there are minimal pauses in the action. Street Hoop delivers pure arcade fun, and it's an under-rated title in the Neo Geo library. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
As you fly over railroads, harbors, and snow-covered fortresses you're confronted with waves of planes and tanks. Your cannons administer a world of hurt and frequent power-ups let you unleash a torrent of missiles. Holding in the fire button allows you to deploy a special weapon such as a magnetic field that slowly crawls up the screen while leaving devastation in its wake. You'll face waves of criss-crossing bullets but they move slowly so there's always an escape route. Just hang back and try to maintain your composure.
Strikers does get a little insane in the later stages, so you'll want to save a few bombs to use as a defensive mechanism. I'm glad unlimited continues are available, because otherwise I would have never seen the end of the game. Another neat feature is how you start on a different stage depending on which plane you select.
Strikers is a blast to play but don't expect much variety. The static scenery is somewhat bland and enemies are mainly limited to planes and tanks. Pretty much every boss is a flying robot that emerges from the rubble of an oversized vehicle. The military-style music is appropriate but not particularly memorable. Some may find Strikers 1945 a bit repetitious, but if you like arcade shooters this one really hits the sweet spot. Note: I played this using an MVS converter. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
There are even "jump zones" that let your fielders leap high into the air to snag would-be homers. I just wish there were more opportunities to use these things! The field contains a number of hazards as well. The first time the game announced it was "setting crackers" between innings, I thought it was complaining about white people, but then I realized that "crackers" are really mines. As the game progresses, more and more of these mines are scattered around the field.
Like SNK's excellent Baseball Stars line of games, the pitching and batting controls are easy and intuitive. The computer positions you fielders automatically, which is good because it's hard to track them when the ball is hit to the outfield. Fielding is the main flaw of Super Baseball 2020 - it's tough and judging fly balls is nearly impossible.
Super Baseball 2020 is ideal for people with short attention spans, because the action never lets up. Close plays at the bases are enhanced by cool close-up cut scenes. The teams are a collection of men, women and robots, and you can "power-up" players with money you accumulate during the game, which adds a nice element of strategy. The CPU opponent is pretty slick, especially on the base paths, but Super Baseball 2020 is best played against a friend. This is the perfect antidote to gamers who can't stomach realistic baseball games.
. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
On defense you can perform slides or tackles, but you'll need precise timing to dislodge the ball. It's hard to score a goal on a single shot, but when the ball rebounds off the goalie there's often a wide-open shot available. Scoring results in jubilant celebrations showing players sliding around or hugging their coach. And when a player is hit with a penalty he appears to be writhing in agony!
Penalty kicks are presented using a dramatic behind-the-back net camera angle. The music that plays during the game is catchy, but what is that constant noise? Is that supposed to be vuvuzelas playing? They're nearly as annoying as they are in real life! That said, Super Sidekicks is one of the best soccer games I've ever played. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
I did notice the game doesn't flow quite as well as the first. On defense it's easy to steal the ball just by running through a player, making it hard to maintain possession. Selecting the correct player can be tricky, and I dislike how you automatically relinquish control of your defender after a missed steal attempt. Once the ball gets in the vicinity of the goal, things really get crazy in anticipation of rebound opportunities. The amazing digitized crowd rocks the stadium, adding to the sense of urgency.
There are terrific animations like players falling flat on their backs or being nailed by the ball on the back of the head. Heck, even the refs take a beating in this game. When you score there's an awesome scene of the camera panning down from the stands onto the scorer being rained on by confetti. I always laugh at the animation of the goalie continuously pounding his fist into the ground. Super Sidekicks 2 might be a step back from the original, but it still puts most soccer games to shame.
. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
The ball is more unpredictable coming off the goalie, including deflections that trickle into the goal. I really like how you no longer lose control of your defender after an unsuccessful steal attempt. One frustrating aspect of the game is how you can't see the lower baseline until you've already stepped out of bounds.
One entertaining new element is the "super psychup" which occurs after a player suffers a hard foul. You'll watch a cutscene of the hurt player trembling with rage, looking like he's about to transform into the Incredible Hulk! Things always get hectic around the goal, and it looks hilarious when consecutive hard shots bounce off the goalie's face! Expect some funny cut-scenes including a few that border on homoerotic.
After scoring a goal you see two players lunging toward each other for an open-mouthed embrace. Fortunately the scene cuts off in time (control room: "Quick! Cut to commercial!") During another cutscene a player appears to be performing an obscene act on the referee! These provide for unintentional comic relief.
There's no music during the game but when you take a shot it sounds like a damn cannon going off! Whether challenging a friend or competing against CPU contenders, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more explosive soccer title than Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
The first-person viewpoint is quite effective in battle, allowing you to punch, kick, stab, or shoot the villains that approach. These miscreants include ninjas, mad scientists, and huge muscle men. Judging by the sheer size of these characters, it's evident that no other console of the early-90's could have handled a game like this. Dodging and blocking allow you to avoid attacks and set up for counters.
When you have ammo (always in short supply), shooting enemies is terrific fun, and you can explode barrels, rupture pipes, and break windows in the process. You'll also encounter friendly scientists who offer info, weapons, or health. Unfortunately, Super Spy is largely a one-trick pony with no scoring and unlimited continues, and the action gets awfully repetitious. It's quite original and worth playing thru once, but after that you probably won't want to look at it again for a long time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Screen shots courtesy of NeoGeo.com