iOS Games for People Who Hate iOS: Skulls of the Shogun

Hate mobile games but looking for a way to kill five minutes on your phone? Kat has a suggestion.

Article by Kat Bailey, .

After more than two years, I still have the absolutely worst time finding anything to play on my iPhone. And it' s not for want of trying, either.

The fact of the matter is that most mobile games aren't really meant for me. I refuse to continuously spend money to play a game I already own, I find most touchscreen design to be cumbersome rather than intuitive, and I'm not a big fan of either puzzle games or endless runners. That pretty much eliminates Candy Crush, Temple Rush, and yes, Angry Birds (in all its forms).

But if you're reading this article, chances are none of this is news to you. Perhaps, like me, you hate everything the platforms stands for, but wouldn't mind having something to break out for five minutes on the bus or train, and find the 3DS and Vita to be kind of cumbersome. I want you to know that I'm totally with you. That's why I'm writing this series: to help people like me find that one diamond among the dreck.

One thing I'll mention before I continue is that I'm omitting tablets because, while they have some pretty excellent games, I'm more interested in the immediacy offered by a traditional mobile device. Hence, no FTL, at least until it becomes a universal app (that iPhone 6 Plus screen is pretty big, after all).

Alright, here's my first recommendation.

Skulls of the Shogun

The premise: A famous shogun is stabbed in the back and washes up in the afterlife, where he discovers that he's been replaced by an imposter, prompting a roaring rampage of revenge. Skulls of the Shogun offers an interesting take on the turn-based strategy genre, eschewing hexes in favor of a more free-roaming approach, and including the ability to power up by literally devouring the skulls of your enemies. It's currently available on pretty much every system imaginable—even Ouya—but it's arguably at its best as a mobile strategy game.

The pitch: As with most iOS games, I picked up Skulls of the Shogun on a whim, downloading it shortly before heading off to Europe. There it remained untouched until, bored waiting for my number to be called at a service desk in Berlin, I fired it up. I knew I had a winner when I didn't want to close it after five minutes, which is the case with roughly 99 percent of the other iOS games that I download.

I was initially grabbed by its art style. Rendered in striking 2D art, Skulls of the Shogun manages to look good even on my little iPhone 5, and its suffers absolutely no slowdown. The former point is important to me because a lot of commercial mobile games these days are rendered in dull, flavorless 3D reminiscent of the early PlayStation 2 era. They lack character and are quite frankly boring to look at. Thankfully, that's not an issue for Skulls of the Shogun, which leans heavily on stylization for its graphical appeal.

Perhaps even more importantly, Skulls of the Shogun's interface doesn't suffer on the small screen. This is a big deal because a lot of strategy games can end up feeling crammed and difficult to navigate, making them unfeasible on mobile devices. Skulls of the Shogun, by contrast, benefits from a minimalist interface that eliminates extraneous numbers and gauges. Commands only appear after selecting a character, and even then they are functional without being intrusive. The rare moments when characters become clumped and difficult to differentiate are easily alleviated by pinch-zooming in closer to the battlefield.

The strategy is similarly well-developed. Playing in some ways like X-COM, units can move anywhere within a given range, and can expend the rest of their movement gauge following their attack. Cavalry units are especially useful in this regard as they can conduct hit-and-run attacks, minimizing their frailty with extreme mobility. As the campaign continues, it becomes possible to capture ride paddies that heal units and produce resources that can be spent on new soldiers, making them important objectives.

Skulls of the Shogun's most interesting element, though, is the way in which units are powered up. Upon defeating a foe, it's possible for a friendly unit to devour their skull and extend their life gauge. Eat three skulls, and the unit becomes a demon capable of acting twice in a single turn. Naturally, the guardians of the afterlife as horrified and disgusted by such wanton cannibalism, but they soon engage in it themselves, making each map into a kind of arms race—let your enemies eat too many skulls, and they will soon become unstoppable.

