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Have you ever found yourself playing a great strategy game and thought to yourself, "All this carnage and killing is great, but wouldn't it be even greater if I could eat the remains of my enemies to gain strength?" If so, I have got two things to say to you. First, you are definitely not invited to Christmas dinner, and second, Skulls of the Shogun [$4.99] is the game for you. This game was released a while ago on Xbox Live Arcade and a few other more ill-fated MS platforms, followed by a Steam launch with some new goodies added in. That version, dubbed the Bone-A-Fide Edition, has now come to iOS, completely intact, with a couple of cool tricks up its sleeve.

Skulls of the Shogun is a turn-based strategy game, settling more in the accessible end of the pool with games like Advance Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics [$13.99] than the more hardcore stuff like Hunted Cow's games. It's easy to get into and the pace is nice and fast, making it a good entry point into the genre for those who might be put off by complexity often found in the genre. Don't take this to mean that Skulls of the Shogun is an easy game. The AI is aggressive and fairly intelligent, and the way the game flows means that if you start losing, it's quite hard to make a comeback. It's quite possible to lose during the tutorial stages if you don't take care of your leader, and once you get past the first few stages, the gloves are off.

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A lot of the charm of the game comes from its slick presentation. While there have been some good-looking examples of the genre, strategy games tend to be focused largely on mechanics and content, with presentation being pretty low on the list of priorities. Skulls impresses with some excellent art, great music, and sharp writing. A brief cut-scene introduces the story of the game. The powerful warlord General Akamoto perishes in battle and finds himself in the afterlife. He's told to wait in line with the other masterless samurai, but he's not so good at waiting or, well, anything that involves not killing. He decides to take over the underworld, and immediately recruits some allies to go on a reign of terror. It's not long before he runs into a face from the past that only spurs him on further.

This could be played straight and would probably be pretty cool, but instead, the tongue is planted firmly in cheek to marvelous effect. The dialogue feels like something out of a good old Saturday morning cartoon. The story provides enjoyable context for the battles without ever becoming overbearing, which is not a balance frequently struck in this genre. There are a lot of pop culture references, but they're done with enough subtlety that if you don't catch them, it won't seem like an odd aside.

The game is a turn-based affair, with a fixed number of actions you can take each round regardless of how many units you have. You'll start off with a preset group of units, but most stages will allow you to summon new units at a shrine if you've harvested enough rice. Each of the three main units is useful in their own way, with the lowly infantry providing strong defense and good knock-back capability, the archer being able to attack at a distance, and the cavalry providing excellent mobility and powerful attack strength. As you reach new areas, you'll also be able to summon various monk units, who can use various types of magic to bolster your main units. Of course, you also have your leader unit, General Akamoto, who is very powerful intially and only gets stronger from there. The risk in using him up front is that if he falls, you'll immediately fail the stage and need to start over. Akamoto also becomes more powerful the longer you leave him untouched at the start of a level, so you really have to consider when you want to use him.

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The most unique part of the gameplay ties into the title of the game. Whenever a unit's HP is depleted, they're reduced to a skull. These skulls can be consumed by the opposing units to restore health, and if a unit eats three skulls, they enter a powered-up demon state that can take extra turns, a heavy advantage. A powered-up general is a devastating force, but having your general in range of skulls generally means they're in harm's way, adding an element of danger to prevent them being too overpowered. Of course, once one side has an advantage in demon units, things unravel pretty fast for the other side, so you'll want to make sure you're that side.

Skulls of the Shogun has both a single and multiplayer mode, and both are quite impressive. The single-player campaign offers about 10 hours of play through 24 stages. Early stages take about 10 or so minutes to clear, while later stages can go as long as a half hour, depending on your strategy. The first few stages roll out most of what you can expect from the gameplay, but you will still run into new units quite late in the game, so the game stays fresh for the duration. Each stage has a few specific goals beyond simply clearing the map, and some of them are very tough, so there's a lot of replay value here. On top of that, you'll be scored on various aspects once you've finished the stage, so if you're score-minded, that will add another layer of depth.

