Review: Skulls of the Shogun

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I have to admit, I haven’t played a turn-based…no wait, let me rephrase that! I haven’t played a FUN turn-based strategy sinceWorms. You know those little guys that go cabloey? If you haven’t played Worms, I strongly suggest that you take off your belt and hit yourself repeatedly with it.

There is a specific breed that enjoys strategy games. The sort that rarely ever steps outside and is allergic to human contact. Those who create elaborate plans and direct systematical operations in the laundry room. Yes, those friends!

So what is Skulls of the Shogun then? If you haven’t guessed yet, SotS is a hilariously and brilliantly written turn-based strategy game. The design is morbidly fun in a non-Tim Burton way. More like Dexter’s Lab if they all were walking skeletons from early Japanese history. The game begins by presenting a devastating battlefield or fun genocides of war, your pick. Where you—a general of sorts—have defeated every little obstacle and are now going to rule the Japanese as Shogun! Hurray! Faith was never so kind and lady luck always has a cruel sense of humor. You are stabbed in the back by an unknown pile of jerk and left for dead.

Once you regain your consciousness you awake on a ship that sails you across the sea. Your destination? A resort for dead bunk buddies. You are now in the land of the dead. As the thought is settling in, you are approached by a guard who tells you to get in line.sotssp-18

This is where the fun starts. As “almost” Shogun, ruler of all Japan, you find yourself standing in line offensive! Especially considering that the waiting time is 512 years and counting.  I guess the general has never attended black Friday at Macy’s.

There in which comes the battle tutorial in play! So far you have only your general to teach those pesky afterlife guards that you are too important to stand in line. You’ll learn attack and positioning tips where you, with ease, destroy your opponent.

sotssp-5As the game progresses you’ll get several different players and characters on the board with the usual standard of fighters, archers, cavalry, monks, and your general of course. Reach and movement are all different depending on who you move. It’s pretty straight forward. If you are launching a cavalry, make sure to select the opposition that shivers and shutters. That way you’ll know you’ll strike a successful blow. Your primary mission is to get into the afterlife without standing in line. During the gameplay you find out some neat and unique tricks to defeat your enemy. Like knockbang, where you push the opponent off the ledge if they stand too close to it.

I took a short break and found my husband playing the game. If something XBL arcade pulled him away from his PC, that’s a good sign.

The Good

  • Great design
  • Capturing story that is entertaining and fun
  • Creative sound clips and music
  • A good increase in difficulty
  • Charming characters

The bad

  • Controls – I do not believe in double confirmation of an action
  • Longevity issue, I don’t think I’ll play it more times then I already did
  • Demon powers vanish after a stage has been completed
  • Tells you too much of what to do

The final word

I am in no means a strategy player. I’ve always found them boring and repetitive. This one captures my attention and is actually in all sense “fun”. I think it has a genius design and a fantastic written story. I think it can certainly be worth your time, even if it’s for the story alone. I also do think that it can be a big hit when it comes to VS online play. I rarely ever play online so to me a game needs to be able to stand on it’s own without the possibility of multi-player. In my opinion, it did. Skull of the Shogun provides entertainment and some brain gymnastics that we sorely need, because our youth is getting dumber while I am getting older. I am afraid of the future!

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Content originally posted on gamertagradio.com

Anjo & LadyLuck’s Top 10 Best Love Stories (In Games)

(A co piece written by Mandy and myself! Enjoy!)

It’s Valentine’s Day, so it’s only right (per my—LadyLuck’s—logic) that a couple of us ladies here at Gamertag Radio do a little writing for the (commercial) day dedicated to love. While I, Anjo, am usually around this time of year quite the cynical bastard (LL: I wouldn’t go quite that far…). I believe that Valentine’s Day puts pressure on most relationships and even with the partner coming home with a well throughout gift; it seems to never be enough.

It’s a perfect holiday really (LL: Not >.>). It makes lonely people miserable even more than usual and married men stressed out beyond belief.  I love this holiday simply because afterwards there is this huge sale of candy that my husband and I attend. See? I wrote something positive! (LL: Err, not sure that’s the kind of positive we’re looking for Anjo.)

How is this related to gaming you ask? Well here comes my next point. Where is the love in games? I can maybe remember a handful of games that create chemistry between two characters that rivals that of Romeo and Julia. Granted their death signifies the poison that is love but it is still love in its pure insane form.

