I keep thinking that I might not need to review all of these double dip ACA NEOGEO releases that are covering titles that already existed via the decade-old Dotemu versions. And who knows? Maybe I don’t. If I have something to say, however, then I’m going to go ahead and do it. Samurai Shodown II ACA NEOGEO ($3.99) is one of those cases, so let’s go ahead and take a swing at it. Naturally, TouchArcade did review Dotemu’s Samurai Shodown II back in 2013 when it first came out, but time marches on and it hits some things harder than others. This time it’s a fairly easy job of which version to recommend, at least.
Let’s get right to that, then. Despite being able to save yourself a buck by buying the old version, I give my strongest recommendation that you do not do that. Some of those old Dotemu apps are still somewhat working, but Samurai Shodown II is in very rough shape. Its external controller support is spotty, it crashes semi-regularly, the touch controls are in a sorry state due to being designed for far smaller displays, and there are some emulation glitches on top of that. Don’t buy the old version. Friends don’t let friends buy the old version. SNK really ought to remove it from the store at this point.
Alright, that’s settled. So let’s talk about Samurai Shodown II as a game, and this ACA NEOGEO version of it. When people are asked which Samurai Shodown game is their favorite, Samurai Shodown II tends to be the one that comes up most often. It has a great roster, the play mechanics are well-balanced, and it has a lot of depth without getting too caught up in gimmicky systems. In a sense, it is the original Samurai Shodown concept in its purest, most ideal form. After this installment, there were a lot of attempts to change things up that met with varying degrees of success. I have a fair bit of fondness for every game in this series, and I tend to lean towards SamSho V Special as the best one, but I think I would be most likely to recommend Samurai Shodown II to someone looking to break into the series.
Of course, we’ve got the usual issues when it comes to this mobile ACA NEOGEO version. Samurai Shodown II has a lot of very involved special moves with precise motions you’ll need to do with the stick and buttons. If you have an external controller, then that’s fine. Connect your controller and have a good time. If you’re stuck with the touch controls, however, this might be one of the most problematic NEOGEO fighters to play. It’s really hard to do the more advanced moves using the virtual stick, and unlike with the Dotemu version there are no crutches for using special moves built in. If you’re willing to spend a fair bit of time with it, you might be able to get to a point where this isn’t a huge problem, but it’s always going to be a second-class experience.
It would be less of an issue if it were easier to play against another human, because at least you would be equally disadvantaged. If you’ve read any of my ACA NEOGEO reviews before, you know the drum I am about to bang. The only way to play multiplayer in this game is to use multiple external controllers and huddle around one display. If you have the set-up for it, then it’s a fine experience. But I think that’s a big “if". Realistically, you’re going to be battling against the challenging CPU opponent, who has no problems using its own special moves against you. Even the Bluetooth local multiplayer as seen in the Dotemu version would be a big help. It’s not that there isn’t some fun to be had here, especially for the reasonable price, but unless you’ve got the right set-up you aren’t going to be able to enjoy this game the way it’s meant to be.
I’ve said all of this before in every ACA NEOGEO fighting game review I’ve done, and I assume most of you are used to it by now. I would go so far as to say you probably anticipated I would be talking about all of these points. If so, you might be the sort that has been able to get over these issues before and enjoy these fighters. You just want to know how this game in particular is. Well, it’s really good. Samurai Shodown II rules. Hamster’s emulation is fantastic. You get lots of options to tweak as you like, and if you turn the difficulty all the way down you can have some fun slicing up the CPU opponent without much pushback. There are the usual Score Attack and timed Caravan extra modes, and you can choose between the Japanese and overseas versions of the game. Online leaderboards are here if you’re looking for some competition, and I could see some people really getting into that end of things.
I think with all of these ACA NEOGEO releases, we have to weigh the benefits of the low price and ease of access against the cons of some features being restricted and the overall playability being a fair bit worse for those using touch controls. I’m personally of the mindset that even these fighters can be worth the few bucks you’ll spend just to have the occasional bout against the computer. It’s a bit of enjoyable stress release as long as you quit before you get to the frustrating boss fights. But I also think that unless you have just the right conditions, this is probably the worst way to play the game on modern platforms. Absolutely, unquestionably better than the version we already had on mobile, but if you have another means of playing Samurai Shodown II, you should take it.
That’s really where I’m at with Samurai Shodown II. I’m glad we have a better version of the game. That old app needed to be updated or trashed, and I think it would be wise if SNK did the latter. It was fine in its time, but ten years is absolute eons in mobile gaming. This ACA NEOGEO version is up to Hamster’s established level of quality, and that’s a great thing. As to the game itself, Samurai Shodown II is excellent, and perhaps one of the finest on the NEOGEO, but this isn’t an ideal way to enjoy it. That being said, if you can accept the various challenges that come with the usual ACA NEOGEO suite of options, then by all means grab your katana and get to work.