17-Bit’s debut title, Skulls of the Shogun
, is the latest arrival on the turn-based strategy game battlefield, which has recently seen the likes of Frozen Synapse, Civilization, and X-COM: Enemy Unknown stake a claim for control of the territory. Players assume the role of General Akamoto, once a feared warrior who has struck down when he became complacent in battle. After arriving on the Shores of the Dead, he is given no respect and told to queue to get into the afterlife. However, rather than waiting in line for hundreds of years, he assembles an army of ronin and sets off through the Seasons of the Afterlife to show that he deserves the title of Shogun of the Dead.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Skulls of the Shogun is a casual game at first; it features a distinctive and vibrant cartoony style, and is packed full of quirky and outright hilarious humour. But take a peek past the opening few levels and you are greeted with a turn-based strategy game that oozes depth.
The basic premise of each battle is simple. Players have five orders per round, and must eliminate the enemies, including an enemy General at times, on the battlefield. Akamoto, and other generals, are the most powerful units and can undertake two actions per turn. Slain enemies leave their skulls behind, which can be consumed for additional health. However, if a unit consumes three skulls, it becomes a demon and can undertake an additional action per round. The most dangerous possibility is that a General will transform into a demon and turn the tide of battle single-handedly. Some battlefields contain shrines, which can be haunted to gain access to reinforcements or monks. Other battlefields contain thorny bushes, which will hurt units knocked back into them, or cliffs, which see units fall to their death if knocked back. However, players can protect their units against knockback by forming spirit walls made up of two units or more. It is mechanics such as these that lend Skulls of the Shogun so much depth and mean that players can replay old battles with different outcomes.
Skulls of the Shogun is a tough game; players must watch where they leave their General, be aware of the potential movement range of enemy units, protect themselves against knockback, ensure that they control shrines, and actually defeat the opposing army in combat. It is difficult, and the odds are sometimes stacked against players, but careful navigation of the battlefield and strategic consumption of skulls can be the difference between victory and defeat.
The single player is an enjoyable experience with plenty of quips, pre-battle banter, and intense battles. However, the multiplayer offering is no slouch and cannot be accused of being tacked on. Up to four players can play locally or online with a range of different settings. However, the inclusion of “Skulls Anywhere” is genius. This takes cues from Frozen Synapse and Words with Friends, and allows players to send turns back and forth across Xbox 360, Windows 8, and Windows Phone. This means that a game can be played whenever and wherever suits players.
Skulls of the Shogun is a refreshing game with a stunning visual style and deep game mechanics. The single player offering in itself is excellent with additional challenges to undertake, and leaderboards to compare against, when players complete each level. However, Skulls of the Shogun must be credited for its inclusion of Skulls Anywhere, which should be a mainstay of any turn-based game. If you are a fan of turn-based strategy games, and you’re looking for something that’s a little bit quirky, then Skulls of the Shogun comes highly recommended.Skulls of the Shogun is now available for Xbox Live Arcade, Windows 8, Windows Surface, and Windows Phone.