This week’s Xbox LIVE Arcade release comes from developers 17-BIT and is available now on the Marketplace.
“A great warlord stands triumphant on the field of battle. Finally to be Shogun, ruler of Japan. The last of his enemies lay dying at his feet, or so he thinks…”
The story of the great general Akamoto begins in despair as he is struck down from behind, pierced with a blade that would ensure his death. Akamoto is dead, and now he thirsts for vengeance and power. He will tear his way through the afterlife to reach his goals, meeting many friends and enemies along the way. Hopefully one day becoming, the true Shogun.
Skulls of the Shogun is a turn-based RPG adventure, not like you’d think. When turn-based is mentioned, people immediately think of Final Fantasy or Pokemon – this is a whole different kettle of fish! Every move here matters as you have the whole field of battle to manoeuvre around before making your attack. Movement and positioning is just as important in this turn-based game as is attacking and counter-attacking.
You will be tasked to recruit several units along the way , all of which have different uses. Infantrymen are for the dirty up-close battles. Archers and Scouts are more of a long-range tool and can cover more ground. However, Mr. Akamoto as you might expect from being the center of the story is the most important of all. If he dies, everything ends and it literally is game over. So protection of your most valuable asset is key here. There are additionally a bevy of things to take into account when taking to the battlefield in this game. Defensive barriers can be boosted by moving your units closer together to form a “spirit wall”. There’s the consuming of your enemies’ skulls. This will give you health boosts. Positioning, such as hiding behind certain obstacles can affect your foe’s chance of a successful attack. The best part about learning to utilise all of these painstaking tactics, is that akin to the old Mega Man games, you won’t even realise that the game has been teaching you how to play the game, just by playing the game. The tutorials are craftily hidden beneath story development in a way that almost fools you into thinking you hadn’t been playing a tutorial.
The dialogue in Skulls of the Shogun is pretty damn funny. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Penny Arcade games were a source of inspiration at all. Although the story is very basic, the witty conversational pieces more than make up for it. You’ll find yourself loving the game more and more, wishing that there was dialogue after every turn.
Once you have familiarised yourself with the gameplay, the user interface becomes second nature. The game is very well crafted in that you can clearly tell how much HP all of your units have at any one point without having to create a fuss. The accessibility is astounding, with each new development being catered to you right on the screen.
Speaking of the screen, graphically this game is beautiful. It’s like a unique blend of Saturday morning anime cartoon and Newgrounds’ Castle Crashers style of animation, and a pop-out comic book all in one. The background blends well with the characters and the levels are wonderfully designed to create a dark and moody ambience.
Online multiplayer is also a key element to the longevity of the title. In multiplayer, you can choose to play Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch with up to four players. This is definitely a game of wits rather than brute force. The smarter attack will always beat the quickest. So taking your time with each move and thinking about every step you take is definitely a must. There are several maps to choose from, and you can play locally, online or even cross-platform. Yup, you can take the battle to any Windows Phone, tablet or Windows 8 PC. Cross-platform integration is not something that has been successful since Shadowrun, and Skulls of the Shogun just might have achieved that very feat. Allowing the devices to connect with one another is definitely a coup for this ingenious game.
The only area that the game falters in is that it might not be “hardcore” enough for dedicated strategists. If a point were made that it caters to casual players, there wouldn’t be much to object to that statement. However, this could serve as an excellent gateway game into a whole new untapped genre for thousands of gamers. Everybody has to start somewhere.
Overall, Skulls of the Shogun is a game that shows huge promise. The game is very easily accessible, the menus are completely fuss-free, you could play the game by yourself and with friends over and over again, there are plenty of multiplayer options for you and others to enjoy across a range of devices. Lest we forget, it’s damn funny, eye-catchingly pretty, and just an all-out good strategy game.
17-BIT look to be an up and coming studio. This game will do nothing but increase their reputation.