And I, LadyLuck, agree. Considering the depth of games and the stories that some are creating, there should be more than hidden side stories going on with love. I feel like besides the totally obvious love stories in more recent games, the older generations had more of a claim on complicated back stories and attention to the relationship between characters. Granted, there are a few that have done well.

Below is a compilation of 10 memorable love story moments, the first 5 from LadyLuck and the second 5 from Anjo, in no particular order. So a list of 10 without actually numbering them from 1 to 10.

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The Legend of Zelda: Link & Zelda

You could chose from any of the Legend of Zelda titles spanning across the more then 25 years of games to pull this couple out. It’s another one of those romances that’s there, yet not quite there. Probably one of the greatest, and most subtle, star crossed pair of lovers to exist in gaming. There is an undercurrent that says a romance could easily blossom between the princess Zelda and the hero Link, yet their individual roles in the evolution of Hyrule keeps them separated. This franchise has a constant question of “what if?” What if peace remained? What if Zelda hadn’t sent Link back to relive the seven years he lost in Ocarina of Time? What if they weren’t characters in an endless circle of rebirth as Zeldas and Links sent to protect the land of Hyrule from evil?

While full romance like in other games rarely makes an appearance in the Legend of Zelda franchise between Zelda and Link, the mere thought of it continues to exist. That feeling of possibility has held through years and many games, granting them a place as a romance to be remembered.

(Side note: there’s a really funny article that argues Link & the Master Sword instead of Link & Zelda – great for amusement purposes.)

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Gears of War: Dom & Maria Santiago

A tragic romance this is. This couple was very back seat to the other themes of the Gears of War series (chainsaws anyone?). But the effects of it resonated in Dom’s character. The cues appeared more in cut scenes than anywhere else and were understated—if they weren’t, Dom would have gone AWOL to look for her instead of sticking with the team. In a world where every good idea seems to be going wrong, this romance does seem to pop up at random times. Yet as much of the story centers around Marcus Fenix, the search for Maria gives a little extra depth to the side characters like Dom Santiago.

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Enslaved Odyssey to the West: Monkey & Trip

What makes this romance interesting is the world it takes place in. It’s a mystery and nothing makes sense. While we’re given a glimpse of familiar landmarks, it takes place in an atypical post-modern world. We expected a romance to develop between the two main characters, but the means in which it would was unknown. In a way that other games fail to capture, both characters have obvious (and differing) agendas that they take no pains to hide from each other. Maybe due to the fact that we as players are trying to figure this world out, the relationship between Monkey and Trip grows in a way that seems natural and genuine. While they may not reach the point of making out on screen, the connection between the two is palpable and we expect it to continue on past the game’s ending. I think that kind of book like take on a couple is awesome; the idea of wondering what comes next.

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Mass Effect Series: Joker & EDI

Ahh, the awkward romance going on in the background of the Mass Effect series. You could argue for any/all of the potential couples spread across the Mass Effect games. However those are all variable on your choices as Shepard and change with each conversation decision and play through. So instead, a steady couple that appears in the franchise who we watch grow from school yard enemies (thanks to Joker’s child-like dislike of someone—something?—else touching his precious ship) to those amusing conversations you walk in on. Granted, this couple came along with a lot of humor value due to brittle bone disease and an AI living in a robot’s body. Nothing is better than the byplay that happens between these two characters and others on the ship as they work towards something resembling a relationship (awkward conversation you hear between Joker and Mordin is a great example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVY2sTjeECk).

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Starcraft Series: Jim Raynor & Sarah Kerrigan

This couple has a connection that spans all the craziness of the Starcraft universe. They could barely be considered friends. During Starcraft Kerrigan is infested by the Zerg and becomes the Queen of Blades. For a woman he hardly knows, Raynor takes steps in an attempt to save Kerrigan (which may be explained more by the back story provided in the Starcraft novels). Over the course of Starcraft, Brood War, and Starcraft II Raynor and Kerrigan interact from being friends to allies to enemies. This is not a traditional love story. Throughout the games Kerrigan has moments of lucidity reminiscent of her human self and yet holds the mantel of the Queen of Blades. Raynor tries to figure out exactly what side he’s fighting for as he shifts between trying to save Kerrigan and seek vengeance for her actions as a Zerg minion & leader. The ability to create and maintain this complicated relationship in a RTS game speaks for the depth of the characters and their interactions. It lifts the question, what would you do for someone you care about?

