Total War Shogun and Samurai Blood Show – Review of 2 iPad Games
Total War: Shogun and Samurai Blood Show. iPad games review. Publisher, Sega. $4.99 (Total War), $3.99 (Samurai Blood Show)
With the announcement of Microsoft’s new tablet, Surface, every armchair general’s dream of taking a game like Crusader Kings 2 or Total War: Shogun 2 on the go may soon be reality. While I’ll leave the practicality of playing such complex games on a tablet open to question, for now gamers can content themselves with some recent iPad offerings. Surprisingly, Sega has been among those leading the charge, publishing casual games that can still satisfy grognards. Two of those are Total War: Shogun and Samurai Blood Show.
Creative Assembly’s Total War: Shogun is the most high-profile game. A complete departure in gameplay from its PC forebear, this portable offering is a strategy game with some unusual rules. Played on a hex grid in real time, the objective in each level is to kill the enemy general on the opposite side of the screen by sending units out from your home base. This is not unlike the "castle defense" genre many iPad gamers are already familiar with.
A couple of limitations mean players must think ahead. For one, there are several resources—gold, wood, iron, and faith—that slowly accrue once you have their corresponding structures built. Each unit requires a different mix of resources. Once your unit is given its marching orders, it can only be moved up or down the hex grid one row at a time or halted, and cannot be turned back. No retreats mean even your powerful cavalry could be tripped up by enemy pikemen sent out by the enemy just moments after. But units like archers, riflemen, and cannons can fire in a straight row across several hexes, and thus can intercept enemy units to protect your own.
This is where Total War takes a radical departure from its big brother. Those players expecting a miniature version of the PC version’s campaign map or battles will not find it here. What they will find is a game that uses a strict rock, paper, scissors approach to units and has the feel of a puzzle game wrapped in the trappings of the era. Each mission has a predetermined enemy composition, and it is up to you to figure out what units to use to break through and kill the enemy general or protect against oncoming troops.
Visually, I found the game to be a real treat. The units have excellent animation and the music and sound is solid. Instead of a health bar, damage to units is presented visually, as individual soldiers fall in battle in great death throes. Samurai that stab units may get the sword stuck and require an extra pull to dislodge it. Soldiers fall back dramatically, pierced by an enemy arrow. Hits seem to be landed semi-randomly, so instead of two samurai units always dealing the same amount of damage to each other, an encounter can go either way.
Originally the game came with a campaign and an anemic multiplayer mode (players set up some units on either side of a map and duked it out). Since release a skirmish mode has been added that you can play against the AI. It’s a fun, if repetitive, diversion and it is great to see that the game is being updated (another update further enhances the graphics and adds some extra challenges to the campaign missions). However, the content outside of the main campaign could use some additional maps.
Another release published by Sega is Samurai Blood Show (soon to be followed by a sequel which takes the focus from Ancient Japan to Ancient Greece). It’s hard not to wonder if the iPad version of Total War was inspired by this game, since the mechanics are very similar. Samurai Blood Show, however, adds a great card-collecting element to the game. You do not have to build any structures as a prerequisite for gaining new troops. There is only one resource, gold, and your supply increases automatically. Gold is used to purchase units that are available from your deck. You can edit this deck between missions to focus on a particular strategy, and victories allow you to obtain new cards randomly. These range from Samurai, cavalry, and archers to spike traps and even creatures of Japanese myth.
Instead of both sides moving to kill the enemy general, only the enemy’s units move completely across the map. You must instead strategically place your units to fend off waves that get more intense each time. You can however, spend gold to move a unit (movement options also depend on the type of unit). Therefore, you can shift your defenses so that you don’t have to rely solely on obtaining new cards. Another interesting dynamic is that in order to access new cards in addition to the few you get at the start of a mission, you must purchase a chest that gives you more of your cards at random. The more expensive the chest, the more cards you get. This adds a great cost-vs-quantity dynamic.
I enjoyed this game much more than the iPad version of Total War due to the mix of castle defense and card collecting. The randomness of which units you have available at any one time gives each play-through a unique feel. Each mission can be played at over five difficulty levels, and with the-card collecting mechanic there is a strong sense of progression. Samurai Blood Show is a must download.
Both games excel in graphics, sound, and music. Total War has a more cartoonish feel, which is often the way developers go when translating epic games to a smaller platform. For Samurai the developers chose to stylize the game after Kabuki art and music—the units animate in a puppet-like fashion and the music, from the opening title to the hilarious victory screen in which your general is ceremoniously fanned by adoring women, is lovingly crafted.
Both games have something to offer, though it is Samurai Blood Show that I find myself returning to time and time again. One thing is for sure: the iPad is becoming increasingly competitive in the wargaming arena, and fans of the Age of the Samurai have two interesting options to check out.
About the Author
Anthony Micari graduated from New York University with a degree in history. He runs a business, is an avid reader, and plays of all manner of games even since getting his start on a Commodore 128. He has also published in Wargamer.