When arcades ruled empty mall space, 2D fighters were all the rage. It made sense then that plenty were made and intended for use on home systems to emulate the flashy arcade experience. While some were wildly popular, others tended to fade into relative obscurity. Samurai Shodown II is one of those, an SNK Neo Geo fighter coated in a syrupy smattering of nostalgia. It serves up a hefty helping of of 2D beat-’em-up love, but its iOS resurrection just ends up feeling like a frustrating, barebones port.
At its core, Samurai Shodown II is a melting pot of stylized 18th century fighters and flashy environments, with familiar arcade and story modes. The battles are what we’ve seen before: a succession of fights in story or arcade mode until you reach the boss character, and then game over to come back and do it all again with another combatant. There are 15 fighters to choose from, each with a multitude of combos and fighting styles that you can become acquainted with, and eight difficulty settings for when you’ve bested simpler settings. The Samurai Shodown games are all aesthetically pleasing and fairly exciting, so the game isn’t so much the issue here as the controls.
This is a direct port of the original game, so there’s no slick HD polish. Though the sprites are gorgeous and detailed, some of their crispness is lost in translation. And then there are the issues with on-screen controls. The control stick on the left hand handles movement, and the buttons on the right unleash combos. You can choose a four-button layout or a six-button layout with additional special buttons for a more accurate spread. There’s a dedicated button for a special move without requiring use of the stick as well.
The trouble is, the stick itself is quite fiddly. If you’re trying to pull off a combo, you’ll need it to input movement, and with the stick performing in such a shoddy manner, you find yourself jumping into the air more often than not. This is somewhat alleviated by the dedicated special button, but is particularly frustrating for players trying to learn, especially those not acquainted with the game’s core mechanics.
That’s not to say the game is never fun, because it can be very exciting when it shines, especially during some multiplayer scuffles and on lower difficulties. There’s just a limit to what can be done in an acceptable manner when it comes to frustratingly unreliable controls. This is the case with many fighters, though it should be noted there are numerous cases where the control scheme has been addressed and even revamped in a way that improves things beyond the normal scope– Samurai Shodown II, unfortunately, is not one of those releases.
This is a barebones port with frustrating controls, no real additional augments for the iOS platform, and a lack of HD polish. It’s still a familiar brawler, but this isn’t the best way to experience the game, especially if you’ve got a better way to play.