Inspired by the popular GameBoy franchise Advance Wars, 17-Bit Studios’ new game franchise Skulls of the Shogun is a turned-based combat title about deceased samurai who strive for glory in their afterlife. The cartoon style brings some humor to a mythological very serious bit of Japanese culture.
Through the story, you progress as General Akamoto to bring glory to your battle campaigns that you scourged through your mortal life. Unfortunately, you find out that one of your henchmen from the mortal world has claimed himself to be Akamoto and he sends enemies to prevent you from proving that you are ‘The Great General Akamoto’. Just like Advance Wars, the game is best played through multiplayer but unfortunately the single and multiplayer modes don’t live up to its inspiration.
Progressive Rewards - The best way to keep a gamers’ attention is by giving them constant rewards for things they accomplish. In games like Halo 4 or Black Ops 2, you earn medals for every assist or objective you complete. Every time you take over a monument or consume a skull, you get an upgrade or some kind of benefit. From summoning a monk to receiving additional rice so you can summon new samurai, the progressive rewards for strategies keep the gameplay rolling while enticing players to unlock new abilities.
After collecting three skulls, a samurai becomes a devil samurai, having double the base unit’s health with double the opportunities to attack or haunt a monument. At certain times, you can consume your own team’s skulls with a monk to prohibit your enemy from getting them while also boosting your monk’s abilities and powers. Most strategy games encourage a decisive way to combat your enemies while keeping your troops healthy.
Instead of going the traditional gameplay route for the genre, Skulls of the Shogun creates an experience that allows players to avoid combat while upgrading your samurai and preparing for an efficient assault. That is what makes Skulls of the Shogun already one of my favorite games of this year. With all the possibilities at your fingertips for upgrading your samurai, the game is still fairly balanced without taking away from an enjoyable gaming experience.
Balanced and Entertaining Multiplayer - Featuring six different multiplayer arenas, Skulls of the Shogun excels because of what is offered in the multiplayer. While the single-player campaign is entertaining for a multiplayer tutorial, you are either going to buy or not buy Skulls of the Shogun for playing online with friends or in your best friend’s basement with one controller getting passed around like that bowl of chips. Similar to chess or checkers, the first move that’s made might not be the best one giving other players or NPCs the chance to respond. You can choose by whether you want to haunt a rice patty, a monument or summon a new samurai. There are three base samurai: a horse class, a sword class and an archer class; each one of them counteract each other with rock-paper-scissor mechanics.
The monks have a support class to help heal or protect samurai. Each one of these is balanced until a devil samurai or devil monk is unleashed. In the late stages of multiplayer games, you want to have at least one or two devil samurai with your general in devil garb as well. All of these options offer an interesting and easy experience once you understand each samurai or monk and will offer a fun gaming experience.
DAMN THE IMPOSTER!
Well That Escalated Quickly - From starting off in a silly tutorial as General Akamoto arrives on this afterlife island, the game starts off slowly progressing you forward until you reach the first mission allowing you to use the healing monk. From the primary gameplay mechanics the player is explained, a couple of strategies that would assist the player during the mission previously mentioned aren’t explained but instead are encouraged to learn on their own. For some gamers, this could be a problem as it would lead to a frustrating situation that you’d just wish that you’d get everything told to you.
Honestly though, Skulls of the Shogun isn’t that kind of game and while it’s a good entry point to the turn-based strategy genre it might alienate gamers who are used to having the player get lead about for every detail of the game. Play around in the multiplayer for a bit to figure out new strategies and you’ll eventually be able to figure your way through the four-hour long campaign. Despite the sudden difficulty spike alienating some gamers, there are parts where the NPCs seem to not know exactly where to go or what to do that could alienate fans of the genre.
AI Issues - From non-player characters getting stuck behind rocks or other enemies fidgeting back and forth, there are some issues that are annoying and take away from the overall experience. A couple of times in multiplayer with the AI, the enemy team had an archer that was pinned against enemy units not allowing it to move but the AI insisted on moving anyway. Unfortunately since the rounds weren’t timed, the AI kept trying to move the samurai for about 30 minutes non-stop. While these aren’t often occurrences, they happen too often for me not to make a note of it.
Despite its flaws, Skulls of the Shogun is a fun turn-based game. If you are looking for a deep turn-based strategy experience, get XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but if you are looking for an entry level game for the genre on your Xbox 360, I can’t think of a better title to start off with. With its cartoon style, it’s a game that would be alright letting little kids play but still mature enough with innuendoes or classic literature references for some experienced gamers.
The campaign isn’t what you’ll be buying Skulls of the Shogun for though it’s an appealing enough tutorial for the multiplayer. Unfortunately, there are barely any players online, so just like I used to play the original Advance Wars, I’ll be playing against computer characters alone in multiplayer scenarios. While I’m not taking that away from my review, it’s disappointing and I hope those people who read this review realize the potential that Skulls of the Shogun has and they’ll play with me online.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review code provided by the developer.*