War Is Sweet For Those Who Have Not Tried It.
You are unlikely to play anything more curious this year than Nongünz. This rogue-like shooter breaks from the norm, delivering punches as well as surprises as you move through dungeons teeming with monsters straight from the pits of hell. Descend into a landscape of black, white and red with a shred or two of the gothic and macabre. On the way, shoot monsters and, hopefully, live to tell the tale as you battle wits with the dungeon bosses. Is this the real world? Heaven? …Hell? Who knows. The only thing that is certain is that you must kill.
Your character is unnamed. Your instructions are few. The bloodlust is great.
Blood for the Blood God.
Nongünz is described as a nihilistic action rogue-like platformer. It’s also described as obscure in both gameplay and theme, with a riddle that “demands sacrifice.” That may be well and good for some, but “obscure” is never a good descriptor for anything. It is apt in this case, however. The game begins with a mini-tutorial on button controls. Jump, shoot, roll, and move. These are the basics for operating within the world of Nongünz. From there on out, however, the player is on their own.
Explore the grounds of the starting graveyard with care, as you’ll be picking up some necessities from the surrounding mausoleums. The headless skeleton you command must be very meticulous in combing over your surroundings. Every missed corner is a chance for loot, and loot is your lifeblood; that is, if you can figure out how to use it.
Moving forward in the starting area reveals an empty underground, as well as a giant wall constructed of weapons and skulls. Beyond that is the arena through which the player will access the procedurally generated dungeons of Nongünz. Abandon all hope all ye who enter here, and also your good sense.
Skulls for the Skull Throne.
From here on out, Nongünz becomes a sub-standard, run of the mill roguelike game. Dungeons are generated at random, but patterns do become discernible over time. Eventually you see the same handful of rooms the further you go, which makes it easier to strategize your maneuvers. Thankfully, as is often the case with bullet-hell titles, most of the time it’s simply shoot and shoot more. However, it’s important to note that some of your enemies will shoot back.
As to what these enemies are, it’s anyone’s best guess. Mostly, it looks like fingers, legs, hair monsters, snot monsters, scorpions, and something akin to spiders. These are simple enough to maneuver around. The limited number of common adversaries makes dungeon progression little to no trouble. At least, they aren’t enough trouble on their own.
Doors are located around these rooms leading into different areas for the player to explore and clean out. There is usually at least one, but often up to two or three in one area. A map in the upper right hand corner shows where the player needs to go. Simply easing up next to a door makes the corresponding room flash white on the mini-map. This helps guide the player so they can better determine what door they need to take for the various locations listed.
In total there are three objectives on the map that the player needs to watch for: the white skull, the black chest, and the red skull.
The white skull symbolizes a shop where the player can purchase more of the aforementioned upgrade cards. A black chest has a free high-end upgrade that can be a weapon or a skull. Lastly, the red skull on the map is the dungeon boss.
With all of that, the game sounds as though it ought to be pretty straightforward. Right? No. This is all well and good, but the game is actually quite frustrating. Not due to mechanics, enemies, or progress, though. Where Nongünz fails to deliver is its simple lack of instructions in terms of how to apply the upgrades given to the player.
I’m A Material Girl In A Material World
Nongünz features a Dark Souls/Bloodborne style upgrade system in which your kills and streaks add up to points that can be spent on weapons and armor. To do so, the player has one of two choices to make. Either find the white skull on the dungeon map, which will lead them to a shop where they will have a choice of four random items, or return via a window to the monument outside.
While the monument may sound preferable, rest assured that it is also the most expensive option. If you have less than a few thousand kill points, don’t even bother as there are few things you’ll get off the wall on your first attempt. Furthermore, none of the upgrades on this wall (or anywhere else for, for that matter) are permanent. Leaving the arena also resets dungeon progress, so the player will be forced to start over again in a new dungeon upon return to the castle.
As stated before, the white skull shop (sorry but it, like most things in this game, lack a proper name) will offer four random items. These, like all other upgrades, will be added to the game inventory by means of cards that can be viewed in the pause menu. What these cards do can be, in remedial terms, somewhat deduced by their symbols. Any specificity ends there, however. It seems that they can also be destroyed for health in a pinch. They fail to offer enough to make it worth it, though.
Random chests scattered throughout the dungeon will also give the player these cards. However, these come at the cost of health. The amount to be taken will be displayed, giant sized, on the HUD whenever a player is near them. Whether this is the most preferable means to utilize them is up to the player.
I was about to let this review rest as it was. Nongünz is, or so I thought, a complete game with no actual mechanical issues, simply an overzealous attempt to combine two beloved genres into a somewhat maddening experience. However, there is a need to point out that one room in Nongünz was, upon having entered it, completely broken. I could not access the door to continue to the next room, nor could I access the window to start all over. In order to extract myself from this newfound debacle, I had to kill myself.
Here’s the kicker though. I had literally just upgraded my armor from jumping outside previously. Upon returning with a rather impressive skull from the monument, I found myself in a room that was quite literally inescapable. In killing myself to be free of it, I lost all of those wonderful little upgrades I’d worked so hard for previously. Coming across this absolutely astounded me. This game went through the Steam Greenlight process and managed to escape without this issue coming to light somehow. In a game that requires absolutely meticulous planning, preparation of resources, and an unforgiving array of foes, this is not acceptable.
Furthermore, a few moments later, reaching a black chest obliged me with a katana. You cannot switch your loadout (as far as I am able to tell) in Nongünz once a weapon is selected. This might not sound like that big of a deal, but let me tell you, that katana was beyond useless. In a game where you have swarms of gnats, Silent Hill-esque monsters that propel you into the air (and usually into some conveniently placed spikes) and other fast moving foes that require you to get space between yourself and them before executing a proper take down, this sword was an abomination.
I may not have fully appreciated my time with Nongünz before, simply because I am not a fan of this sort of genre. However, this newfound discovery soured my experience greatly. The game is still receiving updates, so perhaps in time this level will be fixed. In the meantime, it felt important to acknowledge.
When it comes to it, those who enjoy bullet-hell and rogue-like games may appreciate Nongünz. It provides that level of addiction and fast paced action that certainly entices that “try again” gung-ho attitude. That being said, the game is maddening in its deliberate lack of instructions. There are facets of this title that cannot be accessed without a great deal of experimentation and countless hours being attributed to its inherent insanity.
Newcomers and lukewarm fans of the aforementioned genres need not apply here. It is safe to say that Nongünz is for the true masochist.
Not being a fan of either genre myself, I cannot in good conscience recommend this game. That being said, I know there are many people out there that would love this title very much. However, where games like Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series have brilliant gameplay that make up for their harsh mechanics, Nongünz it seems tries to be that and misses the mark.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Sindiecate Arts ; Developer: Brainwash Games; Players: 1 ; Released: May 19, 2017; MSRP: $6.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Nongünz given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.