Skulls of the Shogun is a strategy game with turn-based mechanics at play, developed by 17-BIT, Skulls made an appearance on XBLA and Windows 8 at first and has now opened up to Windows, Windows Phone & all things Microsoft nearly.
In Skulls of the Shogun you play the tactical mastermind of General Akamoto who has just managed to become the prime candidate for Shogun after a great battle. Instead of taking this prestigious opportunity he finds himself stabbed from behind and instead of being Shogun finds himself with a one way ticket to the afterlife. However upon the shores of the dead the damned Akamoto is treated like the rest of the rabble and with no respect, he therefore assembles a small team of companions to join him. Their quest: Get through the four seasons of the Afterlife (and no, not four seasons as in hotel) and to put an end to the rumours that he is an imposter! The story is an odd one but playing as a dead Samurai ex-Shogun with a mighty fine mustache has its perks. The story stretches out over 10-15 hours split between 20 levels.
Gameplay wise you are allowed per round 5 actions for 5 soldiers (you may have more, so you have to think as to which is the best placed for what). Soldiers are split up into Archers, Cavalry, Infantry and Monk. Excluding Monks, as they’re more of a support role, the 3 classes match each other in a semi-similar style to rock-paper-scissors – An Archer can do damage without being attacked back (if the target isn’t an archer), however you can attack an Archer without them attacking back also (if you melee). Each class has this sort of thing available to them. The battlegrounds you fight upon are grid-less and streamlined with each character allowed a radius of movement which can be both fun but at times slightly frustrating if you can’t edge slightly round a rock face. Also during battle, after each team attacks, there is an annoying animation of a sword passing the screen saying “Round X” – this becomes annoying as you may be there for 14 rounds and it slows the game down.
However, looking more at the Soldiers once more there are annoying traits there too. Each soldier can do 1 action which is either; Attack, Haunt, or Eat. Attack is obvious, Eat is where you eat the skull of an enemy to gain health (slightly funny at first) and Haunt allows you to eventually summon more units onto the field of battle. If a Unit eats 3 skulls they become a demon and have 2 actions per turn not 1. This is far more helpful and useful, however it often happens at the end of a fight, meaning that the character who ate 3 skulls wasted 3 turns eating and any possible turn where all they could do was move.
So there are 20 levels all in all. Levels have sections i.e. the 4 seasons, each has its own vibe and feel to it which is nice and fits very well with the iconic Samurai feel – things like pink blossom trees falling on soft snow (you know that Hollywood sort of thing). Each level allows 3 golden skulls, rewards that go toward leveling up at the end of each level, however what is incredibly frustrating with these golden skulls is that they are either incredibly hard, stupidly simple or conflict with each other e.g. “Knock back 5 enemies to their death” vs “Win without knocking back and enemy”. It just feels like poor design – how am I meant to complete a level and also level up as best I can if the game actually won’t allow me to do so?
In terms of soundtrack most of the sound from the game comes from General Akamoto shouting out orders and the sound of swords hitting foes. Every now and then you may remember there is light background music playing. Due to the actual difficulty of the game (it is surprisingly hard) and therefore the intense thought-process that goes into it, chances are you’ll miss most of the the actual music.
Overall I feel like Skulls of the Shogun tried to be a simple strategy game to make it more accessible to more people however it also feels like it’s own downfall. The game is fun but not worth a second play through. Combine that with the feeling of being powerless due to only having 1 action per round and the game can grate on your nerves. I honestly feel like the game’s artwork has the most going for it out of any of the parts that go into making this game.
(Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied by 17-BIT. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 7/10
Visuals – 7/10
Sound – 6/10
Lasting Appeal – 5/10
Overall – 6.5/10
(Not an average)
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Windows Phone
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Ratings: PEGI 7+