Resource production, multiple unit classes, and interesting movement mechanics make Skulls of the Shogun one of the more involved strategy games you will find on iOS, but it feels surprisingly breezy thanks to its lightweight interface. For that reason, it feels like a perfect fit for mobile devices. And no, there aren't any microtransactions.

Comparable experiences are tough to find on iPhone/Android. Those that are equally deep are often saddled with impenetrable interfaces, hampering the kind of accessibility that facilitates a quick game on a bus or in a waiting room. Others, like Civilization Revolution 2, are surprisingly shallow (not to mention ugly). Skulls of the Shogun straddles that line with relative ease, making it a rare bird on the iPhone.

So if you're looking for a nice, juicy game that fits snugly within the limitations of the iPhone, Skulls of the Shogun is a very good place to start. In the meantime, stay strong, fellow iOS haters. There's an ocean of crap out there, but a few gems as well. We'll find them together.

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #1 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    I played a demo of this a year or two ago when it was first released on Windows phones, as well as XBLA and PC. At the time, I found it too cramped on my HTC Trophy. However, on the Nokia 635, it works really well.
    Also, if memory serves, it's cross-platform, in that you can start on Xbox, and continue on your phone. Not sure if the iOS version is or not, though.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #2 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    This is a great idea Kat! Apart from Hearthstone, I've found nothing good for iOS. Look forward to reading more.

    I also have the exact same reservations about touch devices.Edited January 2015 by VotesForCows
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #3 DiscordInc 3 years ago
    Glad to see Skulls of the Shogun get some exposure. They really did not benefit from being a Windows Phone exclusive.
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  • Avatar for Lord-Bob-Bree #4 Lord-Bob-Bree 3 years ago
    I've been playing this on PC, and I've been impressed. I'm surprised it's not mentioned more often.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #5 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @DiscordInc Well, it was a Microsoft game. They had to try.
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  • Avatar for docexe #6 docexe 3 years ago
    Mobile and iOS games are not universally bad, but it can’t be denied there is a ton of crap out there. Singling out the diamonds from the dreck is a great idea for an ongoing series, and some of these games could benefit from some additional exposure.
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  • Avatar for ChairmanYang #7 ChairmanYang 3 years ago
    I find that most of the worthwhile iOS/Android games are either ports from the PC (like Skulls of the Shogun) or from the board game world (there are plenty of excellent conversions).

    I wonder why. It seems like mobile developers can rarely resist the temptation to make microtransaction-laden garbage (which, despite their protestations, pretty much always negatively affects the design) or shallow stuff that gets boring quickly. On the other hand, PC/board game stuff tends to be quite a bit deeper and meatier, and decent ports of these to mobile tend to do well.

    That said, there are always some developers who produce mobile-exclusive gems buried in the garbage of the App Store/Google Play Store. 80 Days is wonderful, for example.
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  • Avatar for presidentcamacho #8 presidentcamacho 3 years ago
    I generally detest playing anything action based on a touch screen, but I can't recommend DoDonPachi Ressurection (also on Android) enough. Cave's touch controls work great for a bullet hell game.
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  • Avatar for DemiurgicSoul #9 DemiurgicSoul 3 years ago
    There are a lot of great games on iOS, but they tend to be games ported from proper gaming devices. Plants vs Zombies, Final Fantasy Tactics, XCOM: Enemy Within, Ghost Trick, Phoenix Wright, and The World Ends with You to name a few. These are all great games that work very well on a touch screen.
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  • Avatar for brianalbers08 #10 brianalbers08 3 years ago
    I highly recommend the Kingdom Rush series from Ironhide Games, a very high quality tower defense set. The third one was just released.

    Although I don't play the iPhone versions, the iPad versions are my go-to games for the last five or so years.

    Also, the games by Inkle (80 Days, the adapted Sorcery! (Steve Jackson) book games) are fantastic if you like text-based adventures.Edited January 2015 by brianalbers08
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  • Avatar for heliosnarcissus11 #11 heliosnarcissus11 3 years ago
    paid advertising? art doesnt look that impressive
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