I like to think that the Gungeon is an artistic rendition of what paradise is for gun-lovers and second amendment nuts. Your enemies are bullets and ordnance, your accessories are guns, your health bar is comprised of red bullets and generally speaking everything is either named after or made to look like a gun or ammunition. It’s also a roguelike, bullet hell shoot’em up with a zany soundtrack and deceivingly cute pixelart graphics that seems to draw inspiration from both The Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne, and one of the hardest games I’ve played this year.
The first thing I’d like to mention and praise are the visual options, not because they’re particularly exceptional but because in a genre that often doesn’t give the player much in terms of what to increase or toggle, Enter the Gungeon is more than generous by allowing you to choose what scaling you prefer, how much clutter there will be and the level of detail in the lighting and shadows, among other things. Somewhat more common but still very much welcome is an option to ‘quick start’ the game when you boot it, skipping all menus and going straight into the first floor of the Gungeon with the last character you played. These quality of life improvements are also scattered throughout the game, be it the currency that is automatically added to your wallet after completing a room or the scattered teleporters that’ll save you the effort of walking back and forth in the often sprawling dungeons.
The second thing I’d like to mention, and I’ll stop numbering them here, is how hard this game is. Seriously, a huge fuck you to the genius who thought it’d be fun to place four different types of environmental hazards in the same room as multiple gelatinous cubes that shoot bullets in all directions. Bravo. When I said Enter the Gungeon was a bullet hell, I wasn’t joking: several of the boss fights are more about you prancing between a shower of bullets and missiles than actually firing at them, with most of them cleverly designed so that you have a few moments of respite between their barrages to unload your own payload, chipping away at their health as you avoid their attacks as best you can. Boss fights are frantic and are the main challenge in the game, and like the regular enemies are varied and weird: from a giant, beefed-up gull that wields a gatling gun (Gatling Gull) to a Beholder (Beholster) whose several appendages hold weapons that fire in all directions, they’re all equal measures of unique and punny.
Contrary to other games in the genre, and depending on your preference this might be to its detriment, Enter the Gungeon is a game that, shockingly, is more about evasion and movement than firing. Oh, there’s plenty of firing, but especially since a decent amount of the guns are either weak or inaccurate, I often found myself spending more time on the move, popping behind cover, flipping tables over to block projectiles or tumbling through an incoming wave than actually shooting at my enemies. With ammo on the scarce side of things it wasn’t rare for me to have to spare my better guns throughout the regular rooms of the Gungeon, instead using whatever weak, infinite-ammo peashooter my current class had to slowly grind through weaker enemies on my way to the boss; this ammo management aspect was a design decision that I couldn’t get behind, as the game was clearly at its best when I was using disintegrators and triple crossbows instead of weak side-guns.
And in terms of loot variety, there’s very little to complain – all three classes of items, the guns, the active items and the passive items are as bizarre as they are varied, and have appropriately weird descriptions in the game’s encyclopedia, the Ammonomicon. Some of the guns even alternated between different fire-modes as you reloaded, such as a crossbow that fired three bolts before reloading on one cycle, and then fired three bolts three times on its next cycle; or an ant gun that alternated between spitting out ants from its mouth and spitting fire from its behind. While I somewhat wish the game had been balanced around offering more of these items early on, instead of waiting until you reached the third or fourth floor to have a truly unique loadout, the pacing itself was never too slow with each floor having at least a couple of different items to find, and by the third floor I was usually able to more or less circumvent the previously mentioned issue of having to use the starting gun.
There are four characters to pick from, each starting with a different set of weapons and items, and two more you can unlock. While they’re not radically different in playstyle, it’s evident that some of them – like the Marine and the Hunter – are easier for first-timers, either due to the Marine’s increased accuracy and armor or the Hunter’s long-range crossbow. Each of them has a reason to find the gun that can kill the past (did I mention there’s a story?), although by this point I imagine you’ve come the realization that the plot of a game where you wear ammolets and every boss’s name is a pun on gun or bullet isn’t exactly its central point. It’s there and you’ll get some laughs from it, but that’s it. Even though Enter the Gungeon is a roguelike and between runs you don’t carry over anything, there is a sort of metagame in the shape of NPCs you can encounter in the Gungeon that’ll return to the breach, who will then either sell things, talk to you or perform certain actions such as digging out shortcuts to specific floors.
Enter the Gungeon could have used some more variety in its different classes, which don’t really play all that differently one from the other (I mostly played the hunter because she had a pet dog, which is as valid a reason as any and I won’t hear you say otherwise), but the real divider in terms of gameplay here is, you guessed it, the guns. It’s what Enter the Gungeon does best, alongside boss design, and it’s what it does the most. The guns you have will dictate how you play, as I often saw myself alternating between a fast and frenzied tumbling maniac when I had a blunderbuss, deadly at close range but ineffective from afar, and a meticulous sniper whose enemies didn’t even show up on the screen when I had one of the game’s bows. They really change how you play, and they’re as weird as they are varied: homing missiles, freezing projectiles, laser beams that make you slower as you use them, bullets that create chain lightning between one another, etc. As they say, variety is the spice of death.
While I don’t wholeheartedly agree with some of the decisions behind the game’s pace and flow, I still found Enter the Gungeon to be one of the best roguelike shoot’em ups out there, merit of its enemy and weapon variety, as well as ridiculously large replay value. With dozens of hours under my belt the game is still a tough nut to crack and has many weapons and items that I’ve yet to find, but even once I’m done with them I know that, since the core gameplay is as good as it is, I won’t need an excuse to.
But most of all, and truly the reason why I wrote this review:
Fuck you, Treadnaught.