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The multiplayer mode allows up to four players to face off against each other on a good selection of maps. Depending on how many players you have, a portion of the 36 multiplayer maps will be available to battle on. It's a hefty selection that provides a lot of variety, with each setup requiring a slightly different approach. The most interesting thing about multiplayer in Skulls is that online play is cross platform. Players from the iOS version can face off with players on the Steam version asynchronously, which is rare enough on iOS to be notable in my opinion. What that means for the player is a wider pool of opponents available, which should keep the online community active longer. Of course, you can also play via good old pass and play locally, if you want to play with people in the same room. The fast pace of the game lends itself very well to multiplayer, since turns don't take a great amount of time to play through.

The only knock I've got on this game is that the controls for moving units around are a bit weird and occasionally clumsy. Most strategy games on touch devices let you touch where you want the unit to move to, but in this game, you have to drag the unit where you want it to go. If the unit is in a busy area, full of skulls, resource tiles, and enemies, it's often a pain in the butt to get it to just move rather than take an action. Luckily, the game confirms actions, so it's almost impossible to make a move you didn't mean to, but I do wish I could just tap where I want my guys to go. I should also mention that at the time of writing this review, there's a weird bug involving region settings that may cause the game to crash on start-up if your region is outside the USA, but the developer has said an update has been submitted to address this issue, so I doubt it will be an issue by the time you're reading this.

Skulls of the Shogun is a terrific game. It's not reinventing the wheel, but it's a very stylish strategy game with enough content and bite to keep a solo player happy for a long time, and a great spread of multiplayer maps and options to satisfy those with a multiplayer urge. Its accessibility makes it great for someone looking to get into the genre, while the challenge of completing everything should provide a robust feast for the veterans.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • rabidnz

    Will check it out when its cheaper!

    • InkyTheGhost

      This is why F2P rules iOS. Lame.

      • BlueFalcN

        Calm your nuts inky! Damn!

      • abodi

        Inky seemed pretty calm to me. You don't need to get riled up to say something/one is lame.

      • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

        Calm down, abodi! Damn!

      • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

        Chill your nuts @toucharcade-e2547e3fdbccacce591cb74e30a88f8e:disqus! Damn!

      • DtheGOPkiller

        Yep! 4.99 for a game like this is CHEAP! WTF do people expect? Sure devs love to make games but they have to eat and kids to raise.

      • swarmster

        "Actually, given the surplus population of the Earth, they don't _have_ to raise kids, and in fact we all might be better off if they don't."

        - rabidnz

      • themostunclean

        Ugh, Rabidnz is such a tool.

      • Galenmereth

        To be fair, I keep being burned by "premium" games on iOS. So I've started to become really reluctant myself.

        And no, I don't touch anything F2P either...

      • themostunclean

        Do your research and read the forums before buying. In this day in age, it's no-ones fault for being burned but your own. Premium needs our support and there are plenty of great ones out there.

      • Galenmereth

        Of course I do, but reviews are not objective things. TA pumps out 4.5 ratings to almost everything these days, for example. Oceanhorn, for example, is a premium game I found way too buggy and mechanically boring, and it received top ratings everywhere. It was definitely not worth the price to me.

      • Galenmereth

        Of course I read about games before buying, but come on; TA pumps out 4.5 ratings to most games these days, for example. Reviews are not objective facts. I was burned by Oceanhorn most recently; buggy, mechanically boring and uninspired levels, and it got a shining top rating almost everywhere. It was not worth the price to me, because if a game wants to charge premium it needs to be actually playtested properly and polished, not a beta release that works and "will be fixed some time in the near future".

        And again, I don't even bother with F2P.

      • themostunclean

        I'm not talking about reviews, I'm talking about forum posts and gamer impressions. If you'd read through Oceanhorn's thread here on TA, you'd see some people had issues with it.

        I rarely make decisions based solely on reviews. There usually not well rounded enough.

    • Boony Tuesday

      That attitude will continue to discourage great games from coming to iOS. Only 0.5% - 6% of all people who play free-to-play games actually spend any money. If you look at it like that, it doesn't even seem worth it.

