Enter the Gungeon – Review
PC, Mac, PS4
For all the ever increasing complexity we see in video games these days – fancy graphics, greater connectivity and constantly changing worlds – there’s something to be said for those who go the other way. Games that have a simpler art style and a singular focus are all the rage these days thanks to a market chock-full of mediocre Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty clones, and a need for something that does things a little bit differently.
Enter the Gungeon is one such game – a top-down dungeon crawler that sees your character trawl their way from room to room, seeking loot and taking out the baddies. You start in a place called the Breach, where you pick one of the four heroes and set off to find Ser Manuel, who takes you through the short tutorial. It covers the basics in quick fashion, and it’s not long before you get your first run in the Gungeon. In fact, a nice touch is that once you’ve done the tutorial, you can quick load into the game at startup simply by hitting a button prompt, skipping the entire intro sequence. It’s a really nice feature.
Being a rogue-like, dying means game over. You’ll probably die a lot too, because Enter the Gungeon is by no means an easy game, despite its apparent simplicity. Each room is hidden until you enter it, so you have no idea of what you’re walking into or what enemies await. Sometimes it’s an empty room, but sometimes it’s a store, or a room with a chest or an altar. At times it can actually feel like it leans a little too much on the difficulty – frustration never felt too far away, especially the further into the Gungeon you get.
Either way, you can almost certainly bet that each area will be filled with clutter that scatters violently when the bullets start flying. Boxes, pots, books, and candles are amongst the huge variety of decoration that adds to the on-screen chaos. It all looks pretty great – I especially love the little touch of when everything, from cutlery to food, gets launched off a table that you tip up on its side for cover.
The enemies are just as varied and are rather cleverly designed. Each enemy looks like a giant version of the ammo from the gun they are firing. Snipers look like long, rifle ammunition. Shotgunners look like shotgun shells. There are rubber bullets that won’t hurt you, but will run into to you, sending you across the room. Then there are the more fantastical, traditional dungeon enemies that can fly around, teleport and shoot generally large blasts in your direction. When you get rooms that have one or two of these ready to go, they are easy enough to deal with if you’re patient or have a giant weapon. However when you start seeing combinations of these enemies – and the further you head into the Gungeon the more of these there are – that’s when the pace really starts to ramp up.
I’ve not played any of Devolver Digital’s games before, but I’ve heard they roll along at a pretty high pace – Enter the Gungeon feels no different. Controls are tight and responsive, giving you good control over both aiming and dodging, and the action is fast, especially when the screen gets busy. You can play with a keyboard and mouse on PC if you like, which is the platform I’ve reviewed on, but I highly recommend using a controller instead. There are options to show button prompts for both PS4 and Xbox controllers, and everything just feels better and makes more sense as a twin stick shooter. There is also a local co-op mode – this lets a 2nd player pick up a controller and take control of the Cleric, a 5th character that can only be used in this mode. The co-op play is frenetic and fast, invoking the old adage that good things are always better with friends.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the boss battles, which act as the climax to each floor in the Gungeon. Each boss has their own unique look and style of attack, like a giant, muscular pigeon-bro with a minigun, or a big, meatball looking eyeball that closely resembles the Cacodemon from DOOM, but with a stack of guns. These are often straight up dog fights where the action gets super intense – bullets quickly fill the screen, the music ramps up and it’s time to start moving – quickly. If you make it through, you’ll score some sweet loot, probably including a new weapon or two, and move on to the next area. The only problem I have with these fights is that across several playthrough’s you’ll regularly fight the same bosses over and over again. I’d have liked to have seen a slightly larger pool to pick from like there is with the more standard enemies and weapons.
Speaking of weapons, they have to be the highlight of Enter the Gungeon. There are so many weapons, it’s amazing, and they are exactly the kind of crazy of crazy that you’d expect from a game like this. You start simple, depending on the hero you pick, but from the beginning, you can find all sorts of crazy guns. How about a shotgun made from a grub that shoots poisonous blobs? Or a crossbow that fires a star that shatters into star shards that cause even more damage? It’s a crazy list, that you can thankfully keep track of it easily thanks to the inclusion of the awesomely named Ammonomicon – a journal that records every gun, enemy and boss you find during your play time. There are so many to find, and discovering new things is where I found some real satisfaction.
Both passive and active items can be found sparsely throughout the Gungeon, either in a shop for purchase or in one of the few loot chests you can find, and these can help in all sorts of situations. Some highlights include a tonic you could drink that allowed you to double your shots. It looks as awesome as you think it might. Other useful items include the ability to fire homing bullets and call in an ammo drop – desperately useful in tight situations. It can seem like you have an abundance of ammo, but it never quite felt like enough. Thankfully your main weapon, despite lacking in stopping power, will never run out.
Enter the Gungeon doesn’t set the world on fire but is an enriching and enjoyable take on one of the oldest genres in video games – something that’s not all that simple to achieve. Dodge Roll have, however, and done so in a way that strikes a fine balance between tension and action. The clever and varied array of enemies and bosses, the pumping soundtrack and the memorable visuals all cohesively form together a package that might be a bit too challenging for some, but excellent for those who enjoy running the gauntlet.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.