Version tested: Xbox 360
As a company known for its 2D devotion, SNK nonetheless has a long-running and unfortunately mediocre fascination with polygons. Although games like The King of Fighters XII and Metal Slug 7 help support the relevance of sprites in the age of gigahertz processors, 2D-to-3D revamps like Metal Slug 3D and, cough, Maximum Impact have been underwhelming to say the least.
But it's important to remember that even Capcom shovelled out Street Fighter EX and Final Fight Revenge before crafting the masterful Street Fighter IV. And so with Samurai Shodown Sen - a new 3D revamp that's based on one of SNK's most fondly remembered 2D fighting series - it's best to look at the package objectively, rather than recoiling in nostalgic revulsion purely on principle. Because whichever way you look at it, Samurai Shodown VII this certainly isn't.
Booting up the select screen for the first time shows a healthy smattering of classic characters, including wandering swordsman Haohmaru and French fencer Charlotte. But their inclusion is merely homage as, mechanically, Samurai Shodown Sen shares more with Soul Calibur than any of its 2D forbears. Indeed, those expecting flashy projectiles and an abundance of half-circle specials will be in for a shock, as Sen has forgone the traditional fireworks in favour of juggles and three-hit combo strings.
That's not to say special moves have been removed entirely; for example, the sadistic Genjuro still has four motion specials including his classic Hanafuda slashes and Shoryuken-style uppercut. But when you consider the rest of his command list is made up of 34 different Tekken-esque combos - ranging from single strikes to combos that require directional inputs - it quickly becomes apparent that Sen is a 3D fighter in more than just appearance.
The control set-up also deviates from the classic formula, as although we still get a four-button layout, things have changed to horizontal slash, vertical slash, kick and special. Furthermore, by pressing two or three buttons simultaneously, the player can access strong slash variations, which can do around a third of full damage if timed correctly, as well as mostly useless unblockable attacks, which take forever to charge and are easily punished.
Playing Samurai Shodown Sen also highlighted how accustomed I've become to Street Fighter IV's input leniency, as pulling off a juggle combo on the 360 pad often required strict timing. Fortunately, SNK have had the foresight to map all the important button combinations to the shoulders and triggers, because otherwise an arcade stick would have been more or less mandatory.
Roster-wise, we get 13 classic characters in addition to 11 new creations, with everyone falling into either a Power, Skill, Speed or Tricky play-style. Out of the returning cast, grizzled veteran Jubei is a Skill type, whereas the perpetually ill Ukyo is a Speed type who can punish mistakes quickly. The Iaijitsu master also gets his iconic sword-flurry special complete with "just because I can" apple toss.
The new bloods are a more curious mix, as although there are typical additions like Haohmaru's apprentice Takechiyo, who fights with a wooden sword, and the spear-wielding Kim Hae-Ryeong, we also get afro samurai J. and Garros, the world's most generic Viking. No prizes for guessing which combat type our Norwegian friend falls under.
Further branching off into the realms of raised eyebrows is princess Suzu, a petite blonde who makes it into Samurai Shodown Sen as a Power type. Her weapon of choice is a moderately sized claymore, which she can somersault through the air with before comboing into a command throw - all for enough damage to make Siegfried wet himself. And speaking of armour-encased blockheads, Samurai Shodown Sen gets European knight Walter, another Power type who fights with a bastard sword and shield.