It’s weird to think that people can all love and enjoy a certain type of game, a certain genre or subgenre, and still be at total odds for like-minded games. I couldn’t imagine two people being super into metrovania games and then having one be unabashedly ANGERED by Super Metroid. But the roguelike gaming community is something that’s expanded wildly in the last few years, especially since roguelike encompasses nearly any game that has procedurally generated elements. Things like One More Dungeon and Yodanji stand in the same initial queue as The Flame and the Flood or Don’t Starve, and that’s insane. So we boil it down further to twin stick roguelikes, and now we’re in a still surprisingly broad arena. Neon Chrome, NeuroVoider and The Binding of Isaac all fall under the same umbrella. And, as it turns out, Enter the Gungeon, which comes to us from Dodge Roll via Digital Devolver.
Enter the Gungeon is a massive, undead labyrinth that is under the control of the Cult of the Gundead, who you have to defeat through the power of one of the Gungeoneers. Initially four (and unlockably six) heroes will make their bit to shoot, explode and systematically destroy everything in a quest to learn about the Gungeon, find a way into the Past, and really just blow everything to hell. Ever had a time where there was so much information that none of it made sense? Holy Christ that is definitely my case with Enter the Gungeon. So much information, so much to drink in and yet I feel like I’m dehydrated. Whatever, you have a gun and you’re gonna shoot a bunch of things, go nuts.
Once you choose your character and get into things, you’ll realize that Enter the Gungeon is a MASSIVE quest to undertake. Your starting character will have certain perks and advantages that the others do not: one will have armor, another may have a stronger starting weapon, and yet another will be able to pick locks on occasion. All of these starting abilities and weapons can, over time, be accessible for the rest of the Gungeoneers, but it takes success in runs as well as perseverance. The Enraging Photo, for example, is a terrifically powerful item in the hands of anyone besides the character who starts with it, but you need to basically beat the game backwards and forwards with The Convict before it becomes widely available. Like all great roguelikes, Enter the Gungeon’s real appeal and power comes from being able to play the game, understand it, and then go back and play it again with newfound understanding to make it even better.
Mechanically, Enter the Gungeon is a game of tight, fast reflexes, and, when done correctly, the game looks and plays fantastically. You learn quickly that this is not a game of overpowering: this is a game of strategic, brutal shootouts. Enter a room, and have a moment to assess the threat levels. Make a judgement call about who you should target and deal with first. Fire off your rounds as accurately and quickly as possible, then dodge the hell out of the way when the first wave of bullets comes. Flip over a table and hide behind it as you reload, and try to count how much damage the table takes in the meantime. Decide whether to shoot through the table or jump out from behind it and fire at will. Continue to run around the room insanely, dodging and diving, as you get off shot after shot, repeat until the room is empty. Get some bullets that represent money, some bullets that represent special shots, and move on to the next room.
Boss fights are something nightmarish from the absolute start, and I mean that in a way of full apprehension. You will, inevitably, reach the boss at the end of your first level and it will be a goddamn firefight in the worst sense of the word. The screen will fill will bullets, either from a twin pair of Bullets, an insane crow, a giant bullet riding a throne and those are just the “easy” first bosses. You have mere seconds to figure out their pattern and learn how to fire and dodge with precision and fleeting patience, but you will, of course, have some advantage the more you run. Some of the time, you’ll be able to get through a boss fight without taking any damage, and then you’ll stupidly think that things are looking up. Then you’ll run into the next boss some time later and get obliterated. But that’s if you only have your original guns and equipment. And, when it comes to the pickups and discoveries of Enter the Gungeon, this is where things take the turn for the insane.
The sheer number of weapons that you’ll find throughout the game – be they hidden in treasure chests, bought from the merchants or simply found through time and luck – are incredible. I think I often chalk Binding of Isaac up to one of those game with the most number of dropped items, and maybe that’s true, but Gungeon is holding a pretty damn high slot. Once I finally figured out how to move through things and discover secret rooms (and the importance of keys), I was baffled to realize the catalog of variants just seems to go on and on. This is where the real roguelike element of this gorgeous pixel masterpiece comes into play, and players cross their fingers and pray for the Mailbox and not the Origuni. And the great part is, that statement could be hotly contested by players who have had greater success with one gun over another, but that’s my history with the game and no one’s gonna take that away from me.
My only gripe with Gungeon, at least with my experience, is that it’s simply harder to get into and pick up and play than other roguelikes. The load times are quite a bit longer, but I realize that comes from the level of design and generation of the world: I can’t totally fault that. But also, I feel like the difficulty curve is something very different as well. Instead of starting out simple and getting harder, Enter the Gungeon seems to start at a medium to high difficulty, stay there for a couple of levels, and then jump, suddenly, to the next peg. The transitioning doesn’t feel smooth, but incredibly jolting. As a result, I tend to need to mentally prepare myself (and prepare my schedule) before getting into the game. If I just want to “play” for a bit, most other roguelikes are going to take priority for me.
However, it cannot be denied that this particular game is something of beauty, a well crafted, brutally honed play that works even better as being able to become mobile. I never owned a Vita, I don’t have a laptop that I can just sling with me, but I do have a Switch and I do have long commutes into The City and back. So when the train is quiet and the time is right, I relish in being able to Enter the Gungeon and work on my skills and my quest to unlock everything. If you want a twinstick with an unfathomable amount of depth and a constantly challenging level of gameplay, then you need look no further than Enter the Gungeon.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.