I dodge roll, gliding through the air and bursting through the double doors in front of me.
As the doors slam open, I’ve already whipped out my pillow, ready to plump and destroy. A ghost wielding an AK-47 fires off a few rounds in my direction, so I effortlessly glide over his bullets and pepper him with soft, yet deadly projectiles. It’s not long before a pink cube resembling raw tofu decides to warp into the room now littered with feathers. Knowing what’s about to happen I dash towards a table and kick it over, creating some make-shift cover. It’s the right decision as the tofu emits a piercing light and unleashes a torrent of projectiles in all directions. Thanks to my quick-thinking they glance off my rickety wooden defence as I fearlessly roll forwards and see to its well-cushioned demise.
Right off the bat, I knew Enter the Gungeon would be good. I’d loaded it up for the first time and was hit with the plot; I had to recover a gun so powerful that it could kill the past… okay. Then the menu screen burst into view, practically pulsating with colour and backed by some inspiring electronic music. With a surge of energy, I grabbed my mouse and threw the cursor over the words “Enter the Gungeon”; it had already done enough to convince me that I should pour an unhealthy amount of time and energy into its frantic dungeon-crawling.
Whilst the procedurally-generated premise is certainly familiar, Enter the Gungeon refines the formula by bringing in a few RPG elements and most importantly, introducing the dodge roll. Considering the developers are entitled Dodge Roll Games it’s a pretty big hint at the central mechanic that you’ll rely heavily on in combat. Before you head into the depths, you can choose from one of four Gungeoneers: Marine, Pilot, Convict and Hunter. There’s also a fifth class that’s strictly reserved for local co-op, The Cultist. As a band of misfits that regret their past, they’ve decided to take it upon themselves to risk everything and obtain the mythical gun that can supposedly erase their wrong-doing. Of course, it’s buried deep within the Gungeon where the Gundead will stop at nothing to protect their temple. And you’ll have to face a ton of terrifying enemies and traverse vicious traps in order to find it. Good luck, because it’s far from easy.
Each Gungeoneer has a unique set of starting equipment. The Hunter starts with a trusty pistol and crossbow. The crossbow takes time to reload between every shot but does a considerable amount of damage early on. You’re also accompanied by a pet dog that’s exclusive to the class, who has the chance to dig up loot and identify rogue chests. The Marine on the other hand, only starts with a pistol, but it has a higher ammo capacity than any of the other starting weapons. What’s more, he also has access to a one-time supply drop as his special item. At the bash of a space bar you can call in a care package that replenishes your waning ammo reserves. Additionally he also wears armour to start off with, meaning that players can take one or two hits before they begin to lose health. He’s your go-to character if you’re starting off, although it’s worth testing them all out to see which one you lean towards the most. In fact, one of my most successful runs was with the Pilot who’s a spitting image of Han Solo. He’s even got the famed laser pistol and carries a lockpick that handily gives him the chance to open chests for free. I also discovered that he has an increased ammo capacity with all weapons and even has an extra weapon slot. He didn’t come with Chewie or the Millenium Falcon, but that was forgivable since he’d done more than enough to suit my needs.
Each time you enter the Gungeon it’s always a fun, intense romp of flying bullets and shattered barrels. It’s got a great 16-bit aesthetic that’s backed up by some sleek modern touches: the brilliant streaks of light emitted by a laser rifle, or the shiny glow that radiates off a dense mass of bullets. Barrels disintegrate as you career into them and books adorning shelves are ripped into shreds by explosions amidst the chaos. It’s a nice touch when you’ve finished a hard-fought battle and you see sheaves of paper floating and drifting in the air as they gently settle on the ground. And it’s not only these details that make it seem polished. The music is upbeat electro that alters depending on your current state. If you’re in a firefight, it’ll quickly heighten and add some extra urgency, whilst moments of exploration are supported by quieter, more soothing tones. It’s genuinely rewarding to discover that these elements haven’t been overlooked and it’s also surprising to see such a great level of destruction in a game that could’ve got away with not having any at all.
The dungeons consists of rooms connected by a series of corridors. By keeping an eye on your map, you’ll be able to see what rooms you’ve cleared and what you haven’t. By pressing tab I could see the bigger picture and also make use of the teleporters scattered around the place. Again, it’s a nice touch that adds convenience to dungeon-crawling when you want to back-track without having to trudge all the way. You simply stand on a teleporter and click on another you’ve already discovered to instantly warp there. You can tell the developers have thought about the player, giving them the tools to focus on having fun rather than getting bogged down with traversal.
When it comes to combat, it’s the dodge-roll that separates Enter the Gungeon from the competition. It’s a great feeling when you stylishly roll through an enemy bombardment, duck behind cover and let loose. You’ll find yourself using your roll situationally, whether that be choosing to roll away from enemy fire or into oncoming fire to close the gap and fire off a close quarters shotgun blast to the face. It’s also the key to avoiding nasty traps and jumping onto platforms in the nick of time. It feels intuitive and you’ll find yourself beginning to master its many uses as you progress through harder and harder challenges.
