Catchy turn-based mechanics and a great sense of style make Skulls of the Shogun a good, accessible strategy game.
- Approachable and engaging turn-based gameplay
- Enough depth for both serious and casual players alike
- Distinctive graphics and sound, including a great soundtrack
- Multiplayer support across numerous Microsoft platforms.
- Campaign doesn't offer enough challenge
- Maps can be cramped and confusing.
Turn-based strategizer Skulls of the Shogun may be most notable for its cartoon-creepy graphics and hilarious sitcom dialogue, but the best part of this game is its strategic accessibility. This Xbox Live Arcade game generates fast-moving action geared to instill a constant craving to play just one more turn in the afterlife of a medieval Japanese warrior. This isn't the deepest strategy game, but catchy mechanics and an undeniable sense of style carry the day and make Skulls of the Shogun seriously appealing.
Story and setting are the most impressive qualities of Skulls of the Shogun. In the single-player campaign, you take on the role of the recently deceased General Akamoto, a heavily mustachioed warlord who has been sent to the land of the dead by a backstabbing underling named Kurokawa. Said betrayer somehow manages to fall on his own sword right after the assassination, however, which results in both characters continuing their feud in the afterlife. Akamoto hits the shores of the dead only to discover that Kurokawa has impersonated him and locked the doors to paradise. So cue the big war in heaven, which in this case is a cartoony land that crosses Japanese mythology with the doodles on a goth girl's Trapper Keeper. All the characters are little warriors with big skull heads, which gives the game a distinctive look. This, plus fantastic dialogue loaded with (good) sitcom-style jokes and a soundtrack of eminently hummable tunes, makes death seem rather cool.
The strategic mechanics are similarly appealing, and the basics are simple. You proceed through the land of the dead one mission at a time, starting at the coast and continuing through chapters set in regions based on the seasons. So you venture into a spring land loaded with cherry blossoms, a steamy summer jungle, a golden autumn forest, and snowy winter tundra. Each land features a handful of turn-based scenarios where you wage war with enemies for the right to move on. Battles are conducted with small groups of units that consist of just three main types--infantry, cavalry, and archers--that rely on the usual rock-paper-scissors formula.
Lands also come with special monk units that boast magical abilities. So you can recruit fox monks to heal troops, salamander monks to light foes on fire, and crow monks to blow baddies away. Additionally, terrain has an impact on battles. Rice paddies and shrines can be haunted to build more units, and troopers can eat the skulls of defeated enemies to increase skills and hit points.
All of this leads to interesting, well-balanced combat. Units can hide out in bamboo, making it harder for enemies to hit them. This can be a great way to discourage attacks or to tuck away archers to better allow them to perforate the opposition. Cavalry can charge into foes positioned by water and hurl them into the drink for instant kills. Cavalry are also handy to quickly scout terrain and scare up the power-up potions spread around the countryside. Infantry are best at forming spirit walls to protect their arrow-shooting and horse-riding buddies. Units can be knocked into terrain hazards like spiky bushes for extra damage.
Upgrading units with skulls is a huge plus, albeit one that requires you to prioritize. It's always a question of who should be doing the eating. Your general gains demon form and an added attack with his third eaten skull in a level, although sometimes you can't afford to do this because of a need to heal grunts with skull snacks. Losing the general means instant failure, though, so deciding what units to feed to feed--along with deciding when to risk sending the general into the fray--is a tricky balance.
There is no grid, all the unit designs look the same .And for someone like myself who like to get on wit h the next battle or task, i found some of the battle take far to long to compete. A Good game overall.. but not one that holds my interest for long.
That's weird. This review says the campaign doesn't offer enough of a challenge, while others have said it's brutally difficult.