Slightly better than seppuku
With Skulls of the Shogun as their first release, developer 17-BIT is looking to add an interesting spin on the turn-based strategy game. By simplifying some aspects of the game and introducing a witty, lengthy story, players can expect to get their money’s worth. Adding in cross-platform multiplayer is also seamless and interesting. It’s the execution that needs work, because as you progress further into the story or establish games online it starts to get repetitious and stops being cute.
Turn-based strategy is a hot genre right now, what with the success of XCOM: Enemy Unknown catching us all off-guard, but to churn out the same gameplay time and time again means users will get bored and soon titles will start to meld together, indistinguishable from one another. Skulls of the Shogun doesn’t suffer this fate thankfully, as it adds new and interesting elements to the game itself, but still suffers from other issues. As expected, units have their own benefits and liabilities that must be put to use strategically to ensure victory. The particular mechanic of your General though, helps put a spin of personality to the game. Your General is your commander in the field. He’s the overpowered, high-damage/high-defense unit that can turn the tides of battle in a single turn. If he dies however, it’s game over and you lose, so tread carefully. Being such a valuable character, your General also gets a benefit at the beginning of each game and every round he is inactive. As he sits idle he gains 1 HP each round which, in a game where victory or defeat is determined by the smallest of margins, is a valuable benefit; the player looking for a quick win is sure to ignore the benefit though.
The General isn’t the only character on the field and as players progress they will be introduced to new soldiers and tactical options to implement. By haunting a particular rice paddy players earn rice, a form of currency used to summon new soldiers to the battle. The more valuable and dangerous the soldier, the higher the cost. Additionally, shrines are strategically placed that, when haunted, give players access to a unique character capable of devastating offensive magic or simple healing spells. It’s the rice paddies and shrines that present a unique tactical option to the game, posing the question, “do you move in for the quick victory and risk being overrun, or do you play it slowly and overrun your enemy?”
The story itself revolves around your General, as he awakens in the underworld with the rest of the samurai who have fallen in battle. He’s told to form a queue in order to get access to the promised land, but doesn’t take kindly to being given orders — he’s a General you see, and he gives orders. Add to that the fact that an imposter is masquerading around the underworld as your General, so nobody gives you the respect you’ve earned throughout your life in battle, proving that identity theft is a serious problem that dates back thousands of years. The writing is silly and juvenile, but not to the point where it’s embarrassing. Thankfully it’s aware of itself and the silly situation players are in. With quirky one-liners and snarky dialogue, the character quotes help players progress through what would be a painfully long game had it been written in a serious tone.
The bread and butter of the game, and the reason anyone should buy it, is the multiplayer. Working cross platform between Xbox Live Arcade and Windows 8 phones or tablets, a new level of gameplay is presented that helps the game take a small step away from repetition and introduces another experience for players. Where the campaign gets monotonous and, due to the large amount of content, forgettable, having dual-multiplayer options present an interesting change. First, players can hop into a 2-4 player showdown that pits players in a ‘last man standing’ deathmatch. With different maps, each with shrines and rice paddies placed strategically, matches can degrade into a bedlam with each player vying for an important tactical position within a round or two. The best way to enjoy Skulls of the Shogun multiplayer is the asynchronous mode, allowing players to make moves on their own time, which the game then relays back to the other players, again 2-4 per match. As you take your move, it is then delivered to other players to watch. It could be an hour, it could be a day, but the other players then get to take their moves and, when completed, you’re provided a notification that it’s back to you. It may seem silly, sending moves back and forth as if playing a game of chess long-distance, but with a hectic student and personal life, sometimes the only chance you get to enjoy a game is when you sit down for a … rest.
Skulls of the Shogun, with its witty writing and interesting design certainly provides for many, many hours of gameplay. Unfortunately, after a few hours the combat becomes repetitive, exceedingly difficult, and few will see the campaign through to its end. Those playing on a mobile device will see added benefit with the asynchronous multiplayer which can create some surprisingly fun and adrenaline pumping scenarios. It’s those modes that add value to the title and if you have a group of friends who enjoy gaming but have limited time, this is for you. But If you’re looking for a deep, interesting experience to have on your own, this is slightly better than seppuku.
Overall score: 6.5 out of 10