As you go deeper, you gain access to all sorts of juicy loot from the shopkeeper, chests or bosses that you’ll encounter. I remember picking up an alien ant that I could wield, my character cradling this monstrosity as I lugged it into a room filled with enemies. At first I was puzzled; it seemed to be firing blobs of oil that splattered all over the floor. I reloaded, which involved turning the ant over, before my eyes widened as it let loose a vast number of fire balls. The ground was instantly engulfed in a raging carpet of flames as I grinned maniacally to myself. This is awesome. And this happened over and over again. One other highlight came from my famed Han Solo playthrough when I picked up a bright green rifle having just defeated a tough boss. I hoisted it into my arms and wondered what it would surprise me with. At first it seemed fairly standard, rattling off generic green projectiles. However upon reloading, my character would whirl a sword around rapidly, slicing through the air repeatedly at lightning speed. Before I knew it, I was batting away projectiles and cutting through enemies by timing my reloads accordingly. Awesome.
As always with these sort of games, bosses are a real highlight. They’ve got their own flashy intro sequence and each have their own distinctive attack patterns and personalities. Sometimes you’re not facing one opponent but two, and keeping track of their movements whilst shooting and rolling through their abilities is a truly difficult multi-tasking affair. And Enter the Gungeon isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s easy to pick up but tough to master, thanks to its seamless blend of rolling and shooting. It’s got a high skill-ceiling that requires you to keep an eye on multiple affairs whilst navigating a variety of environments that instantly dictate play the moment you set foot in their arena. Some rooms feel constrictive as you’re trapped in tight corridors with limited cover, meaning you’re forced to face bullets head on and roll haphazardly through them. Others are spacious, but filled with flaming traps, spikes and a horde of enemies with a vast number of abilities. Sprinting grenades chase you and throw themselves suicidally at your feet before exploding. Whilst dastardly spellcasters and monstrous, mechanised giants seek to end your run. The enemies serve to make you utilise the space creatively in order to survive. And you’ll want a cloth to brush the sweat off your brow after every encounter. Every room cleared and boss defeated becomes a huge step forward as the difficulty scales to a staggeringly demanding level.
It can be so punishing at times, that it can be difficult not to get frustrated. One great run doesn’t mean that your next will be the same. Because it’s all randomly generated, you can never be sure what your next foray could bring. Don’t expect too many health pack drops or even price reductions in the shopkeeper’s store. To facilitate the game’s difficulty, they’ve made sure not to be too generous and give away freebies too frequently; I did find myself begging for just one or two more here and there. Sure, I can go buy some from the shopkeeper who appears on each level – if they’re in stock – but his prices are extortionate to the extent I can’t afford more than one sliver of armour; let alone a fancy new gun and a bit of TLC. Perhaps this is my scrub-level shining through, as Enter the Gungeon does do a great job of making you feel like you’re fighting tooth and nail, barely scraping past a nightmarish level at times.
A key to a dungeon-crawler is replayability. What’s Enter the Gungeon‘s key ingredient to keep players coming back? They’ve incorporated a number of RPG elements that make sure you’re progressing even if you think you aren’t. I was surprised to encounter a dainty girl and her imposing robotic protector locked in a big cage. Chatting to them, they briefly thanked me and assured me that I’d see them again. Lo and behold, I encountered them in the main hub-world and questioned them both as to who they were and what they were doing. Turns out they’ve got some interesting insights to share concerning the Gungeon itself, whilst being weapon vendors on the side. I could trade in a special form of currency dropped by bosses to unlock special weapons and as I progressed more powerful firearms and powerups would become available to purchase.
Other encounters included a surprise meet with a well-dressed, fairground fellow named Winchester who offered me the chance to win prizes, at a cost. Another involved seeing a purple, hunched over character with a walking stick appear next to me as I descended to the next level. In a rather indifferent manner, he explained he could repair the elevators, perhaps implying there’s a way of skipping through some of the levels if you’re hardcore enough. There were many other puzzling moments where I stumbled across altars and other seemingly immovable objects. All these mysterious characters and unlockables mean that you’ll always have something to strive towards. It’s nice that at the end of each run you get to see all you’d accomplished; despite it being a heart-breaking moment, it’s still rewarding to know that you unlocked a bunch of new loot and those strange people you encountered might be waiting to greet you soon enough.
I’m already itching to get back into the Gungeon. Even if it’s occasionally frustrating, it’s still an addictive, rewarding experience. Polished gameplay and accessibility make way for fun, frantic and stylish firefights, whilst the classes add variety and cater to different playstyles. It’s a game that feels great to play alone, and is probably even better with a friend through local co-op. Simplistic, yet full of depth, Enter the Gungeon deserves to be in your collection.