IndieCorner: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
Shadow Tactics = Commandos Reimagined + Old School Fun + Wonderful Gameplay + Fantastic Immersion
Your heart is pounding heavily. The guards are only seconds away of spotting you. How could you have been so stupid? You have cornered yourself by killing everyone in your path. They are hunting you with a ferocity that allows no mercy. There are only two options left: continuing your murder spree, or hitting that reload button. Aaaah! Dilemmas!
Fifteen years ago, I was completely hooked on a game called “Commandos”, in which you had to guide your team of experts through a variety of World War II scenarios: kill this general, blow up these fortifications, steal this piece of information, etc. The game was hard, and was not forgiving at all. It was, perhaps, too difficult for me to play, but I still spent hours and hours strategizing, exploring new tactics, and goofing around – with disastrous consequences. 10/10 – would recommend.
With Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Daedalic Entertainment and Mimimi Productions have brought back a type of game that combines brainpower with action, suspense, a gripping story, and a decent factor of luck and quick decision-making. This is a good game. But is it a great game?
Shadow Tactics is set in feudal Japan, when military dictators (the shoguns) ruled over people that were unable to change their situation. It was a time of turmoil. The power vacuum that came to be after the declining military control of the Imperial Court resulted in several powerful factions warring on each other. Samurai followed their masters in combat, and died a warrior’s death. Meanwhile, the dictatorial shoguns were menaced by more sinister adversaries: shadows in the dark, armed with katanas and shurikens planned to overthrow the military establishment using carefully executed assassination attempts. What a thrilling time is history! The game offers an interesting story filled with intrigue, plot-twists, drama, action, and perhaps some dread too. Additionally, the characters themselves also have personal plots, though not all personal stories get the same amount of attention. The characters are also voiced in Japanese. Love.
Genre-wise, this game is a top-down action/stealth/puzzle extravaganza. You control up to five characters, all with a specific set of skills, and order them to run, jump, climb walls, trick guards, set up traps, and swiftly push a razor-sharp blade through someone’s throat. Plenty of variety! The goal, of course, is to remain unseen throughout the entire mission. Luckily, a misfortunate event that enables the guards to spot you doesn’t necessarily result in a game over screen. The parameters of the mission often allow second chances, although that second chance will be even less forgiving than the first one. At times, this is a very difficult game. In general, multiple tactics can be employed, but sometimes only one specific plan of attack will result in you completing the mission. In this way, the game sometimes forces you in one direction, even when you are not thinking of going that direction. “Think like the game designer” is sometimes the only solution available to you. In that way, the game can sometimes be a puzzle, while at other times your options are a little less defined.
The levels are carefully constructed and in sync with the gameplay. At night, lanterns are lit to help the guards to see what goes “bonk”. When it’s snowing, it is more difficult to hide your steps: you leave footprints behind. Your characters can hide behind boxes, in bushes, they can hang from ledges, climb on roofs, use rope to cross from one area to the next, blow up certain elements in the level,… The only negative aspect of this is that it is sometimes difficult to remain an overview of the level, but this is the result of wonky camera controls rather than the design of the level itself.
Still, ‘great’ level design combined with clunky camera viewpoints result in only ‘good’ level design.
As I mentioned above, you are able to control a group of characters who all have their specific set of skills. Hayato is your go-to-guy for everything ninja. Yuki is the female thief. Mugen is the tank of the group; he is the samurai warrior that can save you from a tight spot. Aiko is the assassin with a preference for poison. Finally, there is Takuma, a cripple support character who is a sniper and artillery expert. Combine their skills, and you get a well-oiled team of experts, ready to take on even the most difficult challenge, as long as you think about your actions carefully. There also is a co-op option available, which enables you to execute proper simultaneous actions.
A final aspect of the game that needs to be discussed is the level of difficulty. Sometimes, this game is brutal. A mistake sometimes results in the game brutally punishing you. Quick-saving is your friend here, and full concentration is your code of conduct. This is normal for a stealth game, it needs to be challenging. The player needs to be forced to think about his/her actions in the short-, middle-, and long run. Actions have consequences, and it is up to you to live with them. However, sometimes the game is frustratingly difficult. Sometimes, the puzzle was too difficult to execute on your own. There were – luckily – only a handful of moments when I had to stop playing, go online, and check what other players were experiencing on that level. Only a very specific and detailed step-by-step guide helped me to successfully finish the level. These moments were rare, but they bring down the level of fun. Luckily, there is always a solution available, and all in all, the game in general, albeit challenging, is not impossible.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a beautifully designed stealth/action/puzzle game that lets you relive the glorious time when games were challenging, gripping, and highly rewarding. The level of detail in the mission design, the characters, as well as the Japanese voice acting, result in a challenging and entertaining game unlike any other. The occasional clunky camera controls are mere spots of mud on an otherwise shining katana. Move over big budget game developers, the honor and glory lies within smaller studios that ignore the quick buck and craft little digital jewels.
|The Good||The Bad|
|+ Interesting Story||– Camera Controls|
|+ Level Design||– Sometimes Frustratingly Difficult|
|+ Characters and Japanese Voice Acting|
|+ Challenging & Fun|
Final Score: 4/5