      • cameron331

        It makes a whole lot of sense when you multiply that by millions and millions of downloads.

      • Boony Tuesday

        Not every game is a Candy Crush.

    • https://weheartit.com/cantst0pfallinginL0ve ⭐沛霖⭐㊗

      pathetic , you are so worthless that wont willing to spend just $3 bucks on the app store ? wow , i am sure u pirate download all your movies & not to mention subscribing magazine via ios newsstand

  • godelescherbach

    The gameplay seems interesting, but I don't love the visual style.

  • defunct32

    Looks good! $6 is decent! Sold.

  • DtheGOPkiller

    The trailer is great!

    • defunct32

      I replayed the trailer a few times, haha!

    • ZarieoZ

      No, it's not. It's EPIC.

      Had to watch it when I read your comment & it's reply. I'm glad I did :-)

  • defunct32

    Hahaha! OMG that trailer is FREAKIN' ADORABLE!

  • hippiesrlame

    This is a fantastic game. I'd highly recommend to anyone that enjoys turn based, expert and noob alike.

  • thetragicclown

    Very decent game. The controls do get a little wonky and you can see the xbla-ness of it in that but the difficulty is superb. It will require multiple plays of each level to try to get all three skulls (three stars) at least in my experience. Or maybe I'm just really bad haha.

  • BZoetic

    This is right in my wheelhouse. Thank you for the review! Downloading now...

  • ZarieoZ

    You my friend are a great addition, to the TA staff.. Yup I know you've been here for quite some time now. But the way you begin your reviews never seize to amaze me & give me a good laugh, which sends my eye directly up to see who wrote it. Then the way you explain every single aspect of the game like the reviewer is the one playing it in your minds eye is amazing. You are a great writer :-) I love your reviews, they are a great read, thanks for that. Every time you wrote a review, I've wanted to say that, oh well.

    • defunct32

      I know right? I am a huge fan of Shaun's writing; I look forward to reading when I see his name!

    • Flare_TM

      I second this, KUTGW Shaun

    • woodsielord

      Yeah, he started off with Microsoft bashing and all. Real mature way to win over hearts, especially when so irrelevant to the review in general. Kids will love him.

      Awesome, awesome game btw. Got it last year on Windows Phone, where Microsoft handpicked and published it themselves. It's that awesome. Can't wait to play the expanded iOS version.

      • ZarieoZ

        Well I was kinda talking about the Christmas part that gave me a laugh but anyway if we are gonna talk about MS while I'm not a kiddo, this wicked company needs bashing my friend & this company is giving me a headache with its awful products & bad customer service (I'm looking at you xbox 360). Regardless, he's completely right, they have lots of ill-fated products. MS sometimes hit the jackpot but more than ever they fail & miserably in their other attempts.

  • ImJPaul

    Pending this weeks releases I may get this. Regardless, it will be on my device by January. Just have a giant backlog between this, my vita and PS3. Something has to be GTA5 good to get my attention as of late.

  • loox

    I need to echo the other comments here:

    I bought the game based on the review. I'm coming to trust Shaun's judgment. Very professional yet fun-to-read reviews!

    If I only have half the fun playing this game as I did reading Shaun's review, I'll have gotten my money's worth!

    Keep up the good work!

    • defunct32

      Shaun is amazing!

  • Ramaz1234

    lol and people called last weeks release boring and drab. Well last week produced 2 5 star games 0.0

    • themostunclean

      Let's be honest, it's rare when a week doesn't.

  • MonkeyChunks

    The game is indeed very good. I played it for 2-3 hours on Xbox360. It has enough strategy variables to make it relatively deep and open ended as far as strategy.

  • 61050

    i keep getting notifications that its my turn in a game i neither started nor joined.

  • Espekayen

    This is currently free in the UK App Store. I thought there was a freeze on all updates and price changes? Anyway, I picked it up.

  • spsummer

    The game just went free in the US store, fun game.

Skulls of the Shogun Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 5