It’s nearly impossible to enter a digital video game store and not spot several new roguelike titles immediately. It’s become a “hip trend” that seemingly blossomed after survival games in which everyone can’t get enough and therefore game devs keep pumping them out. Although the genre has been around for decades, it clearly has some staying power with several iterations even including new subgenres such as roguelites. And although the path influenced by roguelikes has led to a few missteps along the way (looking at you Mystery Dungeon series), every now and then a game such as Enter the Gungeon comes along and provides players with a noteworthy, pleasant experience that’s a… blast… to play.
Gungeon is a roguelite, top-down, twin-sticks shooter in which the player looks to survive multiple floors of enemies to finish a run. This task is far easier said than done as the game does not go easy on players. Roguelite aspects include permanent death, dungeon crawling, randomly generated environments and items, and a lack of item retention. Although Enter the Gungeon does nothing new, as evidenced by the implementations borrowed from several other rogue-lite games such as Nuclear Throne, just about everything it includes is done very well.
The use of pixel art and animation in Gungeon are not only well-designed, but become a strength of the game as they are intelligently immeshed within gameplay mechanics. It gives immediate feedback to the player through responsiveness and incorporates a sense of fluidity that compliments the quicker pace of the gameplay. It’s also just damn adorable and charming. From the way the characters clumsily prance around the screen when they run to the way enemies have subtly different facial expressions upon being shot, everything is just delightful. These facets add to the games style, of which it has in spades. Even the inventory comes with comical yet helpful descriptions for nearly everything in the game.
The gameplay mechanics in Gungeon operate very similarly to Binding of Isaac and the aforementioned Nuclear Throne wherein the player enters a room and engages enemies with projectiles that occasionally mimic bullet-hell style shooters. Strafing is key and the game includes a dive-roll that is absolutely necessary for success. The player can also use walls or flip tables as obstructions to avoid damage during combat. Each enemy has their relatively unique look and attack. These include bullet-shaped enemies with an automatic weapon, shotgun-shell enemies that shoots a blast with spread, or grenade-looking suicide bombers.
The boss battles are a bit different in that they emphasize the shoot-em-up style of conflict. These include a variety of attacks with patterned and somewhat random projectiles. It’s a good way to mix up the action and make boss encounters memorable or noteworthy. If I had one complaint for the bosses, it’s that the projectiles are somewhat different from other enemies leading to situations in which the player is trapped, even occurring several times over during each encounter. This creates a massive difficulty spike, particularly during early boss fights in which there are times where you’re using nothing but your starting pistol. It can be off-putting to go through an entire floor without being touched only to die relatively quickly to a boss despite ample preparation.
The weapon variety is great and is one of my favorite aspects; that is, when the player is given a unique weapon. Some creative and fun weapon varieties include a gun that shoots bouncing chainsaw blades, one that alternates between oil and fire, and even one that shoots sharks. These gun variants are a great way to mix up gameplay, are entertaining as hell, and will have the player eagerly seeking out the next chest. The problem is that these weapons are few and far between, especially during the early parts of runs. I became annoyed every time I found another boring shotgun, AK, or MAC-10, which happened all too frequently. Sure, they are better than my pea-shooter starter gun, but they’re nothing special. Although the guns steal the show, items are also worth mentioning. Active items, such as a bell that stops all enemies and bullets, and passive items, such as bullets that seek enemies when fired, are not only fun and useful, but also end up changing some mechanics of the game adding a notable amount of variation.
When everything does come together, it comes together beautifully. Getting to a point in which I was shooting enemies with the Ghostbuster’s Proton Backpack while also having the ability to stun enemies every time I flipped a table felt incredible. Unfortunately, situations like this almost never occurred on the first or even second floors which left me wanting more from the pacing. Although I would often die and immediately hit restart, there was always a second of hesitation knowing that I would have to, once again, restart the first level with its slower pace and my pea shooter for a weapon. So imagine my excitement followed by a gradual bout of disappointment and frustration when I discovered that the “shortcut” system included to transport to floors beyond the first is walled off behind a grind-fest of item and currency collecting.
In the end, Gungeon is a great game teetering on incredible. If the design did not handcuff itself with the early portions of runs, it would be so much better. It has a lot of stylistic charisma and satisfying gameplay. It’s perfect for pick-up-and-play sessions between sprawling RPGs. Just don’t be surprised when you think you’re ready to put it down and find yourself wanting more. So if you’re thinking about buying this one, I’d say go ahead and pull the… trigger.
Absolutely worth a shot
A memorable contribution to the action-roguelite, twin-sticks shooter. If the game's stylistic presentation packed full of lovable personality doesn't hook you, perhaps it's incredibly fun gunplay will.