Skulls of the Shogun (Xbox 360), Review

17-BIT's debut game is good, but is it worth your $15?

Skulls of the Shogun is a creative turn-based strategy game from 17-Bit that takes place in an afterlife populated by dead samurai warriors. Skulls of the Shogun has been over two years in the making (first announced in June 2010). The game is drawn in a beautifully vibrant cartoon style. The game offers a quite extensive campaign, and both online and offline multiplayer modes for up to four players. The Japanese style cartoon animations make the $15 price tag worth it alone, but there’s certainly more than meets the eye with this one.

One of the first things I noticed when starting a game of Skulls of the Shogun was the background music. The music is a delightful blend of traditional Japanese music heavily induced with Fue (Japanese flutes) and low-fi hip hop drum patterns–very reminiscent of early Rza-produced Wu-Tang beats. The creative music just adds to the fun that is Skulls of the Shogun.

I started in the campaign mode, which starts out as an introduction to the game as well as a tutorial. This tutorial is well crafted, and slowly introduces new aspects of gameplay at the perfect pace necessary to fully understand a new game that doesn’t feel like any other game I’ve played. Players are first introduced to General Akamato, whom has just been sent into the afterlife after being betrayed and murdered by one of his own. After the beautifully crafted animation cut scenes, the player takes control of General Akamato.

You quickly will learn that positioning and strategy are most important in SOTS. Most people hear the term “turn-based” and automatically are turned off, due to old Japanese style RPG. However, SOTS is nothing like Final Fantasy or Pokemon. In this game, you have a relatively open map to move around, and that aspect of movement feels more like Civilization V than Final Fantasy.

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The game plays almost like a game of chess, and definitely has the same element of strategy involved. Players get five moves per turn, so make each turn count! You’ll find yourself moving your samurai in one direction, and then second guessing your choice and moving him back constantly. There’s a slew of things to consider for each move, such as your health, your opponent’s health, where your General is, where their General is, do you want to attack or go on the defensive, etc. The game undoubtedly has more depth that meets the eye. Players also can choose to eat the skulls of their slain opponents in order to gain more health, and you’ll constantly find yourself debating on whether or not to kill, kill, kill or save face and give one of your samurais a skull to eat, which takes up the entire turn for that samurai. There’s many different types of samurais in the game, including archers, scouts, infantrymen, monks, and of course, your general. Each type of samurai has their own necessity, but players can choose one over the other to cater their samurai team to their liking and style of gameplay.

While the solo campaign will provide you with hours of fun, the real fun starts with the multiplayer section. If you’re like me, and enjoy challenging friends in a duel of gaming, Skulls of the Shogun is definitely for you. You can play with up to four players, and I can see groups of gamers spending a Friday night infront of their Xbox’s in a Skulls of the Shogun tournament. Be smart and don’t ever just go in with swords-a-swinging. Take your time to strategize and you’ll be sure to defeat your friendly foe. The multiplayer gives gamers a high replayability factor. Another great aspect of SOTS is the ability for cross-platform gaming. Gamers can play on any Windows Phone, Tablet or Windows PC, so the amount of opponents available are that much more.

The artwork in the game is all hand-drawn, making each samurai warrior look even more cartoonish. The art-style is a breath of fresh air in a gaming world that focuses on overly detailing character models and less on just creating a fun game. There is a variety of gameplay environments that keep the game feeling fresh, even though the cartoon art-style makes them all look a little like derivatives of one another. It feels like Castle Crashers meets Japanese anime.

Also noteworthy in Skulls of The Shogun is the witty dialogue. While it’s not over-the-top funny, you will come across some chuckle-worthy moments in the game, such as the generals discussing texting (samurais texting in the afterlife—pure gold!). You’ll want to cherish these funny moments, as there really isn’t a ton of dialogue, leaving you wanting a bit more.

17-BIT’s debut game, Skulls of the Shogun, stands out in the now overly-saturated Indie game market. The game is easy to pick up, but will be difficult to master. The campaign is good, but the game greatly impresses with its multiplayer modes which are sure to please the masses–casual gamers and hardcore gamers alike. Graphically advanced and highly addictive gameplay, as well as an awesome soundtrack, puts Skulls of the Shogun at the top of our fun-list for 2013.

Story – 9/10

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Graphics – 9/10

Gameplay – 10/10

Music – 8/10

Replayability – 9/10

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