Version tested: PlayStation 2
KO. You've spent the last thirty seconds pummelling the life out of your opponent, be it with your fists in more traditional fighters or a sword the size of Wales in Soul Calibur and, apparently, your hapless victim is simply 'knocked out'. It's amazing how many games skirt around the actual lasting effects of such punishment and it's here - if anywhere - that you have to take your hat off to games like Mortal Kombat. Don't worry - it's just this once. Being able to actually finish your opponent brings closure to proceedings so when your foe explodes in a shower of blood, there can be little doubt whether they'll be getting up again.
Samurai Shodown has never been part of the KO Club either (unless you class being slashed in two as being knocked out) but if we were to say that this is among the highlights of the game, you'd probably worry a little, yes? And with due cause. Samurai Shodown V is disgraceful from start to finish.
Before we get onto what's wrong with the game itself, it's probably wise to attack the quality of the port. Aside from implementing online play, it's as though nothing has been done to give any semblance of extended value to the package. A practically naked title screen offers simply Arcade, Versus and Practice modes - the misleading Score option is nothing but the best arcade times, something most games leave to the attract screen but up front here to fill the emptiness of the game's front end. Practice mode is a fair attempt but is all handled from a single menu, which doesn't sound so bad until you weigh it up against a few other factors. The character-select screen is devoid of names, leaving you to pick one of the ugly portraits and - if you find time mid-brawl - glance up at the energy bar and try to remember which Maru or Raru you picked. So when you come to practice, you better be damn sure you know what your character is called or you'll be sitting through a hell of a lot of loading.
From Bad To Worse
But even the basic task of finding out which of the twenty-six faces takes your fancy is a time-consuming process. New characters vary from lumbering demon Kusaregedo with his sickening range to cheap-as-chips Sankuro (who relies almost exclusively on off-screen assistance for his special attacks despite the fact that he has a bloody great hammer), but they're pretty much all terrible. Going back to Sankuro, the worst part of his laziness comes from the fact that one special can hold a foe in place while another allows him to regenerate practically all of his health. Filth. There's plenty of variety among fighters but that's not really the problem with the game - if you want to fork out twenty notes to see how differently 26 misfits can fight, you could do a lot worse than this. And you're a bit odd.
No, a better selection of characters would not help Samurai Shodown V's cause at all because the core engine is just so retardedly broken. The usual hierarchy of normal, special and super moves goes out of the window when a single heavy slash can do upwards of 75 per cent damage and even with the Sword Gauge acting like a stamina bar that affects attack power, you can still do better just using heavy slashes and turtling to recover stamina than you can by playing the game like a proper fighting game. Which, obviously, it isn't.
Samurai Hodown, More Like
We'll not bemoan the game's pace as it's never been the world's quickest fighter (and has always worked well for it, in fact) but here are two woefully misjudged words for you. Concentration One. This bizarre new element can be used if you should ever be left with a slither of life and allows you to slow down your foe and strike with an obscenely powerful strike for no reply. Because obviously you're most focused when staring death in the face. Disgusting. Broken. Cheap. There are plenty of words for this feature but these are probably the most suitable.
Combine these fundamental flaws with pitiful AI, gaudy backdrops and sprites (in harsh contrast with the darker feel of the previous games) and muddled gameplay mechanics that try to draw elements from the series' wonderful history and you've got not just a recipe for disaster but a free oven full of the stuff. And it's burning.
3 / 10