It’s been said about a million times before, but one more won’t hurt: Fighting games are hard. Stupid hard. If you weren’t lucky enough to be born during the arcade’s heyday, when fighting games ruled the world, you’re already at a disadvantage. Samurai Shodown, which launched earlier this week, only exacerbates the issue by carving out such a unique niche that having a baseline of fighting game knowledge might actually hurt a player’s chances of winning matches early on. Truth be told, you probably aren’t going to be good at Samurai Shodown—or heck, even decent—for a very long time.
For an in-depth explanation of the game’s mechanics, like the Rage Meter and various defensive techniques, you can check out my previous article. Samurai Shodown’s training mode should be the first place you stop after working your way through the barebones tutorial. I personally recommend starting with Haohmaru, who functions as the Ryu of the franchise thanks to his basic movelist and jack-of-all-trades skillset, but feel free to pick anyone you think looks cool.
Haohmaru has a fireball and an uppercut, but what you’ll want to check out first are his normal attacks. Work your way through every button, absorbing their strengths and weaknesses. Light Slash is like a jab, for instance, meaning it comes out fast but deals little damage on its own compared to the Medium and Heavy varieties. In addition to standing, crouching, and jumping normals, each button can also be used during a character’s running animation, usually with unique properties. In Haomaru’s case, you’re going to want to focus on two specific normals at first: his standing Medium Slash and his crouching Heavy Slash. The former is a great poke that can be canceled into uppercut, while the latter is a functional anti-air. Keep in mind that Heavy Slash has very slow startup, meaning you’ll need to practice timing it correctly if you want to catch a jumping opponent.
No matter how cool it feels or looks, jumping is the biggest trap in fighting games. Although it may seem like the best option at all times, it leaves you completely defenseless. This goes double for Samurai Shodown, whose characters float lazily through the air with every jump. When you’re just starting out, only go airborne when you think you have a read on a fireball-happy opponent, and be ready to follow up accordingly. Haohmaru’s jumping Heavy Slash deals incredible damage, especially when you combo into standing Medium Slash and a Heavy uppercut. The timing on this short combo isn’t incredibly tricky, but you’ll want to be sure to land the Heavy Slash as late into the jump as possible to provide enough of a window to transition into the next attack.
The Samurai Shodown roster doesn’t begin and end with Haohmaru, though. After 16 years, the franchise has a ton of characters from which to choose. Nakoruru is small and frail but brings backup to matches in the form of her pet hawk, Mamahaha. She uses the bird as a projectile and can also latch onto its feet for some airborne shenanigans. The burly Earthquake uses long-range normals to make up for his slow speed, but he can also dish out damage with a quick command grab if he manages to get close to the opponent. South-American warrior Tam Tam comes equipped with a variety of projectiles, making him the closest thing the newest Samurai Shodown has to a true zoner, or a character that thrives by controlling the rhythm of the battle with fireballs.
No matter who you choose, it’s important to head into competitive matches knowing that online play is a brutal hellscape and you will lose more than you win for a long time. This can be frustrating, but winning shouldn’t be your initial goal. After every match, try to pick out one or two things that you can learn or improve upon. Were you unfamiliar with Ukyo’s tricky special attacks? Was Yashamaru’s double jump difficult to follow? Did you get tunnel-vision and try too hard to make something happen with risky attacks?
Since Samurai Shodown dropped a few days ago, the competitive community has been hard at work learning the ins and outs of the new outing and its various characters. They found some pretty useful things, so I’ll share some here. For instance, did you know the fully charged version of one of Darli Dagger’s special attacks is completely unblockable?
Ukyo is typically pretty good, but he was done dirty here. Many of his normals are punishable on hit—an uncommon characteristic since successfully landed attacks are usually safe from retaliation in most fighting games—so you’ll want to use them from specific ranges to make them more safe.
Wu-Ruixiang’s run provides a guard point above her head that blocks air attacks.
If you’re playing Shiki, Jubei, or anyone else with an uppercut-style attack, you’ll need to be careful against an opponent that still has access to their Rage meter, as Rage Explosion can be used to escape and punish combos.
Using Rage in this way eliminates its use from the rest of the match, but it’s a great way to seal the deal at the end of a game.
Yoshitora carries a lot of swords, but he doesn’t unlock his special seventh sword—which gives him access to a super damaging, screen-filling attack—until landing each of his six specials at least once. As such, players are trying to figure out the easiest methods of getting that seventh sword unsheathed. One way is to use an incredibly powerful attack known as a Super Special, which unlocks it immediately. This can only be activated once per game, however, so use it wisely.
Players can also land Yoshitora’s specials after the round has ended and they’ll still count toward unlocking the seventh sword in subsequent rounds.
As you can see, Samurai Shodown manages to be complex despite its focus on foundational genre skills. But don’t let that complexity scare you away! It’s very easy to jump into this game and learn the basics, and there are very few execution-related constraints. Yes, Samurai Shodown is going to kick your ass. It’s a fighting game, for crying out loud! Fortunately, you don’t need to be Daigo Umehara to challenge your friends in your living room, check out your local weekly tournament, or even attend events like Evo and Combo Breaker. Just show up, ask questions, and remember to have fun, because fighting games are something so great.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.