Reviewer Note: A quick disclaimer before we begin: I am terrible at games in this genre! My definition of ‘difficult’ may be quite different to yours, but I’m pretty sure even the most seasoned players of this genre will run into a wall within the first 2-3 levels. Much like Dark Souls, this game doesn’t hold the player’s hand at all.
Enter the Gungeon is a roguelike, bullet hell dungeon crawler. But it wasn’t the interesting genre combination that immediately caught my attention. It was the concept of running through a gun-themed dungeon with the end goal of shooting and killing ‘the past.’
The game was produced by Dodge Roll Games; a four-person team of developers, most of whom used to work with EA Mythic. It’s clear the game was heavily inspired by The Binding of Isaac, but it has also been likened to Nuclear Throne and Dark Souls. Dodge Roll Games designer/producer David Crooks also says the team drew heavy inspiration from D&D, Spelunky, Ikaruga and Metal Gear.
I usually like to complete games enough to have a good idea of their story, characters, and the late-game experience before I write a review, but this one is really punishing. No, seriously, if you’re not being slaughtered by tricky enemy attack patterns, then you’re being overwhelmed by gun puns.
Even though I’m terrible at this genre in general, and especially so at this unforgiving game, I’m still having so much fun trying to get through it. Many of the weapons and items available are uniquely hilarious, and the four main characters play similarly but have unique loadouts that each have their own advantages.
The Marine is the heavy, with a reasonable starter weapon, an extra hit point, and a bonus ammo drop. The Pilot is a light rogue character, who has a fast dodge roll, unreliable aim and lock picking abilities, and cheaper items in the shop. The Convict falls somewhere in between, with a sawn-off shotgun and a ‘Budget Revolver,’ and she gets mad whenever she’s hit, which essentially increases her strength for a short time. Finally, The Hunter and her dog are focused on accuracy, with her crossbow and a starter weapon that fires rapidly and has a good magazine size. The cute little dog doesn’t fight with her, but he does find bonus treasure. The four characters seem to know each other one way or another, and I really do look forward to getting further in the game so I can learn more about them.
The guns are often hilarious, and the items are often ridiculous. I haven’t even discovered half the guns in the game yet, but I’ve shot enemies with: exploding bananas, magic that turns them into chickens, the letters of the word ‘bullet,’ molotovs, bombs, and flares. I’ve used: witch time, the potion of gun friendship, and mastered the way of Tabla Sutra (table flipping). Discovering all these new and crazy items really helps to keep you motivated in trying to progress, but the diversity also prevents you from mastering some of the weapons that are more difficult to handle.
I’m actually quite disappointed that the plot doesn’t progress as you clear levels in the Gungeon. There isn’t even any character dialogue to hint at what these characters are trying to erase, though there are clues in the opening and the passive item descriptions found in the ‘Ammonomicon’.
The thing that makes this game truly challenging, and at times extremely frustrating, is that there are no real checkpoints between floors of the Gungeon. A choice to retry the level with what little you may have or restart the game could go a long way. Although, it seems that once you have completed the first two levels, you have potential access to an elevator that allows you to skip ahead a little. But it seems unskilled players like me who really need this leg up will have to work hard for it.
Unfortunately (for me), unlike in Crypt of the NecroDancer, playing the game with a friend doesn’t make things easier in the slightest. The enemies seem to take more shots, and it takes some time to realise you don’t have to dodge your ally’s bullets. Additionally, player two can only play as the special character made for co-op mode. The load out is mediocre, and may get boring if you’re continually playing levels one and two with mostly your default weapon. More skilled players, however, probably appreciate the handicap.
The game has been patched multiple times over the past week, which is why I’ve been holding out on this review. I feel like the game should have gone through a lot more playtesting before its release, but I trust the patches will balance the game and fix bugs to make it all even more enjoyable. (FYI: Most of this review was written while playing version 1.0.3, with screenshots being grabbed in 1.0.5 before final submission.)
Enter the Gungeon was Dodge Roll Games’ first game as an independent team, and it began turning profit on the first day of sales. It’s really interesting to see designers from a big studio working on indie titles they are passionate about, and I have to wonder if this will become more common in the industry. If so, it seems we have a lot to look forward to!
Enter the Gungeon is a challenging roguelike dungeon crawler with guns. Even if you don’t have the bullet hell survival skills to progress quickly, the random nature of the game means you’ll still have fun discovering new things all the time. The gameplay is strongly reminiscent of The Binding of Isaac, but it has more involved boss battles and is a little more balanced in terms of maintaining its difficulty even when you’re lucky enough to pick up a good weapon early on. It is difficult and unforgiving, so the easily frustrated may want to give this one a miss. Co-op mode doesn’t do much to alleviate the difficulty either, and it’s unfortunate that player two’s character options are limited. My main concern for this game is that there have already been five patches to iron out bugs and balance the difficulty. These shortcomings should have been discovered through extensive playtesting and the beta, not on release. However, while Enter the Gungeon isn’t exactly new or innovative, it is an exemplar of its genre.