Tales of betrayal are incredibly common in every medium. whether noble struggles for justice or gritty vigilante revenge, humanity has always loved the villain getting his or her just desserts. Skulls of the Shogun is a story along familiar lives but with a bizarre twist. In this case the quest to even the karmic scales is not carried our by a grief stricken family member or a loyal underling. In this case you play a dead warlord rampaging through the afterlife in pursuit of the subordinate who killed you.
If it sounds bizarre and comical, that is because it most assuredly is. On top of the feudal Japanese style is a liberal coating of irreverent humor. Thankfully this is well balanced with the effective design and challenge of the game. With a familiar turn based strategy format, the game reveals itself to be anything but the paint by numbers experience one might initially expect. There are no grids at all; each unit is free to move on its turn within a set range. There are only three basic unit types. Swordsmen who have high defense, cavalry with broad range of movement and archers. Initially each unit gets one attack pet turn and the first few levels are simple and straightforward.
Soon the interesting flourishes begin to show. Players can haunt rice paddies and use the rice which seems to function as currency to summon more troops from temples. Overwhelming your enemies through sheer number isn’t very easy though as rice paddies have a limited supply of rice and no matter how many units you have, you can only activate five per turn. Dotted across maps are also shrines where you can summon monks to augment your forces with magic. Each type of monk is different and utilizes a different variety of spells. Unfortunately they are only allies until your enemy claims the shrine. In some levels it can be worth sacrificing a unit or two in a mad rush to steal your enemy’s monks.
When a unit is defeated, their skull remains on the battlefield. Trot a unit to an enemy’s fallen cranium and you have the option to eat the skull. Not only is this likely to freak your foes out, but your unit will get a boost in maximum hit points and monks unlock a new spell. Upon chomping down a third helping a unit turns into a demon, which in this case means having a mask and the ability to take two actions per turn.
The battles are exciting and varied. While objectives are almost always the same, eliminating all enemies or dispatching the rival commander, the set-up and limited resources available in each level provide a dynamic challenge. The condition for defeat is always the same. If your general falls, you lose. Fortunately he’s no pushover, possessing a healthy pool of hit points and the ability to attack twice from the start.
Most of the time controlling your forces is a breeze. Occasionally you’ll have trouble trying to tap on a unit that is too close to a building or other unit, but there’s a button that allows you to cycle through your units to ensure you select the right one. Playing it is a blast too. It’s not one for the ages, but the right blend of stylistic components come together here to form something at once familiar and refreshing. Real challenge aficionados will groove to pulling out your best Sun Tzu and carving your way to battlefield dominance by completing some rather ridiculous challenges.
It can be easy to overlook truly effective style in favor of brilliant gameplay, but something about the mishmash of cartoon, iconic Japanese design and vague suggestions of calligraphy transports the entire experience to a cartoonish otherworld. Equally refreshing are the skeletal warriors that make up most of the game’s forces. They’re not loveable misfits, misunderstood by all. They just want to kick bony rear and chew bubble gum.
Despite one or two minor interface hiccups this is a firm recommendation for a quality Android game. The save function lets you play it in quick snippets while it’s equally satisfying for a long session. The intersection of quality gameplay, fun design and the right dash of bizarre humor means Skulls of the Shogun will make for a thrilling experience for quite some time.
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Yes. Robust challenge and style.
With a quality art style and well-thought out gameplay, this is a must-play.