Roguelikes are a niche genre. You either love them or hate them at this point. Those who enjoy them have arguably played some of the greatest games of this generation (Spelunky, Dead Cells, The Binding of Isaac). Going into Enter the Gungeon, I expected another roguelike along these lines, but what I got was something quite different.
Make no mistake. Enter the Gungeon is a roguelike through and through. However, where it changes things is up is in the marriage of those elements and a top-down bullet hell experience. On paper, it seems like this game wouldn’t work, but the developers had such a clear vision in mind that it’s a pure joy to play from start to finish.
Like many other roguelikes, Enter the Gungeon has a simple premise that thrusts you into the game. Legend tells of a gun that’s capable of destroying the past that was hidden into a guarded fortress. However, the fortress had to be rebuilt into an insane dungeon filled with randomly generated rooms and enemies to cut through. This new fortress was known as the Gungeon.
Other than that, there’s nothing else motivating you to play the game other than your own curiosity. After you go through a brilliant and snarky tutorial, you can immediately enter the Gungeon. This is where things start to pick up. The Gungeon is separated into Chambers divided into rooms that culminate with a boss fight at the end. The trick is that it’s all procedurally generated, so you’ll encounter different trials with each run.
The only devices you have available to you are a dodge roll a gun, and a special item. The dodge roll gives you a few frames of invincibility from all incoming projectiles while the gun allows you to fight back. Random guns are scattered around the Gungeon, though, so you have the potential to get a better firearm at your side. Likewise, items are devices that recharge their use. You’re automatically given one at the start, but you can find different ones that are randomly placed in the Gungeon.
While these mechanics seem simple, where Enter the Gungeon really sets itself apart is in its charm. The first Chamber you enter will be packed to the brim with sentient bullets that shoot guns and books that float and launch projectiles at you. From the opening moments, there’s a clear vision that the developers took with the game.
What benefits the most from this is how the bosses are put together. Not only are there several different bosses for each floor (you won’t fight the same boss every time), but they’re all well-designed, fair, and have a distinct level of personality. You could be fighting two giant bullets one moment, then battling a Gorgon that dual wields machine guns.
There is also an impressive roster of weapons to unlock in the game. You’ll have your standard machine pistols and shotguns, but then there are spoofs of Halo and Mega Man weapons to use as well. For the finishing touch, there are giant shotgun shells that shoot actual shotguns at enemies. The guns range from perfectly normal to insanely bizarre, and figuring out what each new firearm did was part of the excitement Enter the Gungeon offered me.
This is also reflected in how it meshes the roguelike and bullet hell genres. Insane amounts of bullets will come across the screen at any given time, forcing you to git gud or die trying. The trick to mastering Enter the Gungeon is determining whether to fight the boss and finish the Chamber or explore every room to try and find that extra weapon or heart to round your character out. The ball is always in your court, and if you make a poor decision, you’ll probably pay for it with your life. This design element was extremely enjoyable, and it kept me coming back to the game for just one more run.
Further enhancing these options is the fact that you can choose from four different characters who each have different weapons, items, and abilities. That said, there are two more characters you can unlock, as well as an extra character that can only be used when you play in co-op mode (which is a lot of fun, by the way). Unfortunately, this is where my biggest problem with Enter the Gungeon comes in. The process to getting a lot of the good stuff (particularly the character unlocks) is a serious test of skill that’s almost too difficult and tedious to even attempt.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Enter the Gungeon was provided by Tinsley PR for Devolver Digital.