At first glance, Shogun Showdown doesn’t look like it could be one of 2023’s most engrossing games. But playing the pixel-art, turn-based roguelike with a dash of deckbuilding for just a few minutes was eye-opening. The strategic and swift gameplay is fraught with tension. Its card-collecting loop of victory and defeat is irresistable. And, beyond a doubt, I’ll lose hours of sleep to that urge to play just one more round.
Poised on what looks like a stage with just a handful of spaces on which to stand, I stare at my opponent. Unlike most turn-based experiences, my foe moves when I do. So, everything is still for a moment while I plan.
I glance down at the small row of green dots below my character indicating my health. It’s full now. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to worry. As a roguelike, these few grains of life are all I get to make it through the run and one slip-up could endanger my overall mission.
Letting my eyes slide down past the green dots, I look over my even more meager attack options. If I make it past the boss of this level, I’ll earn cards that represent the tools in my arsenal. But for now, I only have a melee sword attack and bow. I could combine both attacks for one all-out strike but, as weapons have cooldowns, it would leave me defenseless my next turn.
What makes the situation even more dire: I’m facing the wrong way. I know issuing the command to turn around will allow my enemy to reach me with a deadly assault. But suddenly, a glimmer of hope shines through.
I learn my melee attack unleashes a damage-dealing flurry both in front and behind me simultaneously. It might be more useful to wait until I’m surrounded to use this, but the chance to land a blow and kill my attacker is too good to pass up. I make the call and my sword slices through the air. The fallen body is soon forgotten as I head on to the next challenger.
Cutting my way through the introductory world, I collect a dash card as the spoils of war. This lets me fling myself behind an adversary to either avoid taking damage or go for the surprise takedown. For a while, I feel untouchable, which makes me reckless.
Before taking on the level’s big bad, I realize my health is down to two dots. It seems unlikely I’ll prevail, but I move forward because there’s nothing else to do. The room pits me against a nemesis called Daisuke The Dasher and I spring into battle.
He kills me quickly. But that’s the name of the game with roguelikes. It helps take the sting out of defeat that I get to keep my new dash ability which will make the first stage much easier in the next run. I choose to walk away from Shogun Showdown‘s demo before it dominates my time on the The MIX’s show floor, but the team tells me the full game offers more characters with totally different playstyles and a myriad of distinct cards to add to my deck. I can’t wait to try some of them when the prologue drops on Steam April 4.