My new roguelike obsession is a turn-based strategy game that makes you feel like a samurai John Wick

A samurai looking up at the vast shadow of the Shogun in Shogun Showdown.
(Image credit: Roboatino)

We're living in the golden age of roguelike deckbuilders. Just in the last year and change we've seen standouts like Cobalt Core, Wildfrost, Astrea, and loads more I haven't tried yet because of how much time Balatro sucks up. Every time I think I've seen the best the genre has to offer, I uncover some new gem that blows me away. Enter: Shogun Showdown.

Still in early access but already feeling like a full-fat release, the game puts you in the shoes (sandals?) of a samurai warrior and charges you with defeating a demonic shogun—and a few hundred of his corrupted minions along the way. Each level, fought on a 2D plane, throws wave after wave of these enemies at you. You're always outnumbered and always surrounded.

Instead of a whole deck of cards, you have a small set of tiles representing your attacks. These start out simple—such as a sword slash that hits any foe adjacent to you, or a punch that pushes an enemy back—but your arsenal grows more complex as you add new tiles and apply upgrades and modifiers to them all.

(Image credit: Roboatino)

The action is turn based, with every enemy acting after you, but it's not as simple as just throwing out attacks. Each tile must be prepared before it can be used—taking one turn to add it to your action queue. You can have up to three prepared tiles in your queue, ready to be unleashed all at once at the right moment. But all the while, enemies are preparing and deploying attacks of their own, and you have nowhere to hide. Even moving one space or changing your facing counts as a turn, so you need to always have a plan to avoid their blows or slay them before they can strike. This is where the game really clicks, because it forces you to think multiple steps ahead—and when your combo works out just right, you feel like a samurai John Wick. 

One string of tiles might see you shoulder-charging forward, slamming a hulking warrior down with a club, and then hurling a barrage of kunai at the sneaky archer behind who has an arrow nocked. Another time, you might throw down a bear trap, yank an enemy into it with a rope dart, then finish off his friend behind you with a casual backwards stab. The further you progress, the more elaborate these deadly dances become as your foes get more and more numerous and powerful.

(Image credit: Roboatino)

Beyond the deckbuilder influences, there's more than a little Into the Breach DNA here. Enemy intentions are displayed above their heads, ensuring you always have perfect info for the turn ahead; positioning is key, and many tiles let you move enemies around as well as yourself, even throwing them into the path of friendly fire; and even the clean pixel art animations are reminiscent, despite your foes being possessed ashigaru rather alien bugs. But not only does Shogun Showdown feel like a really fantastic implementation of those concepts, it has enough of its own personality and ideas to feel greater than just the sum of its inspirations. 

The more I play, the more I'm discovering weird and wonderful new ways to win—from a build designed to get to one edge of the arena as fast as possible and then lay waste with a max-upgraded, screen-clearing barrage of kunai, to one all about hurling myself backwards and forwards slamming into foes like a deadly pinball. Unlockable characters, quests and challenges, and an ever-expanding library of new tiles and abilities keep the experience fresh, and when you finally beat the Shogun himself, it proves to be just one step on a long journey of escalatingly brain-twisting difficulty modes. 

I'm hooked more completely than a guard who's just been hit by one of my rope darts, and I can't wait to see what the full 1.0 release has in store down the line. If you want to check it out for yourself, there's a free demo on Steam—just be prepared to lose a lot of hours studying the blade. 

Robin Valentine
Senior Editor

Formerly the editor of PC Gamer magazine (and the dearly departed GamesMaster), Robin combines years of experience in games journalism with a lifelong love of PC gaming. First hypnotised by the light of the monitor as he muddled through Simon the Sorcerer on his uncle’s machine, he’s been a devotee ever since, devouring any RPG or strategy game to stumble into his path. Now he's channelling that devotion into filling this lovely website with features, news, reviews, and all of his hottest takes.