Shogi is a board game; a variant of chess played predominantly in Japan having thought to have originated in India over 8 centuries ago. Similar to chess, the objective is to capture the opposing king. In fact, my personal experience is that good chess players do generally make good shogi players, despite the strategy in shogi being somewhat more complicated by the use of the drop rule; allowing players to place captured opposition pieces onto the board as their own.
Byttenís own Andrew Williams reviewed Mini Chess a few months ago for Xenoclone in which he seemed rather happy with the presentation and playability of the game, but questioned the longevity and was somewhat disappointed with the lack of strategy advice for the mini variant. I have much the same criticism of Mini Shogi, although a few rough edges will not allow such a favourable report of the presentation.
In Mini Shogi the player can take on the computer AI or another human opponent on a 5x6 board. There are 4 available board setups to choose from which adds some replay value, but the simplification of the overall strategy because of the small board size works against the longevity of the title just like in Mini Chess. In fact, the drop rule has been omitted from Mini Shogi completely, either because it was too difficult to program the AI to use it to best effect, or that it simply wasnít feasible to include it due to some other limitation. Although it must be mentioned that not all variants of shogi feature the drop rule, certainly the most popular do, and regardless of why this design decision was made, it was disappointing for me.
Iím really only a very low to moderately skilled shogi player yet I can beat the AI on every difficulty level although admittedly not on every board setup. Still, I feel that it would only be a matter of a few more play throughs before I could. The AI is exceedingly one-dimensional and will employ exactly the same moves every single game in response to identical move sequences by the player. That means that once youíve found a way to beat the AI on a specific difficulty level and setup, youíll win every game.
I discovered a couple of glitches after only a couple of hours play. On one of the tile sets, the lance and knight pieces are correctly positioned on the white side, but not on the black side. Even though they move as expected the labelling remains incorrect through that entire game. In one game that I played, the AI bishop was promoted to a dragon horse, yet continued on in that game with the moves of a dragon king. These are simple oversights that really should have been ironed out during play testing.
Once again, as in a previous Xenoclone title, the demo version of the game will upgrade to a full version as planned in Windows XP SP2, yet under 64-bit Vista on my laptop, the game would annoyingly prompt for the unlock key every single time I loaded the game.
On the positive side, the game is quite aesthetically pleasing with a well designed choice of 4 board styles and accompanying background scenes. The music track that loops in the background is of a traditional Japanese style, and is a relaxing accompaniment to the game. Controls are via the mouse and are intuitive to even a beginner to the genre. Newcomers to shogi (who incidentally will probably enjoy this title a whole lot more than shogi veterans) can view the helpful tutorial, which although doesnít go into great detail, will help the player to learn to identify their pieces and to learn the basics fairly quickly. I also like the shogi and Japanese trivia that makes a comeback in this title, having carried over from the Mini Chess release.
In all honesty, Mini Shogi is lacking a little polish and a few finishing touches. It could be improved with an award system, or at the very least some stat-tracking, and perhaps a replay feature might add to the value. The two player mode is probably the best way to enjoy the game if youíve an opponent handy, but an online matchmaking system would definitely bring a whole new dimension to the title. As it stands now, the game is non-networkable.
As a concept, I feel that the game is not totally without merit, yet would find it difficult to recommend Mini Shogi without a significant degree of hesitation.
Keywords: mini shogi review, xenoclone reviews, xenoclone games, mini shogi scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.