Hands-on with Skulls of the Shogun

Samurai snack on succulent skulls

Hands-on with Skulls of the Shogun

Life's funny sometimes.

One second you're an ambitious warlord moments away from taking control of feudal Japan, and the next you're just another corpse waiting to get into the samurai afterlife.

That's the plight facing General Akamoto, the hero of Skulls of the Shogun, but he's not about to accept his unfortunate fate lying down.

Armed with battle-hardened determination and one really sweet moustache, Akamoto charges into the afterlife with swords swinging to track down the imposter who has been sullying his good name in the hereafter.

Not your traditional SRPG

Skulls of the Shogun is a soon-to-be-released arcade strategy title developed by 17-Bit Studios. Launching for Windows Phones, Windows 8 tablets, and Xbox Live Arcade, Skulls offers a single-player campaign alongside a cross-platform asynchronous multiplayer mode.

Although very much a strategy title, Skulls of the Shogun boasts fast-paced, action-packed gameplay and never gets too bogged down in number crunching and unit positioning. It's fast, it's feudal, and it's fun.

To keep turns short, you're limited to giving five orders per turn. In the early stages when you have five or less units to command this amount feels generous, but on larger maps you'll need to carefully select which units you want to move.

Bone appetite

The controls in Skulls are simple and easy to master on both Windows Phones and Windows 8 tablets. You can use on-screen buttons, or simply tap on a unit to select them and tap on an enemy to attack.

Despite the disarmingly basic interface, however, there's a lot of strategy to employ in the battles.

Your general, for example, is the most powerful unit on the board, but if he dies the game ends immediately. Additionally, certain attacks have a knockback effect which comes into play when an enemy is positioned near a cliff.

And then, of course, there's the business about eating skulls.

Yes, eating skulls. While this is a delicacy that none of us here at Pocket Gamer have tried, it's apparently quite popular among the recently dead ronin.

This is probably because each skull that a unit eats raises their hitpoints. Additionally, if a unit manages to eat three skulls in a battle they'll transform into an incredibly powerful demon with two attacks per turn.

Warring State

Skulls of the Shogun is the first multiplatform title to launch across the Microsoft ecosystem, and it plays flawlessly on both phones and tablets - there was no delay experienced in any of the battles, and the gameplay felt comfortable on both screens.

While XBLA players can enjoy real-time multiplayer battles, mobile gamers can look forward to asynchronous strategy mayhem with the "Skulls Anywhere" mode that allows them to play against up to three other Windows Phone, Surface, or XBLA players.

With a wealth of multiplayer maps available and the ability to juggle 30 simultaneous games, there's certainly enough to content in the multiplayer mode to keep players busy long after the single-player campaign is over.

We don't have an exact release date for Skulls of the Shogun yet, but 17-Bit confirmed that it had submitted it to Microsoft and that it should be out "soon".

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Note: Screenshots are from the Xbox Live Arcade version
Matthew Diener
Matthew Diener
Representing the former colonies, Matt keeps the Pocket Gamer news feed updated when sleepy Europeans are sleeping. As a frustrated journalist, diehard gamer and recovering MMO addict, this is pretty much his dream job.