My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!
#7 Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
Occasionally I’ll have some last minute additions to my game of the year list, but none more last minute than this one. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun just released last week, and I’ve already completely fallen in love with this unique real-time tactical stealth game.
Shadow Tactics drops you into an incredibly cool, and violently dramatic time period: 17th century Japan, the height of the age of samurai. Instead of randomized soldiers you play as five distinct heroes, each with personalities and unique abilities. Mugen the honorable samurai can defeat multiple foes and has the largest health pool, but only the ninjas Hayato and Yuki can use hookshots to scramble onto rooftops.
While many tactical games give you modern or futuristic weapons or straight-up magical powers, Shadow Tactics forces you to rely mostly on your tactical planning, and a select few skills. For example, one of your ninja’s skills is to literally throw a rock to distract guards.
The early missions give you only a few characters at a time, and part of the challenge is utilizing everyone’s skills to overcome the obstacles. It reminded me a lot of the old Lost Vikings games, and I loved carefully planning out my moves.
You can see the all of the large, well-designed and varied maps from the beginning. Tracking enemy view-cones and noting hiding places is paramount to success. Levels range from snowy villages to mountain temples to rain-slick rice fields. Environmental hazards are both a threat and an additional layer of tactical consideration. Each level is carefully constructed to give you multiple paths and choices.
But you’ll fail, and fail often. The game even warns you if you haven’t quicksaved recently. That’s right – you’re actually meant to save scum your way through each mission. But it’s balanced well enough that the trial and error and repeated failure spurns you toward experimentation and motivation rather than frustration.
The tactical stealth gameplay is pitch-perfect, and to actually weave a compelling historical drama on top of that is incredibly satisfying. Don’t sleep on Shadow Tactics just because it sneaked up on you in December. If you’re at all a fan of tactical strategy, it’s one of the best games you’ll play this year.