By William Shelton
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Systems:PS4(Reviewed), PC, Mac
Developer: Dodge Roll
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Obtained By: Purchased
The very first thing I noticed about Enter the Gungeon was that it was freaking adorable. The gun and bullet fetishism saturates nearly every aspect of the games visual design and then given a nice overcoat of bad (read “great”) puns and smiley faces. Your health bar is harts made out of bullets, you fight bullets that shoot you with bullets. The game is so god damn cute I’m honestly kind of worried that the NRA will use it to indoctrinate kids into their organization. My hopefully baseless fears aside, Enter the Gungeon is simply one of the most visually pleasing games i’ve ever played; it’s bright and cheery visuals are the kind of thing that make me glad to be alive. Luckily the rest of the game holds up to the promise of the games visuals. For the most part anyways.
You play as one of four characters who have entered the gungeon looking for the “Gun that can Kill The Past”. Each character has a different set of starting weapons, items and abilities, but the game doesn’t do to well explaining these differences. I spent most of my time as either The Marine, who can take an extra hit, or The Convict who starts out with a pistol and shotgun. While these starting buffs do differentiate each character, they don’t have any real impact on the game play in any meaningful way. You go room to room clearing out waves of enemies with twin-stick, bullethell style combat, and the twitchy, reflex based gameplay is the same for each character.
Also the same regardless of character: the games challenge. As the combat is styled after bullethell shooters the screen can become almost completely filled with projectiles, and most of the games rooms are bigger than the screen can fit, so you’ll often have to be on the lookout for bullets coming from off screen as well. The game demands near total situation awareness, and it’s a testament to the game that most of my deaths came from me not paying attention rather than cheap shots. This is another area where the games are design helps immensely. The player character, the enemies, projectiles and the environments are all so visually distinct that I never lost track of what I was looking at or looking for. Nothing ever just blends into the background, so nothing ever just sneaks up on you unless you’re not paying attention. Add to this a dodge roll with a few built in invincibility frames and a couple of screen clearing “blanks” that replenish every floor and you have the making for a great combat system that tests players but always feels fair.
Another fun little trick the developers had was making a lot of the common enemies look like bullets who’s shot patterns resemble the kind of bullet they are. Maybe this is the American in me(gun culture here is so entrenched it’s near impossible to escape), but I could tell from a look at most of these how they were going to shoot and how to handle them. I know shotguns spread so I knew I needed some distance from the shotgun-shell foes so I could move between the spread. Not every enemy is like this, but I felt it helped me understand things in the early game.
There is one major issue, though this is mostly a problem early on: upgrade scarcity. Each floor has a shop and usually two hidden chests that hold either new guns or some form of upgrade, and chests, harts, keys, and blank shots sometimes span in after clearing a room. While this sounds nice, the span rate for needed items is unreliable at best. You start out with one key, and if you use that and only get a passive ability that isn’t really helpful at the moment, it’s possible that that will be all you take with you into the boss fight. There’s no guarantee shops will have needed items, and even if they do have what you want, money is rare and doesn’t have a set spawn rate. I’ve had rooms with multiple heavy hitters that took forever to bring down or with four waves and came out with one shell (the games currency), but then had a room with one small guy give me five or more. I’ve repeatedly gone into the first boss fight with one hit point and my starting pistol because nothing of use spawned in. At times like that the game becomes simply frustrating. Worse still, after beating each boss you get some rewards, like health and armor and one major item, but even that’s not guaranteed to be of any use. There have been times when I have moved on to the second floor with nearly no health and still only had my starting pistol. But thank god I had more ammo capacity for a gun that had infinite ammo. Part of that is too be expected I guess. The games dungeon is built off a roguelike model, so upon death you get sent back to the beginning with a new layout and new item spawns, but that never made those bad runs feel any better.
These issues are made worse when you realize you’re not getting to play around with some of the best guns gaming has to offer. In all honesty, no one has made an arsenal this imaginative and fascinating outside Insomniac’s “Ratchet and Clank” franchise. There’s a gun called “The Lowercase R” that shoots the letters “B,U,L,L,E,T” while saying “bullet” as it fires. There are freeze rays, heat rays, t-shirt cannons, lasers and so, so many more. There are a few “boring” guns as well, like pistols and shotguns and the like, but even those are a blast to play with. For gods sake, there’s a water gun in the game, and even that’s fun to use.
I don’t see myself ever really stopping with this game. I may only play it for half an hour at most, but it’s a good game to kill some time with. The game is just so damn cute and entertaining that it’s hard to think of time when I wont want to play it if I have some time too kill.
Game Play: 8.5/10
Replay Value: 9/10
Reviewers Tilt: 9/10
Overall Score: 8.42/10