Enter the Gungeon Review: Super Indie, Super Awesome

Take every Frankenstein mash-up of imaginary weaponry you’ve doodled in math class during your formative middle school years. Now, crinkle them up into a paper ball and throw them in the trash, as they’re probably not cool enough to make the cut as one of the hundreds of guns in Enter the Gungeon.

Developed by Dodge Roll, “Enter the Gungeon” is a bullet hell dungeon crawler with carefully placed rogue-like elements. Played from a semi top-down perspective, it resembles arcade twin stick shooters, and differentiates itself from the other games in the genre by its reliance on player skill rather than random elements.

Within a few seconds of jumping into “Enter the Gungeon” you’ll notice how smoothly your character glides around the screen. The breezily nature at which you shuffle past enemies and dodge waves of bullets compliments the precise handling of the guns. Neither too loose or too tight, hitting enemies is never a problem, especially while you’re dashing around a level. And running and gunning is a necessity if you want to survive, as every enemy—even the lowly grunts— can be a threat if you’re not careful.

A telltale sign of a well-designed game is when a developer has confidence in its gameplay mechanics, by not overloading it with gimmicks. In that sense, “Enter the Gungeon” is a game that’s light, offering you a sparse set of tools; a dodge-roll, which renders you invincible during the first half of its animation, while you’re still airborne, and a blank, which destroys every bullet on screen. The simplicity of these two mechanics and the fluidness of the gunplay are simply sublime —after a few runs, it becomes second nature, and you’ll stop thinking altogether and start reacting instinctively.

There’s four characters, or rather, Gungeoneers to choose from, each brandishing their own entry-level pistol—it’s their passive and active abilities where they differ from one another. The Marine starts off with armor and calls in ammo drops for his currently equipped gun. The Hunter has a corgi that can sniff out treasures in rooms and wields a single-shot cross bow. The Pilot is offered lowered prices at shops and opens chests with lockpicks. The Convict sports a shotgun carries Molotov cocktails, and deals extra damage when hit.

True to the rogue-like genre, the premise of “Enter the Gungeon” is simple: acquire the ‘gun that can kill the past’, by blasting your way through five floors of the gungeon. Naturally, reaching the end is far more brutal in practice, but never unfairly so—this is a game built around placing the most outlandish weapons imaginable in your hands, and boy, do they deliver.

Coming across many of these zany contraptions and figuring out how they operate is where Enter the Gungeon is at its most satisfying, and I would be doing a disservice by spoiling the fun. But, just to tease a bit and conjure up some interest, a few of the guns you’ll find in the gungeon are the Machine Fist, which alternates between a Gatling gun to a rocket-propelled fist upon reloading; the Tangler, which fires a shotgun blast that ricochets off of walls and fold enemies into rectangles; and the Charmed Bow, which charms enemies and forces them to fight alongside you.

Guns can be found by defeating bosses, purchasing them from shops, opening chests, and receiving them from NPCs. In addition to guns, you can acquire items the same way— items can be passive upgrades, active abilities, or single-use consumables. Only after double-digit deaths under your belt will you start to discover synergy between guns and items, revealing an extra layer of depth.

The rooms in the gungeon are all handcrafted, but their layout among the floors is randomly generated, straddling that line between difficult and unfair. Being a bullet hell shooter, it just wouldn’t work otherwise; there needs to a balance between good level design and a bit of irregularity in the progression to keep things from becoming monotonous. Besides just repeatedly running the gauntlet upon every death, there’s an enigmatic batch of NPCs that spruce up the repetition, by providing a range of activities to partake in.

Dodge Roll is deeply committed to Enter the Gungeon’s gun theme, and we should all be thankful for their devotion, as the end-result is a game that’s refreshingly lighthearted and genuinely funny. Firearms are unabashedly fetishized—characters, enemies, bosses, environments, décor, and menus are all steeped in a ridiculous amount of gun imagery. There’s even an encyclopedia dubbed the Ammunicon, which provides backstory for every gun, item, enemy, and boss you come across in the game.

The bulk of the enemy forces you’ll end up gunning down are different types of bullets. Bullets that fire guns, which shoot bullets. Yeah, I know. Plenty of unique enemies populate the floors of the gungeon, as well; knights that sprout waves of erratic bullets by striking the ground with massive swords, books that fire off bullets in the shape of letters, and mages that buff existing enemies.

As well-designed as all the enemies are, they only serve as a gut-check, making sure you’re up to snuff for the wildly imaginative bosses that await you at the end of each level. Your mastery of the mechanics is tested immediately—boss fights are frantic, never allowing you to catch your breath, by continuously bombarding you with attacks. Overwhelming at first, but like every well-designed difficult game, patience, a study of their attack patterns, and finally execution will ensure victory. I’ve even found myself taking down the first two bosses with my starting pistol.

I’m pretty burned out on 2D pixel art, but Enter the Gungeon’s Saturday Morning Cartoon aesthetic, gives it its own unmistakable style. It also helps that this world is brought to life by beautiful animation and destructible environments—enemies relentlessly bounce around, bosses comically taunt and emote, and even while idle, characters display personality. Every bullet fired during the countless amount of gun fights you engage in leaves its mark on the environment. Furniture breaks apart, pages of books waft through the air, lights get shattered, fruit carts spill their wares—it’s all delightfully dynamic.

Final Thoughts

Even if you strip away its rogue-like elements, Enter the Gungeon would still strive on the strength of its mechanics and well-designed rooms, and be an exceptional arcade shooter. The intricacies of the gungeon are taught through death, but I’d hardly doubt you’d mind as this means more opportunities to stumble across a new round of guns. And as much as Enter the Gungeon is focused on firearms, your progress will never be hindered because of the quality of the guns that dropped during a run. Overall, Enter the Gungeon carves out its own identity—both visually and mechanically— providing an endlessly entertaining loop with plenty of secrets to find, guns to wield, and systems to figure out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply