In the time since Binding of Isaac‘s 2011 release, roguelikes have adapted to fit a wide range of genres. From the toe-tapping Crypt of the Necrodancer to the spaceship simulator FTL, roguelikes have come in all shapes and sizes. Their longstanding appeal lies in two key factors: replayability and challenge.
Enter the Gungeon has locked and loaded these two qualities in spades. The first title released by Dodge Roll, Enter the Gungeon is an unforgiving game with a high skill floor that has made its way from the PC onto the Switch. Yet, while the game is difficult and challenging, that makes surpassing that entry barrier all the more satisfying.
Screw the Rules, I Have Guns
Enter the Gungeon wears its heart on its sleeve. The game draws from so many different titles that it’s far from original, including Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, and The Legend of Zelda. Yet, rather than bogging itself down in references, Enter the Gungeon cobbles together a patchwork identity that is campy, cartoony, and all around fun.
Enter the Gungeon has a barebones plot that couldn’t work any better. An ancient fortress houses a mystical artifact: a gun that can kill the past. In order to obtain that power, you must descend into the fortress and fight through floors of living armaments, weapon wizards, and bullet bosses. If that doesn’t sound like the tightest shit ever, then you haven’t played the game yet.
You can choose from one of four unique characters (the fifth is reserved solely for co-op), which cater towards specific archetypes. From the straightforward meat-headed Marine to the rogueish, smarmy Pilot, each adventurer seeks to claim the Gungeon’s prize for themself.
The game’s cheeky sense of humor elicits reactions that border somewhere between grinning and groaning. Dodge Roll has designed every part of the game around gun related concepts, whether it’s elevators shaped like bullets, prancing grenades, or one of its 200+ unique weapons.
In a game that could’ve easily overwhelmed the player with sensory overload, it’s rather easy to follow the chaos onscreen. Enter the Gungeon is a “bullet hell” in every sense of the phrase. Projectiles whizz by in a fluorescent storm of mayhem as bombs, bullets, and baddies swarm the player.
Admittedly, the game’s visuals and soundtrack are serviceable but nothing more. In a market overflooded with bright pixels and pulsing techno beats, Enter the Gungeon doesn’t exactly stand out. Despite the game’s somewhat lackluster audio and visuals, there’s a distinct sense of humor and charm that helps it stick.
Feel the Gun, Be the Gun
Styled after danmaku / bullet hell games, Enter the Gungeon forces the player to prioritize movement, prediction, and multitasking. You must dodge, duck, dip, and dive through manically pulsing curtains of neon-colored projectiles, all while maintaining a consistent offensive. The game demands vigilant awareness and quick reflexes, but ultimately gives the player the ability to fight effectively.
Core combat mechanics are based around moving and shooting, where each one operates on an independent axis. Smaller mechanics, like dodge-rolling, table-flipping, and manual reloading, create a persistent feedback loop that keeps the player tactically invested and on the edge. All of these add up to create a robust toolkit for the player to fight their way through the Gungeon, regardless of loot drops.
That said, those loot drops are a large part of the game’s appeal. Like most roguelikes, Enter the Gungeon creates depth and replayability through variance in weapons, enemies, and map layout.
The sheer range of items, enemy types, and room composition make every run unique. Whether you’re cocking your shell after letting loose a barrage of shotguns (you didn’t misread that) or wetting AK-wielding ghosts with your Super Soaker (or that), the game has a ridiculous sense of humor that just feels fun to play with.
A Roguelike By Any Other Name
As in other roguelikes (e.g. Risk of Rain and Slay the Spire), subsequent runs create a tangible sense of growth. Over time, enemy types and patterns become familiar to the point where you can reliably make your way through a floor and clear every room.
Once you pass that hurdle, the boss becomes a new challenge entirely. Rinse and repeat as you delve deeper and deeper into the Gungeon, gritting your teeth in equal parts frustration and thrill.
Going hand in hand with this growth in performance comes the more visible reward system. For successfully defeating a boss, the game showers the player with currency that can be used to purchase new items, opening up the loot pool even further. Each run quickly becomes about finding your favorite guns in addition to progressing further.
Enter the Gungeon doesn’t exactly do anything new, but it repackages well-established mechanics into a tight gameplay experience. Slowly but surely you inch your way through the depths of the formidable fortress of firearms.
Beneath the campy humor and cutesy pixel-art, Enter the Gungeon is a game where the player’s skill directly translates to in-game performance. While RNG certainly affects a multitude of gameplay elements, the core combat loop never feels unfair. Dodge Roll gives its players a solid set of tools for them to improve upon and master.
Enter the Gungeon may not be a game that appeals to all crowds, but if you’re the kind of person that values a tough, but fair challenge, it’s sure to frustrate and satisfy in equal measure.
- Challenging gameplay that can be overcome with skill and patience
- High replayability and variation between runs
- Massive item pool and diverse enemy types
- Responsive mechanics that directly translate player skill to performance
- Easy to pick up and play for short amounts of time
- A kickass title screen
- High skill floor that may turn off some players
- Serviceable visuals and soundtrack that fade into the background of gameplay
- Co-op limits the second player to one character
Enter the Gungeon is a mishmash of ideas and over-the-top humor that creates deeply satisfying gameplay. While it doesn’t break new ground, it offers quick bursts of gameplay that are perfect for the Switch.