Enter the Gungeon is possibly the puniest top-down dungeon crawler you’ll ever come across.
Centered around a mystical gun which can kill time, it’s the kind of game you’ll love if you’re a fan of games like The Binding of Isaac or Nuclear Throne. If you’re not a fan of remarkably difficult shooters, Enter the Gungeon probably isn’t for you.
The crux of Enter the Gungeon is that as either a Marine, a Pilot, a Convict or another interchangeable player character, you have to shoot your way through the Colt (cult) of the Gundead (undead). That first pun is one that I’m surprised developers Dodge Roll missed – the credit for the rest of the puns goes entirely to them, however. Anyway, the gunpocalypse has happened and there’s a legend that the gungeon (dungeon) you’re about to enter holds a mystical gun that can kill time and undo whatever you want to undo. Sure, it’s not the strongest story in the world, but then most people don’t play these kinds of games for a strong narrative, do they?
Levels are randomly generated in the rogue-like fashion that’s all the rage at the moment, and enemies are either anthropomorphized bullets holding guns, wizards conjuring up bullets or ghosts who generally want to give you a hard time. Make no mistake: as cute as these various enemies are, they’re armed to the teeth and are brutally unforgiving right from the first room of the first level. They’re not shy about filling the room with projectiles that you need to avoid at the cost of your bullet-shaped Zelda-style health bar, either.
As difficult as Enter the Gungeon is, it mostly gives you a fair crack of the whip before it kills you. The playable characters, while almost completely interchangeable on a story level, come with a range of different starting weapons and abilities to help you shoot your way through the world. Putting the starter equipment aside, all of the characters control identically. One has a dog that follows you around, but that’s about it. You can all flip tables to use as shields, kick and shoot barrels to make them explode, and make use of a handy dodge-roll that makes you invincible for a short amount of time. It kind of makes sense that a company calling itself Dodge Roll made the dodge roll an integral part of combat; that’s the deep, deep level of meta-pun that you’re looking at here. Let it not be said that I don’t appreciate subtle humor.
Enter the Gungeon requires a lot of skill when it comes to combat, particularly in the many cluttered rooms and boss fights. As you kill the gundead, you pick up cash, keys and other items which will (sometimes) help you fight your way forward. Almost every single room you enter has between 2 and 6 baddies to kill, picked seemingly from random. As a roguelike, the layout of these rooms is randomized, though once you’ve died a few times you’ll start to notice common themes like walls you can circle round and the rough layout of tables you can flip and use to your advantage. There’s some need for tactics here; but for the most part you can get away with simply dodging, strafing and mashing the fire button, which can get fairly stale when you don’t find any interesting new weapons to play with.
Sadly, though the gundead are plentiful, their cash and loot drops are not. Cash, ammo and weapons are decidedly rare, despite there being a shopkeeper (a fellow gungeoneer) on every floor where you can pick up ammo, life, shields, keys to treasure chest and – of course – more guns. Likewise, the guns themselves are found far too infrequently – these come from either beating a boss or opening a locked treasure chest. A key to a chest comes at the price of 25 coins, and given that you only really get about 30 to a level, it’s a bit of a crapshoot as to whether it’s worth cashing in to open a chest, or saving your money for a later level. Of course, if you take your starter weapon to the boss fight, there’s no guarantee you’re getting to Level 2. The bosses are pretty tough, and they make sure you know it.
If you do beat a boss you get to enter a bullet casing-shaped elevator, which shoots you further into the depths of the gungeon. When it comes to flavor and theme, Enter the Gungeon doesn’t lack consistency.
The best thing in Enter the Gungeon is, without a doubt, the sense of humor. The pixel graphics are nostalgic if slightly over-familiar; the soundtrack is fairly forgettable; but if you like puns, then Enter the Gungeon hits the bullseye. I’ve already mentioned the gundead and the gungeoneers floating around the gungeon, and the interplay between them all is both charming and witty. The writing, the item descriptions and the enemy bios that you’ll find in your in-game journal – called the ammonomicon – are all brilliant. The first boss I came across, Gatling Gull, may be a little obvious – it’s a gull with a gatling gun – and it may be a little annoying to fight when you still have your piddly little starter gun which does naff-all damage – but it still makes you smile when you see it for the first time. That’s until, of course, it kicks your ass with the fact that it’s a lot more powerful than you. If you’re expecting a game where you can always get through level 1 without dying, think again.
Would I recommend Enter the Gungeon? Yeah, probably. As I said before, if you’re a fan of The Binding of Isaac, you’ll probably love this. The random, procedurally-generated levels and the difficult bosses are all there, and the combat feels fairly similar. I don’t remember Isaac having laser rifles and buckshot, but there you go. While it can be punishing at times, and annoying when you can’t find a decent gun before the first boss, Enter the Gungeon is a lot of fun. It’s fast-paced, brilliantly themed and vibrant in its animation.
As long as you don’t mind getting your ass kicked every now and again – and starting from scratch when you do – Enter the Gungeon will keep you amused for hours on end.