Review: Total War Battles: Shogun24 Apr 2012 0
If you slap the name "Total War Battles: Shogun" on a game, you're embracing some pretty serious expectations. This embrace is not some arms-length bro hug, either. The Total War series is one of the most beloved and celebrated strategy series in gaming. It's a series that has made grand strategy fun and accessible for millions of people. As a brand, Total War is about visual and historical detail* and - most of all - depth.
Creative Assembly have delivered a game with all of the visual flair that the series is famous for. Pity that that's where the similarities to Total War end.
In style, TWBS strongly evokes its big brother for the PC. It borrows Shogun's woodblock prints and paper screen-inspired art direction but puts its own cartoony stamp on them - the end result is something like Genndy Tartakovsky Presents: Total War. It's very appealing. Musically the game doesn't so much as nod to it's predecessor as much as it rips it off its whole head - most of the music is straight from Shogun Total War, meaning that fans of the series already weary from hours of exposure to these tunes will reach for the mute switch that much faster. The voice actors are all channelling Toshiro Mifune - but that's not a bad thing.
While TWBS has style in spades, the substance is disappointingly shallow. In the game, you passively collect resources by placing structures onto the map - this is introduces a bit of a puzzle element into the game as you have to fit the structures into skewiff orientations, but it's more of an annoyance than a proper puzzle game. The resources collected by these buildings (iron, wood, etc) are used to produce troops which you then set onto one of the horizontal paths leading to the enemy base. If you've played Trenches or any castle defense game then that part of the gameplay in TWBS will be instantly familiar.
The game's marketing materials state that units cannot turn back due to their adherence to the warrior code of Bushido - a bit like telling us that penguins can't fly because of their fear of heights. This is a fundamental drawback of the castle defense genre - you're going to spend a non-trivial amount of time watching your nameless units march inexorably across the screen to their doom whilst you do basically nothing. It works very well as a commentary on the futility of war, but as a strategy game it's about as tactical as Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Then there's the matter of TWB's in-app purchase scheme. Incremental bonuses to your units' abilities can be purchased with experience points - or for real cash. While it seems that the game can be played more or less to completion without opening your wallet, one can't help but feel a bit gouged by a game that features IAP on top of a relatively steep purchase price. If the IAP unlocked more content that would be another matter, but the opportunity to avoid the grind of actually playing the game makes TWB feel like it lacks confidence.
Total War Battles is a beautiful mantle draped over an Ikea folding table - no matter how lovely the lovely production values there's no getting around that the game itself is dull and basic. If you're crazy about castle defense games, then this is the game for you. But for those expecting a strategy game, there's a lot more fun to be had on the App Store under far less prestigious names.
2 out of 5
- iPhone and iPad universal: Total War Battles: Shogun, $6.99.
*If not necessarily historical accuracy.^