January is not known as a great time for new games. Most of the disc-based publishers take the month off and arcade titles are leftovers or not-so good retro games that never stood a chance. 17-Bit, the developers of Skulls of the Shogun is hoping to avoid those labels with their gorgeous indie turn based strategy game. Let’s dive in and see.
Skulls of the Shogun is a long in development indie game that features an undead Japanese general as he tries to make his way through the underworld. The focus of the gameplay is to navigate multiple stages with your general and his posse of soldiers. Using simplified turn based tactics, players will be forced to gauge each potential skirmish for the damage they can cause and the health of their opponents. Factors like enemy camouflage, healing monks, and distance to attack make a major impact on the battle on the field of play. The fate of your general is at stake on every turn.
The first element of this game that jumps out is the distinct style of graphics. Utilizing a cell-shaded style, 17-Bit presents a gorgeous game that looks like playing a painting in a museum. The developers are smart enough to keep most of the action confined and in a two-dimensional plane. The artwork on the characters is playful and creative while the scenery is interesting but not too distracting. Unfortunately, the two-dimensional approach has one major failing involving character overlap. When moving multiple soldiers into the same overlapping space it is easy to lose track of the bottom player.
There’s also a story to follow in Skulls of the Shogun and it’s decidedly silly and funny throughout. These undead warriors don’t talk like soldiers from 1000 years ago; instead, they chatter like modern goof-balls full of comedic banter. While the story is entertaining, don’t go into this game expecting to be moved to tears. Instead, sit back and try enjoy some of the silliness 17-bit has come up with. And, although I mostly enjoyed the banter, I didn’t enjoy having to read all of the dialogue. We’re in the year 2013, it can’t hurt to get someone to read your dialogue fellas.
Finally, the gameplay itself is the other main component of this game. As an arcade release, Skulls of the Shogun is not trying to be a top-tier strategy game. At its best it’s challenging players to run small calculations in their head before rushing in for an attack. Shogun is a repetitive struggle to utilize limited resources to fight the same battle continuously. While the developers did a decent job of avoiding stage repetition, there’s only so much a player can do with limited character types. I can’t say that I hated the gameplay of this game but I also can’t say that I witnessed anything innovative.
At the end of the day, Skulls of the Shogun plays like a decent arcade-style strategy game should. It’s challenging in 11-minute bursts but doesn't change the genre so much that you’ll shouting to your friends from the rooftops. If you’re a die hard turn based strategy fan, this will be a nice distraction for a couple days but won’t likely resonant beyond that. (Keep in mind that this game is not only Xbox 360, it’s also on Windows 8 and Windows Phone.)