"Skulls of the Shogun"; Platform: Xbox 360, Windows Phone, PC; Genre: Strategy; Publisher: Microsoft Studios; ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Strategy games are a time-honored genre. Twenty years since, I still remember playing "Empire Deluxe" with my father in DOS. Things have changed a bit since then.
"Skulls of the Shogun" takes the somewhat stuffy genre of turn-based strategy and peps it up for the modern attention span.
Based in feudal Japan -- or, rather, a mythical, skeleton-infested Japanese afterlife -- "Skulls of the Shogun" places you in the bones of the fearsome General Akamoto, who, on the verge of attaining the shogunate, was betrayed and killed by a subordinate. In the afterlife, he continues his crusade -- just because.
"Skulls of the Shogun's" silly narrative and crisp, sometimes beautiful 2D graphics create a light-hearted world, which wouldn't mean much at all unless the game is fun. Fortunately, it is.
"Skulls" twists the turn-based strategy archetype by removing the traditional, grid-based movement system. Instead, selected units are moved within a circle that represents their maximum range. Within that circle, you are free to move in real time until you drop your unit where you want it to be: in place to attack, to capture a point of interest, to defend or to eat a skull.
While eating skulls is generally frowned upon, in "Skulls of the Shogun," it's a must. Skulls drop after an enemy is slain, and eating them upgrades your infantry, cavalry, archers and their uber-powerful general. Be careful, though, if you lose him, game over.
The three primary units, a relatively slim number for games like this, amount to an elegant, rock-paper-scissors-like balance in the game play that lends to "Skulls'" fast-paced feel.
Three additional unit types, gained by capturing shrines on any given map, mix up the formula. But no matter how many soldiers are on the field, only five moves can be taken per turn, keeping the action fast.
"Skulls of the Shogun" also lets you take on opponents across multiple platforms. PC owners, Xbox owners and Windows owners can battle no matter their device of choice. The only problem is finding someone to play with -- multiplayer battles are scarcer than I'd like. Luckily, when an online game can't be found, grab a friend and head to the couch. Hot seat is very much an option -- the same way I used to play strategy games with my dad back in the day.