The history of JForce Games’ Samurai Showdown (not to be confused with the SNK brawler Samurai Shodown) is much more complex than the unusually simple game itself. SNES veterans may recall 1995’s Kirby Superstar, an 8-in-1 game offering a set of platformer adventures and other mini-games starring the eponymous pink blob. Among the fondly-remembered subgames is Kirby Samurai, a 2D reaction test game in which you face off against a series of enemies and try to attack first when a giant “!” appears on the screen. Superstar was ported to the Nintendo DS as the enhanced Kirby Superstar Ultra in 2008—which, perhaps not so coincidentally, was the same year indie developers JForce Games released a remake of Kirby Samurai called Avatar Showdown for the Xbox Live Indie Game platform. Avatar Showdown employs exactly the same setup as Kirby Samurai, with the only modernizing effect being its cash-in on the then-superheated avatar craze. The JForce game topped the Indie Game sales charts upon its release, but apparently, JForce isn’t over their Kirby Samurai obsession, as this year’s Samurai Showdown will attest.
The developers made arguably their biggest splash with the Minecraft-Halo hyrbid Murder Miners, but gamers who have come back to JForce hoping for another fast-paced 3D rampage will be disappointed. Samurai Showdown is an exceedingly simple reflex tester with a singular kill-or-be-killed objective. You are a lone samurai on a mission to free the land from the grip of war. This involves slaying five increasingly quick combatants without being struck twice, or attacking prematurely thrice. Facing off against your opponent, you must wait patiently for a big red “!!!” to punctuate the screen, and then strike as quickly as possible by tapping your side of the screen. The fastest swordsman draws blood, and if that’s you, a quick fade-out and fade-in moves you on to the next enemy. Tapping before the signal displays a big red X over your head, and matching your opponent’s speed results in a draw. The game is perfectly responsive, though with the advent of sensitive touch screens, you have to be mindful of both your twitchy thumbs and your hovering distance. Upon your demise, you can return to the main menu, or tap for a rematch. If you’re heading to the menu to view the instructions or change to the two player mode, that’s fine, but for the single, experienced player, these options are redundant—the game always saves your progress, so closing out, returning to the menu, and choosing rematch all have exactly the same result.
Visually, Samurai Showdown is rather handsome. However, in spite of Jforce’stheir evident design chops, the developerJForce has put forth only the bare minimum of effort necessary to separate their game from Kirby Samurai. The format is perfectly identical. Two figures face one another in a pastoral setting; the tension is briefly cut by a vertical screen separation that sandwiches the main view between a closeup of your character and a closeup of your enemy; finally, the exclamation point appears (or in the case of Showdown, three of them), cuing your attack. Samurai Showdown eschews pixel art for a vividly detailed, even painterly style, but it offers only one character design, pitting you against a clone of yourself with a very slight change of costume color. You can change your own color palate by tapping on the closeup screen, but it would have been nice to fight a different guy—or to follow the Kirby formula more closely and make it more than one guy. There is no animation to break up the monotonous cycling through the three still images of your set up, blood-spattered strike, and locked-blade draw screens. A constant undulating wind sound effect serves to underline this sense of monotony, which induces less of a zen calm than a nagging boredom. It might have been wise to add another objective or two, but there isn’t even a scoring system, other than the temporary display of your latest reaction time.
It is definitely worth mentioning that Samurai Showdown’s reason for being is to help raise funds for a planned sequel to Murder Miners. This would explain why the game ishas about the same level of complexity as complex as a Girl Scout cookie—it is, if nothing else, short, sweet and tooto the point. That said, while it’s nice to be free of ads and microtransactions, it still feels a bit absurd to drop a dollar on something that is essentially an even more two-dimensional ripoff of a recently revived classic. Time will tell if the realization of Murder Miners 2 justifies the small but silly spend on Samurai Showdown.
Is it Hardcore?
Samurai Showdown’s responsiveness and handsome visuals are undermined by lazy game design that settles for less than just being a clone of a Kirby classic.