Skulls of the Shogun is a fantastic turn-based tactics game from 17-Bit. Inspired by games like Advance Wars it really shines on Windows Phone.
Turned-based tactics games benefit greatly from touch screen controls; being able take a few turns whilst on the bus or in an advert break without the hindrance of poor controls or twitch based gameplay suits the mobile gaming platform greatly. But what makes this particular effort stand out from the rest of the genre?
The feudal Japan setting combined with a pretty in-depth strategy game makes this one of, if not the best games in this genre available on Microsoft's devices. At the core of this gameplay is the three base units available to the player. Archer, Cavalry and Warrior units are aided by spell-casting monks in support and the buffed-up general super-unit. Protecting the general is the key to success and some matches can end quickly if you immediately crush the enemy's leader.
A rock paper scissors like triangle gives the player many possibilities: Archers are strong against slow moving warriors and Cavalry's high movement range is hindered by weak attack stats. Fox monks act as medics, Salamander's as fire casting mages and Raven monks can push enemy units off the edge of the battlefield to instant death.
The core gameplay revolves around the titular 'skulls'. Every fallen unit drops a skull. Using one of your moves (you get five per turn) to eat one of these skulls gives that unit a health boost. After three skulls are consumed, your unit will turn into a demon version with more powerful attacks and more importantly two moves per turn. The frantic race to eat skulls can turn the tide of battle in the player's favour very quickly. Demon generals three-move final form can devastate the battlefield with it's high damage attacks.
Each map also contains rice fields; once possessed they form a currency which increases with each turn. This rice can be spent on new units created at specific shrine spawning points or on high level spells such as thunderstorms, unit revives or the ability to summon an 'Oni'. This non-allied AI demon attacks the nearest unit regardless of side and can create some rather hilarious or frustrating outcomes.
There are passive areas on each map too with health buffing potions to consume, ledges to avoid falling off of and spiky thorn bushes with which you can push an enemy unit into for extra damage.
The controls work well for what can be a crowded screen at times. Each unit can be tapped on to activate but an on-screen button is provided to allow quick switching between units and enemy targets. The only annoyance comes from selecting certain units when they are close to another unit or shrine. It can be frustrating and cost you a move which you did not intend to use.
Skulls of the shogun is a challenging game. One mistake can cause you to be quickly overwhelmed by the smart AI. Overcoming each battle with the right planning and strategy can be both rewarding and damn-right fun. The humorous dialogue paired with the story of a dead general seeking vengeance whilst in limbo provides the back drop for the top notch gameplay. The occasionally frustrating controls do little to hinder this brilliant turn-based tactics game however. This really is a must buy whether on Windows phone, Windows 8 PC or Xbox 360.