Samurai Shodown (known in Japan as Samurai Spirits) is a 2D historical-fantasy weapon-based fighting game developed and released by SNK for arcades (running Neo Geo MVS hardware) and the Neo Geo AES on August 11, 1993.
Set in the late 18th century, Samurai Shodown is known for being the first fighting game to focus on weapon-based combat and for its style of that era's Japanese culture (including calligraphy and musical instruments). The game is also known for its quirky translation, traditional control scheme, camera zoom effects (in similar vein to Art of Fighting), randomly-dropped items (including food for healing and bombs for damage), and the Rage Meter (in which receiving damage causes the fighter to temporarily become "enraged" and more powerful).
Along with being one of the few Neo Geo games to receive ports to most fourth-generation game consoles, the game spawned numerous sequels and spin-off titles throughout the Neo Geo's life cycle (making it one of SNK's most well-known game series).
Players face each other one-on-one, in a 2D field that can be enlarged if the fighters are far enough from each other. Unlike other fighters, however, each character fights with a weapon, ranging from swords (in fact, most characters use swords) to spears. They can also use physical attacks (there are strong/weak attack buttons for both weapons and physical attacks), but this rarely comes up. The weapons increase the range of characters' regular attacks, and if both characters attack in a precise way, they can lock weapons. When they lock weapons, each player must rapidly press buttons to win the standstill; the loser drops their weapon, while a tie results in both players losing their weapons.
Also unlike other fighters, the game featured items. They included treasure (points), food (healing), and bombs (damage). A running referee would toss them into the arena at random intervals. In addition, a referee would hold up a flag whenever one of the players took a hit; he would hold up a different colored flag depending on who got hit. This referee, named Kuroko, would become a hidden character in the Game Boy port, using his flags as weapons.
Samurai Shodown also featured mini-games at regular intervals throughout the single-player mode. Players had to slash through ten straw men in the span of thirty seconds. Straw men would only stay up for a short amount of time, this amount of time lessening in later iterations of the mini-game. For the most part, cutscenes took place immediately before and after the mini-game, showing Amakusa's rise to power and his revenge against the Tokugawa. There were only two exceptions, one of them being the ending for a particular character's story.
The game includes 12 playable characters and 1 unplayable boss character.
- Haohmaru - The game's main protagonist, Haohmaru is an easy-going Japanese swordsman and lone ronin who travels to sharpen his skills. His fighting style focuses on powerful swordplay with his katana, and his techniques includes a sword uppercut (Kogetsu-zan) and whirlwind projectile (Senpuu Retsu-zan).
- Nakoruru - A young Ainu priestess who fights to protect nature after feeling its cries for help. Along with quick rushing strikes with her kodachi, she is aided by her hawk companion, Mamahaha, who can lift her into the air and be used as a projectile. She is one of few characters who can perform a wall jump.
- Ukyo - A romantic Japanese swordsman who fights in the swift style of iaido, searching for the ultimate flower for his beloved woman. His techniques include an in-air slash projectile (that resembles the fiery image of a swallow) and a series of quick rapid slashes (which he signals by throwing an apple that he also slices).
- Jubei - A battle-hardened Japanese samurai (based on the historical figure Yagyuu Juubei). Fighting with dual katanas, he has multiple sword-based techniques (including a ground projectile, a series of rapid strikes, and a forward-charge into sword uppercut).
- Charlotte - A boastful French noble who travels to Japan, believing Amakusa is the source of a series of calamities plaguing her home country. She fights in the art of fencing, and uses an épée in combat (which she can use to perform a three-point "triangle slash"). She can also charge her opponents with multiple sword thrusts and form a tall column of damaging energy while jumping.
- Galford - A cheerful American sailor who trained in the art of ninjutsu and became a "hero of justice". Along with a ninjato and electrified kunai projectiles, his techniques can also involve his husky companion, Poppy, who can rush at opponents. He shares many similarities with Hanzo, including techniques that create illusions to confuse opponents, and is one of few characters who can perform both a wall jump and an air throw.
- Hanzo - A Japanese ninja (based on the historical figure Hattori Hanzou). Along with a ninjato and shurikens, he can send long snaking fireballs against his opponent. He shares many similarities with Galford, including techniques that create illusions to confuse opponents, and is one of few characters who can perform both a wall jump and an air throw.
- Kyoshiro - A Japanese kabuki actor who fights with a dancing-based fighting style and a large naginata. He has a variety of fire-based techniques, including the ability to breathe fire, the ability to toss flaming fans, the ability to perform a mid-air spin attack, and the ability to vault himself from his weapon.
- Gen-an - A small monstrous creature from the Japanese island Onigami, who fights with a large steel bladed claw. Along with a spinning ball-like attack, he can also spew a cloud of poisonous gas at his foes. He is one of few characters who can move around while crouching.
- Tam Tam - A masked Mayan warrior from "Green Hell" who travels to Japan to retrieve the stolen "Pherenx Stone", which was used by Amakusa for nefarious purposes, in order to restore peace to his village. He is armed with a large scimitar, and his abilities involve throwing skulls, summon rising demons, and spin his flaming sword while moving toward his opponent. Unavailable in the Game Gear version.
- Wan-Fu - A brash Chinese general seeking to recruit powerful warriors for his army in hopes of unifying all of China. Armed with a large dao, Wan-Fu has the unique ability to throw his weapon as a projectile, which generates a powerful explosion at its wake. He is one of few characters who can move around while crouching. Unavailable in the Game Gear version.
- Earthquake - The hulking leader of a gang of American bandits searching for treasure, Earthquake fights with a large kusarigama. Despite his ninjitsu training, his enormous body only allows him to either bounce himself towards foes or rush himself as a spinning blade ball. He is one of few characters who can perform a wall jump and is the only character that cannot be thrown normally (with all throws instead performing a unique attack). Unavailable in the Genesis, Sega CD, and Game Gear versions.
- Amakusa (final boss) - The game's main antagonist (loosely based on the historical figure Amakusa Shirou), Amakusa is an evil undead Japanese sorcerer who wishes to destroy the Tokugawa shogunate and gain great magical power. He fights with a levitating gem and has various magical abilities at his disposal (including teleportation). Only playable in the SNES and Genesis versions with a cheat code.
After being made for the Neo Geo, Samurai Shodown was ported to many systems. However, few were capable of running the game at the technical level that the Neo Geo did. For example, the SNES, Genesis, and Sega CD versions removed the scaling present in the original; instead, they kept the characters at a constant size (the Genesis and Sega CD used the large sprites, the SNES their small counterparts; however, the Genesis version omits Earthquake entirely). The SNES and Genesis versions also removed the blood present in the original. The port closest to the original was the 3DO version, which kept the scaling and blood that the others lacked.
In addition to a playable Amakusa, the Game Boy version had two additional unlockable characters: Kuroko, the referee, and Hikyaku, the courier man that throws item onto the battlefield. Although Kuroko would also become a playable character in later games, Hikyaku has yet to resurface in that role.
Samurai Shodown would also appear in later compilations alongside other Samurai Shodown games. It was ported to the PS1 along with its sequel under the name Samurai Spirits Kenkaku Shinan Pack. However, this port was only available in Japan. However, it would also appear in Samurai Shodown Anthology for the Wii, PS2 and PSP, along with its five direct sequels.
Samurai Shodown, along with II and III, were also ported to the Wii's Virtual Console. All three were ports of their Neo Geo incarnations, making it unlikely that the SNES and Genesis ports of the game will be ported, as well.