Review: Enter the Gungeon

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Every once in awhile there will come a game that fits you perfectly. It won’t necessarily be a perfect game, and it might not even be the sort you normally enjoy, but it grips you like no other. For me, that game is Enter the Gungeon. Every night when I sit down to game, I start with a Gungeon run and it often turns into three or four, stretching on into the wee hours. It’s become an addiction, scrounging strange new guns and unraveling new secrets of the sprawling levels, the spell only broken when the difficulty breaks my will.

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As the title suggests, Enter the Gungeon pits you against the ever-shifting halls and denizens of the Gungeon, the ultimate confluence of every gun pun in existence. Starting your adventure from the safety of the Breach, you descend through the many chambers to battle bullet kin, gunjurors, gundead, ammocondas, gorguns, and so on. Along the way you’ll find exotic weapons from a catalog of hundreds, everything from Colts and Winchesters to laser guns, haunted shotguns, freeze rays, and mailboxes. And assuming you survive long enough, there’s a whole host of items to unlock, characters to meet, and secrets to uncover.

The first big draw of the Gungeon is the ridiculous amount of content to sort through. Taking a page from Binding of Isaac and running with it, there are literally hundreds of guns and items to find even though you’ll only see a dozen or two per run. You’ll free NPCs who return to the Breach to open stores or provide guidance, or who disappear back into the Gungeon to offer challenges or aid. Even beating the game is only the beginning, because there’s a whole quest tied to the backstory of the place that adds on to the ending in a big, big way.

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Finding and shooting the game’s many, many guns is easily the highlight of your adventures. Each of the game’s four characters starts with a basic sidearm that can carry through much of the game, and new weapons can be found in chests, bought from stores, or claimed from defeated bosses. You’ll come across plenty of familiar firearms including shotguns, Winchesters, Colts, Tommy guns, uzis, Derringers, and AKs, and that’s just a start. The fantasy guns spiral off into laser rifles, enchanted revolvers, beam cannons, literal cannons, T-shirt cannons, mailboxes, jet engines, severed heads, and more. There are homages to TV, film, comic, and game weapons from all over, and each weapon is rendered in loving pixelly detail with elaborate particle effects.

You’ll need a decent spread of weapons (and ammo for them) to have a hope of beating the game, too. Gungeon is a real-time roguelike in the vein of Nuclear Throne, with the difficulty turned up to a similarly withering degree. Enemies attack in bullet hell patterns that must be dodged or weaved through, some filling the entire room with deadly attacks. Your foes also grow more resilient as you descend, making it increasingly important to use those guns you’ve been collecting along the way. The problem is that you’re not always going to have those guns to count on.

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I’ll be perfectly blunt because you NEED to understand this going in: Enter the Gungeon is not fair, and it’s all in how the RNG is tuned. Every chamber has two chests to open, one containing a gun and the other with an active or passive item. However, you need a key to open those chests, you start with one, and getting more is a problem. Keys (and ammo, and pickups in general) are VERY rare drops from rooms, are not guaranteed in shops, and might appear when you beat a boss. Unless you get VERY lucky you’re not going to be opening every chest, and if you get terribly unlucky you’re not going to be opening any.

There are stores where you can supplant your resources, but again a fickle RNG can deny you even that courtesy. It’s not bad enough to render any run unwinnable, though running dry on keys or ammo might stick you with your starter gun against horrifying odds. In the 25 runs I’ve played, this has happened maybe 4-5 times, so it’s definitely something to expect, and something not everyone is going to be okay with. What makes it okay for me is the addition of side goals to your basic quest to conquer the Gungeon. The NPCs you free all have tasks or offers for you that can unlock new weapons, new items, shortcuts, boosts, or secret content. These tasks can be anything from defeating certain enemies to finding a specific item to bringing a collection of resources to a certain room. Even runs that ultimately end in defeat can be productive if you polish off a shortcut or hunting quest, or just free another NPC to meet in the bowels of the Gungeon.

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Despite the difficulty spikes, the persistent allure of Enter the Gungeon is the cross between accessibility and content. A lot of classic roguelikes have loads of content but it’s locked behind obscure mechanics. You’ll find plenty of the Gungeon’s secrets just by playing normally and experimenting with your weapons, even if you never beat the game. I appreciate that I can sit down and try to win, or work towards completing a side quest, or just run around and enjoy the fluid combat and crazy guns. It’s also one of the best-looking 2D games I’ve played, with adorably animated characters bounding around blasting each other with sharp, colorful attacks. The sound design is just as good, so really the only thing standing in anyone’s way of loving this title is the towering challenge posed by the RNG. If you’re willing to fight on uneven terms and learn to make the most of what the game gives you, I can guarantee that Enter the Gungeon will delight and surprise you for dozens of hours.

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