I think I love Enter the Gungeon. Why just think? Because as of now, I’ve only scratched its surface, but if I waited to write about Enter the Gungeon until I’d mastered it, then I’d probably not write about it at all. It left a good first impression, and here we are a few days past release, and I’m still loving it.
Enter the Gungeon is a rogue-like. You’re a adventurer that’s landed on a planet inhabited by living bullets. There’s a fortress – the Gungeon – and within its depths lies a legendary gun that can kill the past. The game tosses you into the Gungeon’s breach, where you pick one of four characters, and after a short tutorial, it’s off into the depths you go. Expect to die roughly two minutes later. Then do it again – repeatedly – until you’re blue in the face. Don’t be surprised if you’ve found yourself sinking hours into the game but still nowhere near finishing it.
That’s what you’re here for, though, right? Enter the Gungeon is most easily compared to games like Spelunky, Nuclear Throne, and The Binding of Isaac. It shares a lot in common with that latter one. In fact, I’m tempted to compare it to Blizzard games. Enter the Gungeon doesn’t really bring anything too new to the genre. It just borrows all the best elements from a few of rogue-likes and creates something really awesome in the process.
So yes, the game is hard. Very much so. If you’re familiar with the genre, then you know what this game expects out of you. I’ve no doubt that the best among us will, one day, be able to make it through the entire game with only the starter weapon and without taking any damage. The rest of us, though, will be at the mercy – a lot the time – of luck. Find a really awesome gun, and a few good passive upgrades, and you’ll cruise through the first couple chambers (or levels). Get shafted, and it’s back to the breach to start over. Making it to the fifth and final chamber seems like a herculean task. There are shortcuts – a la Spelunky – but those are ridiculously expensive to unlock, requiring tons of currency and keys. Keys are rare enough as it is. Chances are you’ll want to save those to open a chest for a chance at new gun. Or save all the bullet-coins to buy one from the shop.
And there are a lot of guns. They don’t call it the Gungeon for nothing. There’s almost a limitless variety to what you can find. From traditional weapons like an AK-47, to futuristic railguns, to t-shirt cannons, to a skull-gun that fires homing skulls, to a gauntlet that shoots fireballs. They range from awesome to only-slightly-better than the default weapon. All four characters come equipped with a pistol-like gun that has unlimited ammo. A lot of times, this weapon will be your companion through the first chamber. Even if you do happen to find a really awesome gun, you’ll probably want to save it for the boss and not waste all the ammo before you get there. Ammo drops aren’t uncommon, but they can’t be banked upon.
As expected, Enter the Gungeon is tough. Not only does it rely on getting lucky and finding powerful upgrades, there’s a fair amount of bullet hell to contend with. Expect to dodge bullets as much as you fire them. The game does feature a dodge roll to help you avoid damage and jump over pits. It’s no wonder the Enter the Gungeon developer decided to name themselves Dodge Roll. Mastering the move is an integral part of mastering the game. While clearing a chamber can be tough, killing a boss can be even more so. They’ve got oodles of health and have bullet patterns of their own to memorize. Don’t expect to kill them on your first try. Not going to happen, but blanks can help. These are room-wide bombs that wipe out every enemy projectile on screen and knock back lesser foes. Blanks are limited, though, so don’t waste them, but they do replenish whenever you complete a chamber.
Those blanks can also be used to reveal secrets, and Enter the Gungeon has a lot of them. Aside from hidden doors to hidden rooms, there are other unique rooms with purposes not overtly revealed. Part of the fun of Enter the Gungeon is discovering all the secrets hidden within it. That and dying more times than you can count over the course of an hour. There might be four characters by default, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other ones hidden away to unlock. Such a thing would be right up this game’s alley.
Enter the Gungeon also looks really good, with masterful pixel-art. It also has a ridiculous amount of polish and attention to detail. Rooms are filled with destructible objects, or tables that can be flipped for cover. Books in libraries get decimated, and loose papers fly about. To make it all the more satisfying, all you need to do to destroy most of the objects is simply walk through them. The amount of debris that can be agitated during gunfights is damn impressive. You rarely leave rooms in the same shape you found them. Animations, too, are great. The more fantastic guns have some great effects when fired, and the entire game sounds as good as it looks. That’s not even mentioning the awesome soundtrack.
Despite all this gushing, there are a few faults. Character balance seems a little iffy. A couple of them have an extra gun by default, which make them seem at best more versatile, and at worst, just plain better. Then there’s the camera. Sometimes it can work against you. The Binding of Isaac has the benefit of having relatively tiny rooms for the most part, but not Enter the Gungeon. Most of its rooms don’t fit on one screen, and boss arenas are massive to accommodate all the bullet-dodging that goes on. It’s not uncommon for enemies to attack you from off screen, or for the camera itself to get confused about what it wants to focus. I’ve personally dealt loads of damage to bosses without actually being able to see them. It’d be nice if the game would zoom out dynamically to keep you and the boss on screen together.
The game could also benefit from more online functionality. Daily runs would be perfect in a game like this – as many other rogue-likes have discovered for themselves. Randomly generate a set gungeon each day, and have players compete for the best score. Add some leaderboards, and we’re golden. There is also co-op, but it’s local only; online multiplayer would be a really nifty feature. Hopefully at least the daily runs can be added down the line, since Enter the Gungeon is ripe for continued development.
I said it earlier, but I’ll reiterate. Enter the Gungeon is hard. Is it too hard? Well, that depends entirely on who you ask. The skill ceiling is very high, and if you can master the bullet dodging as well as the starter weapons, you’re going to have yourself a much easier time. Some criticism has been thrown at the game, saying it’s perhaps too random, and that you’re too reliant on finding a good gun early enough, but from my own experiences, runs in which I get completely shafted are the minority, but maybe some of the guns could use some balancing. A few of them are hilariously bad.
At the end of the day, I don’t think Enter the Gungeon is much harder or more unfair than The Binding of Isaac, the rogue-like it shares the most commonalities with, it just requires a little more manual dexterity. I’ve always wished that The Binding of Isaac had better shooting mechanics, and here is a game that offers just that.
I can easily see Enter the Gungeon becoming a staple of rogue-like players. It hits many of the successful notes that The Binding of Isaac hit while at the same time offering more enjoyable combat and controls. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Enter the Gungeon will all together replace Isaac – that game has its formula down perfectly – but it’s most certainly an excellent companion, and I’ll most certainly be returning to it for the foreseeable future, even if I’m never able to actually beat it.