For a game with such a modest price tag and a short-but-perpetual playtime, Buckshot Roulette stands out as anxiously thrilling and easily addicting. Its gritty art design, sickly dichromatic color palette, and deep-fried textures lend a lot of reinforcement to the tone and mood that would naturally come with “Russian roulette with a 12-gauge shotgun” wherein even if you lose, you’re heaved back onto the mortal coil via blood transfusions and defibrillation. It also has the FPS tag on its Steam store page which, yeah I guess that would be correct. 

You wake up in the dirty bathroom of a pounding nightclub and kick open a door to the Dealer, who instantly reminded me of a creepier version of Uboa from Yume Nikki for some reason, sign a waiver, and get to shooting.

The rules are pretty straightforward: blank and live rounds are loaded into a shotgun in a random order, though you are given the number of blanks and live rounds at the beginning. Shooting yourself with a blank skips the Dealer’s turn, which can be a huge boon if you get your timing right. You also get a certain number of lives, represented by lightning bolts on a monitor to the side. The very first round is a simple lesson – a few bullets and blind luck, and once you pass that you get introduced to items like cigarettes that heal you and a magnifying glass that lets you see what the next bullet will be. 

These items – as well as others like handcuffs that forces the wearer to skip a turn, a thingy that switches a blank to a live round and vice versa, a tool to saw off the end of the shotgun and deal twice the amount of damage, adrenaline to steal an item – are what make Buckshot Roulette tactically interesting. And sometimes very, very frustrating. The Dealer also gets these items, and though occasionally they will do something like peek into the chamber and then shoot themselves, they actually have consistently good insight and terrifying strategy.

More than once I have watched in horror as the dealer steals my cigarette, peeks into the chamber, uses the switch to turn it to a live round, handcuffs me to the table, saws off the end of the shotgun, and completely blasts my shit away. Sometimes it’s just about keeping the gun in your hands long enough for the rounds to reset and new items to arrive. Sometimes it’s about having one live round and one blank in the chamber, switching the live round to a blank and shooting yourself, and then switching the blank to a live round and blasting their shit away. 

When strategy fails, pure luck dominates, which can be frustrating but I can’t see it being any other way. For a while I took notes on how many blanks and live rounds were in each reload, using the magnifying glass or the future-telling cellphone to narrow it down, chugging a few cans of beer and ejecting a few rounds I couldn’t be sure of, but as often as bullets and items line up for a satisfying win, so too does the Dealer have an absolute birthday party on their side of the table with enough items and maybe few enough bullets to whittle my lives down as I watch on, helplessly. There are also moments where the present items aren’t helpful at all and the next bullet is a complete mystery. 

The moments where I threw my notes out the window and took big chances that paid off were just as worth it though. It feels very in line with the roots of the whole thing.

Once you beat the Dealer three times and make it out with your winnings, you unlock what I like to call “quaalude mode,” which upon waking up back in the dirty bathroom, you can take pills from a bottle sitting on the counter and skip the preamble. Items are available from the first round and if you survive all three rounds again you can go Double or Nothing and increase your winnings. This is the perpetual part. It goes on the same way as I’ve described, but the longer you play the game, the more likely poor luck or an error in judgment comes to bite you in the ass.

Buckshot Roulette is a good little game that deserves your attention. The item system definitely puts it into more of a roguelike territory for me, which means it’s going in the bucket with Inscryption labeled “unconventional roguelikes that are very creepy in a weirdly comforting way” and I’m calling it a day.

5 stars

Superb

"A solid little package of luck and death."

Buckshot Roulette is a morbid rougelike that makes betting your life on shotgun shells exhilarating.

About Franny

Hey there, I’m Franny!

She/they, from Seattle, been playing games and writing since I could hold things. I love games that give me the option to be mean, even though I always end up choosing to be nice.

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