Enter the Gungeon

Enter the Gungeon

Written by Sean Colleli on 5/4/2016 for PC  
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Developer Dodge Roll’s Enter the Gungeon is a curious combination of genres. Up front it’s primarily a roguelike dungeon crawler, and everything that implies. However it also mixes in elements of a loot chaser and wraps the whole thing up in the gameplay structure and controls of a twin stick shooter. The end result is an experience that is thrilling just as often as it feels at war with itself.

First, let’s start with the roguelike elements. For the unfamiliar, the roguelike is a particularly old and brutal game genre dating back to at least the early 80s, where it began with the seminal ascii-based dungeon crawler Rogue. Death is permanent, forcing you back to the very beginning of the game. Dungeons have no set map, but are procedurally generated to create a random selection of interconnected rooms; a programming technique used to far more advanced effect in Elite Dangerous and the upcoming No Man’s Sky. These elements are all present in Enter the Gungeon—this game is a harsh mistress and doesn’t attempt to hide this fact.

However the premise and several gameplay elements of Enter the Gungeon come straight from the loot chaser genre, specifically the Borderlands series. The premise is even similar: a cast of playable treasure-seeking misfits, vying to possess a McGuffin of untold power secreted away into a forbidding stronghold on a distant planet. In this case it’s a gun that can actually erase the past, locked deep within the titular Gungeon.

The Gungeon itself is host to a wide variety of wacky firearms, 130 in all, and collecting/prioritizing these arms is the second major thrust of the gameplay. Each character starts with a signature gun but as you explore the early levels you’ll get some heftier firepower, and eventually find some of the crazier weapons. I personally encountered a very dangerous banana and a gun that fired sharks, and once again the procedural nature of the game means that the Gungeon will randomly spawn weapons throughout its chambers.

With the name Gungeon in the title you can expect the gameplay to be fast, frenetic and unrelenting. Combat consists of shootouts in rooms teeming with enemies. The focus on gun combat is refreshing compared to most roguelikes, which are fantasy and melee based. Here, having a quick trigger finger and a fast dodge-roll are critical, because most rooms turn into a bullet hell shoot-em-up in short order. Ducking behind cover is always a good idea, and thankfully each room is littered with breakable objects to hide behind for a moment’s respite, and of course tables that can be tipped over for temporary cover.

The problem is that the roguelike and loot chaser aspects of the game clash irreconcilably. As a roguelike you can expect Enter the Gungeon to kill you early and often—health pickups are few and far between and once you’re dead, that’s it. Have fun starting over. This of course means that you completely lose that entire colorful arsenal you put so much work into collecting and sorting, which makes dying all the more painful. I don’t mind a hearty challenge, but losing all that progress stings particularly badly.

If it didn’t focus so slavishly on the hardcore difficulty—a disturbing trend I’m noticing among indie titles, incidentally—Enter the Gungeon could have been a far more enjoyable dungeon crawler/shooter. The combat is addictive and tense, and the visuals are drop-dead gorgeous. Everything in the Gungeon is firearm or ammo-themed, from the interior decorating to the adorable (but deadly) enemies. A lot of indie studios use pixel art as a cop-out, insisting that their game looks “retro” when they were actually just too lazy to put more effort into their graphics. Old-style visuals are an art form unto themselves and doing them right is deceptively difficult. If anything, with Enter the Gungeon Dodge Roll have proven they stand amid the best pixel artists in the business, right alongside Wayforward Entertainment (Shantae), Tribute Games (Mercenary Kings) and Extra Lives (Broforce).

It’s just a shame I can’t enjoy Enter the Gungeon more. I don’t know, maybe I’m getting old and slowing down, but brick-to-the-face difficulty just isn’t appealing to me anymore. This game brought me to the height of retro-gaming satisfaction when I unlocked a crazy new gun, but then sent me crashing down when I died on the next screen and was forced to start all the way at the beginning with my puny starting arsenal.

If you like roguelikes and relish a challenge, Enter the Gungeon’s habit-forming combat, gun collecting, stunning pixel art style and pulsating soundtrack will get you hooked almost instantly. For old fogies like me, is a checkpoint system so much to ask for?

Enter the Gungeon is one of those "your mileage may vary" indie games. The pixel art is deliciously good and the gameplay mechanics are rock solid, but trying to mix a brutally hard roguelike with a loot-chaser collectathon seems counter-intuitive. If you can stomach the game's unforgiving challenge then there is a lot to love here, but expect to tear your hair out when the game kills you and you lose your meticulously sorted gun collection.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been gaming off and on since I was about three, starting with Star Raiders on the Atari 800 computer. As a kid I played mostly on PC--Doom, Duke Nukem, Dark Forces--but enjoyed the 16-bit console wars vicariously during sleepovers and hangouts with my school friends. In 1997 GoldenEye 007 and the N64 brought me back into the console scene and I've played and owned a wide variety of platforms since, although I still have an affection for Nintendo and Sega.

I started writing for Gaming Nexus back in mid-2005, right before the 7th console generation hit. Since then I've focused mostly on the PC and Nintendo scenes but I also play regularly on Sony and Microsoft consoles. My favorite series include Metroid, Deus Ex, Zelda, Metal Gear and Far Cry. I'm also something of an amateur retro collector. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my fiancee and our cat, who sits so close to the TV I'd swear she loves Zelda more than we do.

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