Developed by: 17-bit | Published by Microsoft
Perhaps its just a matter of time before certain genres of games have a resurgence. Some genres seem to disappear for the longest time and it only takes one new game to spark the interest once again. Last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown may have been the game to re-spark interest in the turn-based strategy games but I am not one to complain about it. Taking the honour of being the first XBLA release of 2013, 17-bit’s Skulls of the Shogun enters the strategy genre running and doesn’t look back.
Skulls of the Shogun is a beautifully crafted game with wonderfully quirky humour, incredible hand drawn 2-D visuals right out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and an intense gameplay. On the eve of victory over his enemies and preparing to be honoured as Shogun, the great General Akamoto is stabbed in the back and sent to the Samurai Afterlife. Unfortunately, the afterlife is not all its cracked up to be and, after receiving no respect for his actions in life, General Akamoto assembles a motley crew of also-dead warriors to fight at his side as he attempts the coup of a lifetime…er afterlifetime? If he can not be Shogun in life, perhaps he can be Shogun of the Afterlife.
The game does a fantastic job easing the player into the story and the gameplay elements. Each area of the overall map consists of several rounds of battle. During each round, you are able to move up to five of your units which, in turn have two or more (if upgraded) actions. For example, in one turn, I can move one unit anywhere within its movement range and, if within range of an enemy, I can attack. That is the first action. The second action is usually used to move the unit back to a safe location. Each unit can only have one turn per round. Once all your five moves are complete, the enemy will also have their turn. It is a fairly straight forward strategy game style and does not take long at all to understand and fully utilize. Mastering the strategy, however, will take much longer. Each area on the map has its own “Challenge”, such as completing the area without losing any units. These challenges will certainly take time and perfection to achieve. As the game progresses, new units are introduced with varying abilities, unit upgrades become available, items to use during battle, and a host of other actions and abilities, all of which only serve to add to the overall strategy. The only downfall I found was that any upgrades achieved in one area does not carry through to the next. Each area starts with just the base units only.
The art style in Skulls of the Shogun is hand drawn to resemble a cross between 1960’s anime and modern urban vinyl. The animation is fluid and humourous and makes playing the game simply fun and enjoyable. It doesn’t take itself seriously and doesn’t ask the player to either. Like the aforementioned XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and the upcoming Omerta: City of Gangsters, this game is not for the twitch player usually found playing games like Call of Duty. This is a game for the thinker in you; the part of you that likes to take much needed time and think things through; to create that unbeatable strategy and claim the victory.
Skulls of the Shogun was not a title I was aware of before it released at the end of January, but it is one that will be on my playlist for some time to come.
17-bit, I gave you an hour and I am IMPRESSED.