Skulls of the Shogun is the new turn-based strategy game just released on the Xbox LIVE Arcade as well as all Windows 7 and 8 platforms by developer 17-Bit. Generally speaking I have a pretty love-hate relationship with these types of games. As a lover of strategy and the contemplation and implementation of said strategy, these Final Fantasy Tactics’-style time-wasters should be right up my alley. I could never get into the majority of them, however. I think it has something to do with the grueling learning curve and massive penalty for failure, like having to start a 2-hour long battle over again from the beginning. Stuff like that always gave me the impression that the game was taking itself a little too seriously, you know, like the challenge of the game was subverting the fun? Maybe that was just me.
If you’ve ever felt the same way, however, Skulls of the Shogun might be the game for you. The last thing you could ever accuse this game of is taking itself too seriously. From the cartoony art-style to the whimsical color pallet and hacky comedic-dialogue, it’s made clear from the outset that 17-Bit has taken the stuffy, clunky mechanics and ideas usually associated with this genre and tossed them right out the window. Even the premise of the game is just ridiculous: You play General Akamoto, who finds himself betrayed and murdered on the eve of his ascension to Shogun. Displeased at being treated like any other lost soul waiting in line for the gates of paradise, Akamoto decides to create a militia of other displeased skeletal soldiers and storm those gates instead.
From there you’re treated to a turn-based strategy game that is equal parts genre standby and unique innovation. You have a basic rock-paper-scissors style of power balance governing the three basic unit types (Archers – Cavalry – Infantry) as well as basic terrain hazards like bushes that make units harder to hit and cliffs that allow 1-hit kills via knockback.
What’s unique (at least as far as what I’ve seen in the genre) is an order system that allows you to issue a set number of commands per turn, often a number fewer than the maximum number of troops you control. Limiting the number of orders you can give prevents you from focusing on multiple objectives at once and really makes you consider your priorities on the battlefield. There’s also a system of reinforcement that involves using existing units to “haunt” rice paddies and ancient shrines to slowly build up currency and deploy new troops. However, your starting units are almost always incredibly limited, and the fact that haunting makes them useless means you’ll really have to weigh the cost/benefit analysis before you commit any troops to that. The real godsend is the ability to hold left bumper to fast forward through an enemy’s turn, which has always been the most excruciating part of turn-based strategy for me, particularly in huge games where a turn can take 5 minutes or more.
Another really awesome aspect of this game is the asynchronous multiplayer, which allows players to battle against each other over protracted periods of time, sending their moves back and forth to each other. Couple this with support for the game on tablets, Xbox and Windows phones along with cloud save support and you’ve got a fun and friendly little deathmatch against a friend that can sit in your pocket all day! Who needs Words with Friends when you can mercilessly ravage your friends with arrows in feudal Japan?
As an arcade game, Skulls of the Shogun is perfect. It knows exactly what it wants to be: A portable, fun, competitive experience with enough demand for strategy to be complex and the right twist of humor to stay interesting. I’d heartily recommend it!
We received a review code for Skulls of the Shogun. All opinions are honest and of the minds of the Paranerds.com staff.