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Enter the Gungeon: A 2019 re-review

Re-reviews of games are usually saved for multiplayer affairs and games-as-a-service titles, but Enter the Gungeon is a different type of roguelike bullet hell beast that warrants talking about three years after its release.

First, a quick history lesson so we’re all on the same page. Enter the Gungeon is the first game from then new developers Dodge Roll, published by Devolver Digital in April of 2016. The game started growing a fan base thanks to the impeccable art, sound and gameplay which is inspired by The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne and other titles spawned from the new wave of this genre.

Dodge Roll didn’t just release an amazing game and call it a day, however, as over those three years they’ve been pumping out free content for the game and porting it to the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch after it was initially offered on PC and PlayStation 4. All of this while retaining a $15 US price tag with new players also getting all those content drops free.

Now, in April of 2019, Dodge Roll has released the final update to the game called “A Farewell to Arms” (most of the game is based on gun puns, if you didn’t catch that). The team stated on Reddit that they’re moving onto other projects for a variety of reasons, and this was their last hurrah for the game.

When I reviewed the game at launch I had put a dozen or so hours into it and had given it a high score fully enjoying the experience.

Unlike many review titles, however, I didn’t just move onto the next game. Instead I kept playing and didn’t stop. I’ve put hundreds of hours into the game, 100%’ing it on PC and Switch. After completing all the new content from A Farewell to Arms just a few days after release (a testament to no sleep rather than a small amount of content), I feel it’s time to Enter the Gungeon review one more time.

Enter the Gungeon has some of the best moment to moment gameplay ever put to bits. It’s right up there with titles like Doom 2016 and the visceral fun to be had here to one of those things that you just have to experience before you “get it”.

While that was true when I first played it, over the years and the hours played the game has gotten better. Not just because of the unlocks and knowledge of enemy attack patterns, which are both hilariously plentiful, but because of the fact that you will slowly strip away the game’s layered mechanics as time goes by.

This is all necessary because this game doesn’t have a difficulty curve so much as a difficulty cliff face. It’s not uncommon for people to sink days of their lives into this title and still fail to see the credits even once.

While roguelikes have a reputation for being loot dependant for a run’s success, that is only half true here. Any run can be beaten regardless of what loot drops if only you have the skill to persevere, and your reflexes are fast enough.

This, in combination with said loot, makes every win an immensely satisfying triumph even when you see the ending for the hundredth time. No matter your luck in the Gungeon, the temptation to play another round never goes away.

All of this is even more impressive considering the relative ease of playing the game: it’s a top down twin stick shooter with a dodge roll to avoid bullets and an item called a blank which are very limited but temporarily remove all bullets on the screen.

You can be up and playing this game in minutes but you’ll quickly learn how all the guns and items slowly change the way you play before you’re knee-deep in enemies trying to juggle the hectic scene on any given screen.

The gameplay loop in Enter the Gungeon is damn near perfect and it’s still astounding that the developers managed to do this on their first crack at things. The content updates over the years have only made this better with new unlocks, levels, enemies and bosses. Of special note are synergies: unique interactions between certain pickups when you have two or more related ones in your inventory.

As an example there is the Face Melter, a guitar gun that damages enemies with musical notes. Pick up the Heavy Bullets passive item and you unlock the “Alternative Rock” synergy (get it?) which makes the gun much stronger and also changes its sprite from a  Flying V to an Explorer.

Thankfully the gameplay isn’t the only part of the game that is impeccable, as the art and sound design here is right up there.

While recent years have seen titles like Celeste and Owlboy have really pushed how great pixel art can look, Enter the Gungeon should be included when those conversations are head. Every character, level and item in the game is ludicrously detailed with a bit of a cutesy spin.

As you may have guessed just by the game’s name, everything here is a bit of joke and is usually a riff on a piece of pop culture and no chance is ever passed up to turn something involving a gun into a pun.

This makes the overall look of the game instantly unique and it’s quite impossible to confuse Enter the Gungeon with anything else out there. I truly believe that parts of this game’s visual design will become iconic in coming years.

When it comes to audio both the music and sound design once again compliment the other pillars of the title.

The full soundtrack is available (legally) on YouTube, as made by artist Doseone. Just listen to the main song for a perfect hit of cartoon theme songs of yesteryear.

With those tracks in the background you also get the sound effects of the Gungeon which, just like everything else, are varied and new every time you play.

Each gun has its own sound when firing, reloading and hitting enemies. Every bullet that flies, every table that’s flipped and every enemy trying to kill you has its own range of sounds that build up naturally as things become more hectic until you’re locked into this great cacophony that only ends when the room is cleared, or you die.

But when you do die even the little sound bite that plays is fun to listen to and hey, let’s just restart and play again.

As a spoiler for the end of this review I am going to give this game a ten out of ten score because the problems here are nitpicks.

Some rooms, as an example, are just not fun to play because the designers intentionally made it a bit of a crapshoot. The Switch port leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to performance and certain unlock quests here require perfect play to complete which adds a layer of unnecessary frustration on top of an already difficult game.

All of that, however, feels like tiny niggles lost in the immense scope of the game and all the hours I’ve played, especially given the game’s value with its small asking price.

Before you head into the Gungeon yourself, just keep in mind that this game requires investment to fully enjoy and isn’t something you can pick up for thirty minutes and fully master.

In that way it has become, for me and most of the community, a hobby instead of a game – something to run through and beat when you have a spare half hour or forty minutes. The developers cater to this with an increased speed mode and the ability to increase movement outside of combat through the menu.

Enter the Gungeon is a game that can easily get you into its web, whether you’re a fan of the games it’s influenced by, pixel art, its music or rumours of its gameplay, this is a title I believe everyone should play at least once.

Well maybe twice because you’re likely to rage quit after the first time.

Just buy this game already.

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