When it comes to turn based strategy games, there is very few that stands the test of time and even fewer initially succeed. Stepping onto the field of battle is 17bit with their latest Xbox Live Arcade game Skulls of the Shogun, and it proves that not only is it a bad idea to backstab a ruthless and brilliant military general who will stop at nothing in the afterlife to have is revenge and gain the love of a top heavy female spirit, but that you can laugh hysterically while doing all of this. This is the story of General Akamoto who has led countless men into countless victories, only to be betrayed and stabbed in the back by your second in command. To rub salt into the wound, when our good General Akamoto arrives in the afterlife, he realizes that the one who betrayed him also stole his identity to command a massive blue army of undead warriors and rule the afterlife realms as Shogun. Now General Akamoto is pissed and vows revenge and dominance by conquering the realms of the afterlife and taking the title of Shogun from his second in command. It is time to recruit your own red army of undead soldiers who want nothing more than to kill things for you and in your spare time get you to autograph various.... things. Time to focus your warrior spirit, harness the soul of the Samurai, and grab something to drink if you're thirsty because the battle begins now!
Skulls of the Shogun is setup in a very straight forward design where you will progress through multiple levels with different layouts, item bonuses, and various magical aides all while fighting off a number of equally challenging (and sometimes downright viciously intelligent) blue enemies. Given that this game is heavily focused on strategy, there are a wide variety of soldiers to choose from in your army and each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses. There are infantry soldiers that have average defense and offense; there are archers that deal tremendous damage but possess the weakest defense; there are even mounted soldiers who possess a little bit better defense than the archers, but slightly less power.
Throughout the levels there will be various places that your undead army can haunt and while some provide rice (the game's in game currency), there are some that will provide you with magical creatures that offer a multitude of impressive bonuses from healing your soldiers to severely wounding almost every enemy on the battlefield. The point to the rice besides being needed for some amazing spellcasting is that you can use that to purchase more soldiers of your choosing from a soldier shrine. At the start of every turn, every rice patty that you have haunted will give you +25 rice and will heal any wounded soldier who happens to be standing on top of it. This is a plus since when you haunt anything you, in essence, freeze your character for one whole round and prevent them from counter attacking.
The game consists of battles over multiple rounds and each side is given a total of five commands per round. With a command you can select a member of your army and move them within the movement circle and while you do that you will see a secondary circle that follows your character shrink. This secondary circle is what will be leftover for movement if you perform an action. If an enemy is within range when you move, you can attack them and then use whatever is left of your movement circle to move to a different area. The key to all of this is balance and here's why. Actions such as attacking will allow you to move afterwards, but other actions such as eating skulls, or haunting shrines or rice patties will effectively end your turn instantly. When you combine the balance of movement with the balance of your soldier, then that is where strategy becomes absolutely critical.
While the depth of this game is surprising, it's not without its own style of beauty. Each level is done in a cartoonish feel with bold colors and vibrant elements that really stand out on the screen such as cherry blossom trees. While the sound is gibberish of noise that you would find in an early sim type game, the gem of the dialogue is found in the humor of the writing which will have you laughing throughout each and every stage. While Skulls of the Shogun is a game that might go undetected on your game radar, it provides a quality gaming experience that will be both challenging and rewarding. When you also take into account that the game also supports multiplayer, Skulls of the Shogun demands a lot of respect in the turn based strategy genre.