Enter the Gungeon was one of those games that I had been meaning to play. As someone who fell in love with top-down rougelikes after the advent of The Binding of Issaac, I’m always down to play a game like this one whenever I get the chance. Unfortunately, it managed to slip away from me every time. I would see something about it, think to myself “oh, I need to play that soon!”, and would ultimately get side-tracked (although not necessarily intentionally) by something else. Yes, I’ve been waiting a long time to dive into Enter the Gungeon. But I finally got the chance to play it. And, now that I have, I can tell you that it was absolutely worth the wait.
If you’ll excuse me for sounding cheesy, Enter the Gungeon is a shining example of both the beauty and the brutality of roguelikes. It’s clever, it’s creative, it’s fun, and it’s an absolute mess to get through (in the best possible way). Regardless of what games you may have played in the past, I can almost guarantee that you’re going to have to work your way from the ground up with this game. I made the mistake of thinking that my previous experience with other games in this genre would give me an edge. They did not. But that’s what makes this game so much fun. It’s difficult — frustratingly so, even — but there’s so much satisfaction in getting better at it. If that isn’t the mark of a good game, then I’m not really sure what is.
Primed for Adventure
Would you be surprised if I told you that Enter the Gungeon features a story that’s just as over-the-top as the rest of the game? Hopefully not, because it certainly does. Essentially, the game follows a group of four characters — each of whom are haunted by their past — who have traveled to a distant planet which houses a gun and bullet-filled dungeon known as the “Gungeon”. It is said that, sleeping deep within the depths of the Gungeon, there is a gun capable of killing the past. And it’s that very gun that these four adventurers are after, so that they might finally put their own pasts to rest.
Honestly, the more I think about it, the more amusing this game’s story is. For the most part, it’s entirely ridiculous. The concept of a gun capable of killing the past is silly, as is venturing into a dungeon made of guns and bullets. And yet, I can’t totally get myself to make fun of it. As goofy as the game’s premise is (and it’s even goofier if you’re viewing everything firsthand), the concept of regretting the past isn’t something foreign to most of us. Sure, I doubt that most of us would go as far as the people in this game would, but I’m confident that were many of you reading this given the chance to fix a past mistake, you’d do it. Enter the Gungeon takes a very serious topic — regret — and puts the most ridiculous spin possible on it. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.
Guns and Grace
I’ve already expressed how great of a game I think Enter the Gungeon is. But what, exactly, makes it so great? What helps it stand out from the crowd? Well, bullets! Like, a lot of bullets. You see, Enter the Gungeon isn’t just a top-down, roguelike shooter. It’s a top-down, roguelike bullet hell. You won’t get very far if you run into each room at full force, guns blazing. Trust me, I’ve tried. You’ve got to play it smart. The Gungeon may be built out of bullets, but your survival is built upon your own ability to dodge enemy attacks. And, since this game doesn’t hold your hand (if anything, it smacks your hand away whenever you reach out for help), you’ve got to learn how learn how to be light on your feet all on your own.
It’s the critical need for skill-based survivability that makes Enter the Gungeon so hard. With nothing more than the ability to dodge roll and flip tables, and a handful of blanks (single-use explosives that cancel out all enemy bullets) per floor, you are the only thing that’s going to keep you alive. Believe me, it’s rough. I spent quite a while just trying to get through the first floor, and there were times when I didn’t even think that that was going to happen. But it did. With each death, I learned a little bit more. Eventually, what I had learned was enough for me to get through what I had been struggling with. And, when I finally managed to emerge victorious it not only felt great, but encouraged me to push onward even further.
Locked and Loaded
Being good at not dying is cool and all, but do you know what’s even cooler? The impressive number of shooty-shoots and pew-pews (I’m talking about the guns) packed into this game. Fittingly, Enter the Gungeon has just about every type of firearm — from crossbows to grenade launchers — that you could think of. But that’s not even the best part. While running around with an AK-47 may be the epitome of cool for some people, Enter the Gungeon is the type of game to think out of the box — and even the bounds of reality (If that picture from the last part of this review didn’t give that away).
Not surprisingly, getting and using new guns is probably my favorite part of Enter the Gungeon. That’s mostly because many of this game’s guns aren’t guns at all. Not normal guns, anyway. Really, I don’t even know where the best place to start talking about this is. Throughout my many adventures within the Gungeon, I’ve found myself using pistols made of paper, firing lasers out of tridents, and getting equipped with the Blue Bomber’s own Mega Buster. And, if that’s not enough, there are even bullets that shoot guns. How meta is that?
Many of this game’s guns may look weird, but you should never judge a gun by it’s cover (I think that’s the right saying). Most of the time, the more questionable its appearance, the more effective a gun actually is. For example, one of my latest favorites is the Magic Lamp which, after shooting an enemy three times with it, summons a genie who promptly punches them as hard as he can. Figuring out what each gun does, and how to most effectively utilize what you’ve got, is an absolute blast — sometimes literally!
Random Gungeon Generator
The Gungeon itself is the only thing about Enter the Gungeon that has me scratching my head a little bit. And, to be fair, I can’t get too mad at the game for what’s going on. For the most part, the Gungeon is what you’d expect. Each floor is randomly generated, featuring a number of rooms with unique layouts which, in turn, are (naturally) packed with bullet-shaped baddies waiting for their chance to use you as target practice. There are also at least two treasure chests in every floor which, if you have the keys to open them, will always guarantee you one gun and one (either active or passive) item, as well as a shop — complete with a stingy shopkeeper and ridiculously high prices.
Of course, there are also plenty of surprises. For example, on occasion you’ll come across rooms with NPCs locked up within a jail cell. Should you manage to find the cell key (which is always on that floor) and unlock them, they’ll then start showing up in other places. Some of the NPCs make their way back to the Breach (the hub world), while others continue to wander around within the Gungeon. Regardless of who it is you find doing hard time, you’ll always want to rescue them. Many of them end up setting up shops and issuing quests for special items. Plus, they’re fun to talk to. Especially that goblin whose helmet you can kick off a cliff. N-not that I did, or anything. I’m nice! Really!
The Gungeon works just fine on paper. It works well in practice most of the time, too. But not always. And it’s the semi-frequent “not always”‘s that I’d like to talk about. Now, look, I’m used to the RNG trickery in roguelikes. I know that things will almost never completely go my way, and I know that I have to work hard if I want to get anywhere. But I’d at least like the game to be fair. Or, at the very least, to be fair most of the time. But there were quite a few instances where I felt like Enter the Gungeon was a little too mean. Especially when it came to spawning keys. Still, if a general lack of keys is the worst thing about this game then I suppose that I can’t say too much. All the more reason to survive on skill alone, right?
I feel like I’ve said all that there is that needs to be said about Enter the Gungeon. It’s a hard game. It shamelessly fills your characters with lead, and laughs as you’re transported back to the first stage. It requires that you become a dodging savant in order to emerge victorious. Worst of all, it’s… occasionally stingy with keys! But none of these things are bad (except maybe the key thing). I love a game that can push me to my limits as a gamer, and genuinely make me feel happy when I’ve reached my goal. Enter the Gungeon does that. If causal games are your thing, maybe give this one a pass. But, for those of you out there looking for a fun, fearsome, and freaky fight for your life, then I suggest that you take a trip to the Gungeon yourself. You certainly won’t regret it.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Devolver Digital ; Developer: Dodge Roll ; Players: 1 – 2 ; Released: December 14, 2017 ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Enter the Gungeon provided by the publisher.