Enter the Gungeon has the unfortunate honour of being the newest entry into the saturated market of roguelites.
Ahead of its release,Enter the Gungeon was tagged with rather unfair monikers like ‘Binding-of-Isaac-with-guns’ and ‘Nuclear-Throne-clone’. Turns out these descriptions weren’t just unfair, they were inaccurate too.
To be completely on point here, what Enter the Gungeon is in fact, is an extremely challenging twin-stick shooter with a boatload of charm, beautiful presentation and and addictive gameplay loop that will sap hours of your life away.
Since roguelites live and die on their in-game experience, let’s start there. You move, you shoot and when you’re shot at and you dodgeroll (which is, funnily enough, the name of the game’s developer).
On those mechanics alone, this game is competent but would be wholly lacking. It’s the reason a game like 2014’s Gauntlet came out feeling hollow and unsatisfying despite having those components down to an art form.
Enter the Gungeone leverages the rogue genre and uses it to keep you going. As the name would suggest, it’s all about the guns, baby. While there are active and passive items to supplement them and change up your style of play, the guns are the crowning jewel in this game’s design.
While Nuclear Throne will give you a gaggle of samey weapons and fall back on its abilities and characters to make the difference, Enter the Gungeon does the opposite. Every new gun you pick up will almost instantly change how you play the game.
Picked up a sidearm that freezes enemies? You’ll act a little bolder and stand in front of bullet a second longer until you get freeze your enemies and shatter them into little pieces. If you find a beam weapon you’ll need to leverage its consistent damage over interrupting the stream with your dodgeroll. When you pick up a gun that is half skeleton and half AK-47, you’ll use it exclusively because it looks so damn cool.
The ability to hold multiple weapons and switch between them shakes things up somewhat – as does the necessity of managing your scarce ammo supply. While this is great near the beginning of the game, you’re soon weighed down by more weapons than a 90’s DOOM clone, which is frustrating as you scroll through a long list of weapons while dealing with the on-screen bullet hell.
The Binding of Isaac solved this problem by focusing on synergies: the ability for certain active and massive upgrades to merge (for good or ill) offering new ways of taking out enemies. Here it feels like the guns and other pick-ups just stack to increase accuracy, damage and other stats. While there are some synergies to find, they’re few and far between.
And that’s another big problem in Enter the Gungeon. To beat the game you’ll need to complete all the levels consecutively on a single run. If you die at any time, you lose all progress and start from the beginning, Level One.
This is one of those rogue genre elements you either love or hate. Another game which did this better was Rogue Legacy, where bosses stayed dead and the challenge came from each level being more difficult. Here, the difficulty is a constant, tedious grind as you kill the same grunt enemy for the thousandth time on your hundredth play of Level One.
Luckily, while the constant clicking to fire eats away at your tendons, your eyes will be having a grand old time. This game is an abosulte triumph of the art of, well, pixel art.
Every sprite is it’s own cute little character with a lot of charm conveyed through some expertly-made frames of animation. While the environments aren’t as appealing as the characters, they make up for it with an absurd amount of items you can interact with. if you’re a fan of destroying barrels in the Dark Souls games, this game is your own personal heaven.
Enter The Gungeon is far from perfect: the grind, the inconsistencies in design and narrative and the demand you complete it all in one sitting can wear on a player.
But what you get in return for dealing with that is so good: the compelling mechanics, addictive in-game experience and the superb visuals can keep you glued to this game. It’s a flawed, sure, but a gem nonetheless.
[Enter The Gungeon was reviewed on a PC and code was provided by the publisher]