Enter The Gungeon has a gun fetish. The story revolves around a giant bullet and a gun that can kill the past. Enemies are mostly bullets, the end-of-level lift is a shell casing, the in-game art modelled around gun paraphernalia, Even the health bar models its hearts on bullets.
What is it? A top-down shooter roguelike with a shedload of guns.
Expect to pay: $15/£10
Developer: Dodge Roll Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed on: Intel i5, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 970
Multiplayer: Local co-op
Enter The Gungeon is the latest in a long line of top-down roguelike shooters. It takes its inspiration from genre standouts Nuclear Throne and Binding of Isaac, but also adds many other cool touches to make something that’s a blast to play, even if it doesn’t quite match the highs of its peers.
From Binding of Isaac, it borrows the chaotic room-based structure, and the ridiculous boss battle blocking your path to the floors below. From Nuclear Throne, the mass of guns and power-ups, the ridiculous weapons and host of weird and wonderful enemies.
It’s one of the hardest top-down shooters I’ve played in a long time. Enemies in the first room are capable of spewing endless rounds your way, and even on the first floor death can come quickly if you get overwhelmed. There's also the bosses which, to a man, are the hardest things I've ever encountered.
Gungeon's additions all feel meaningful. Every character has a dodge roll, making you invulnerable to harm while you’re in the air and allowing you to dance between incoming rounds. You can also kick barrels at enemies and flip tables to shield yourself from upcoming fire, allowing you to make yourself a spot of cover in the middle of a shootout.
The floors of the dungeon – sorry, gungeon – are a series of hand crafted rooms, meaning you start to recognise slight similarities. It means you can have strategies for certain rooms, and none of the encounters feel truly unfair, even if you might feel like some of your deaths are a bit cheesy.
One of the best things about the game is that combat is filled with decisions. Reloading, flipping tables, rolling across the floor. All of these are essential to the flow of combat, and how you use them will determine how successful you are. Many of the weapons also have secondary effects or function that you’ll have to factor into your strategies. One gun gets less powerful as the clip drains, while another alternates between spewing fuel and fire.
The real complaint about the game is that, for all of the wonderful guns, power-ups and flow of combat, actually pulling the trigger on most of the guns feels flat. It's disappointing. For a top-down shooter, the fact that shooting feels a bit dull is a big problem, and it’s testament to how good the game feels everywhere else that I’ve enjoyed it regardless.
There are four starting characters to choose from, and each has their own strengths. They're not all that different in playstyle, merely starting out with different sets of weapons and passive items, but one of them has a dog, and so became my go-to. Each of these characters has their own reasons for wanting to find the gun that can kill the past, although the narrative isn't terribly important beyond justifying why a bunch of sentient bullets want to murder you.
There’s a lot to learn, and most of your information is going to come from within the Ammonomicon, a book which will give you information on everything you’re currently packing, in addition to anything you’ve discovered before. This is good because when you’re picking up weapons like a beehive, a camera or just a bit of tree, it’s invaluable to be able to work out how you’re going to kill folk with it.
Over time, when returning to the Breach, you’ll notice it’s slowly evolving as your adventurers fight through the gungeon. Certain characters you find in the depths will return to the Breach and start to offer a variety of services. This gives Gungeon a light metagame to encourage repeated playthroughs, but finding all of the bizarre weaponry is very much its own reward.
The loot is so bizarre that it’s a shame how tight-fisted the game is at handing it out. You’ll find new items and power-ups rarely, with a couple of chests per floor, a shop and the boss being the only real way to get the weapons and ammo. Frequently you’ll find yourself stuck with your starter weapons and several times I’ve had to plink at bosses with the starter pistol. Considering a good weapon is the only way to succeed, it can be infuriating.
I like Enter the Gungeon a lot, despite it’s numerous little niggles. There’s a lot of depth here for fans of the genre, and importantly, it's a lot of fun. You'll die a bunch, you'll probably rage at a fair few deaths, but you'll keep coming back for more.