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Final Fantasy 8

Now there is a lot of love in that game. It is not just a luxury and an exclusive focus between the main protagonist and his lady of choice, but also side characters have their heart tugging love stories!  This game plays out the sacrifices we do for our loved ones and how love can change and motivate us. Squall Leonheart seems to be a social outcast who is withdrawn and emotionally indifferent. Enter Rinoa who inspires him to be more outward.  Parallel to their story, plays the tale of Laguna and his wife.  I can honestly say that on a 28.8 Kb modem, the trailer took about a week for me to download. There I am, a 16 year old social outcast, watching this video of digitally animated characters showing more love to each other than most people I’ve seen.  It brought tears to my eyes.

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Kingdom Hearts

This game contains a different kind of love. It reflects the love that you have for your friends that can be as powerful as the one for your spouse.  I don’t think Valentine ’s Day is exclusive for people in relationships only.  The hero here is called Sora and he got separated from his friends, Rikku and Kairi. He chases their shadows throughout the game, where jealousy and drama insures, making the chase more and more difficult. I didn’t have many friends growing up but the ones I did have, I valued more the anything.  It doesn’t matter if you have one, or many friends, treasure them. They are harder to find then a partner actually.

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Silent Hill 2: James & Mary Sunderland

Weird that I would find a horror game romantic but it perfectly depicts how strong love can be. How the ones we love that have passed away still echo in our hearts. How we can still feel the warmth of their laughter even if we can only hear it in our heads. It is the lasting love that is inspiring in this story. In this love dilemma, James Sunderland is looking for his wife from whom he received a letter asking him to come to a town called Silent Hill. The creepy twist in this dilemma is that his wife died 3 years ago from an illness. He roams through this insanely creepy town containing things that want him dead—going from clue to clue—only because he believes that his dead wife is in trouble and needs him.  The dedication of a husband like James, is inspiring. It makes one wonder; will my husband look for me even long after my death? Will he accept the fact that there won’t be anyone that will boss him around? Or will he deny it to the very end and create an “Anjo” doll that he will introduce to our children as “Mommy”. Even creepy love is still love.

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Final Fantasy 10: Tidus & Yuna

I know there is a very Square Enix heavy fanboyism reek coming from me.  The simple truth is that the Final Fantasy series has the most amazing love stories: Cloud and Tifa (Aerith was Zack’s babe, get over it!!), Zidane and Garnet, etc. The most unique love story told by the FF series is the one of Tidus and Yuna. Their love is apparent throughout the entire game. There is none of that classic “denial” and “he/she is an asshole! How can I ever love someone like him/her?” fabricated denial of an attraction. This one is straight forward, without question, and displayed. It’s rare to see characters actually enjoying their first kiss that isn’t in the ending sequence. The amazing secret of what Tidus is makes this romance all the sweeter. It’s a big spoiler so I cannot destroy the game for you, but I would urge you to play it because this is one of the best love stories ever told in my opinion. Shakespeare ain’t got nothing on this! Can you fall in love with a person who doesn’t exist? I believe you can.

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Mario Series: Bowser and Princess Peach

I never thought Peach and Mario had a “Thing”. That poor guy is more friend-zoned than anyone I’ve seen in real life or in a game. Think about it. Peach gets “kidnapped”  again by Bowser. Mario fights his way through countless horrors and kills many of Bowser’s followers. After that massacre, all he gets is a cake. Well that is not what I call a just reward after genocide of countless Koopa Troopas! If you remember in the 90’s there was a comic that came out in the Nintendo Magazine depicting the tale that takes place in Super Mario 3. Bowser’s children kidnap Princess Peach and constantly refer to her as “Mom”. So my suggestion is this: Peach is a dead beat Mom who has 7 kids with Bowser.  She ran away with her Italian love-toy Mario whom she doesn’t have to put out for and who gets her anything she wants. All the while Bowser is stuck supporting and taking care of her 7 illegitimate children. So King Koopa is actually only trying to get Peach back to own up to her responsibilities. That is the dedicated love of a father. Fathers in my mind are a wonderful breed. At least when they are there like Bowser is. Stalker creepy kind of love is love too.

Note: This piece was posted originally on gamertagradio.com