Let’s entertain the hypothetical scenario of you having to pick either Nuclear Throne [Early Evaluation] or Enter the Gungeon [Review] as the game you’re going to play, whatever the reason for such a limitation may be. You glance at one’s storefront, watch their trailers, observe that the other is the foremost recommended game if you’re looking for something similar, and ask yourself: now what? Luckily for you, I’m here to help.
First things first, the similarities between the two: both are roguelike, difficult, shoot’em ups where you spend similar amounts of time shooting and dodging, have heaps of personality and distinctive artstyles, and are both unquestionable indie hits. They’re both great games and you can’t go wrong with either, but this isn’t the sort of thing that’ll help someone who’s choosing between the two, is it? So on to the differences, which aren’t as mild as they seem.
For starters, see that image at the top? No, I did not only include a single character from Enter the Gungeon because I got tired just from doing Nuclear Throne’s side, there’s a reason:
1. Characters play significantly different in Nuclear Throne, while in Enter the Gungeon the variations are slight.
That was the first thing that stood out to me when I played Enter the Gungeon after having spent dozens of hours in Nuclear Throne. Changing from the Marine to the Hunter and then to the Pilot changed very little in how I played, as the only difference between them was a minor perk – like the Hunter’s ability to occasionally have her dog dig up an item, or the Convict’s temporary increase to damage dealt after taking damage. Conversely, in Nuclear Throne you have characters that range from Melting, who gets more experience, has a maximum HP of 2 and can blow corpses and broken things as his active; to Crystal, who starts with 10 HP and can turn into a solid, bullet-proof crystal for brief periods of time.
Nuclear Throne’s characters not only have different passive and active abilities, they can further change these abilities by picking the Throne Butt mutation, a perk that improves their active and sometimes passive abilities. In Enter the Gungeon, characters mostly start with a small variation in their loadout and one or another minor perk.
2. Nuclear Throne has perks you unlock by gathering experience; Enter the Gungeon has consumable items and pickups
In Nuclear Throne killing enemies nets you green cells that increase your mutation bar: gather enough of them and you can mutate your character, sometimes changing their appearance, and adding a passive ability: you can increase their maximum HP, make their crossbow bolts homing, improve their melee range, and many other things.
In Enter the Gungeon, there isn’t an experience-based progress-system: instead, you have two item categories that aren’t in Nuclear Throne, where the only items are weapons. You can gather consumable items, much like in The Binding of Isaac, that can have limited use or recharge as you clear rooms, or items and pickups that grant you passive bonuses, from granting you pieces of armor that block damage to potions that temporarily increase your damage.
3. Enter the Gungeon’s levels are divided in rooms – and this makes things very different
Really, this deserves an entry of its own. Whereas in Nuclear Throne you’re dropped into the thick of combat at each new level, having to clear the whole area in one go before progressing to the next level, Enter the Gungeon divides each of its levels in rooms – again, much like The Binding of the Isaac. This leads to a couple of things, such as a) completing a level takes more time in Enter the Gungeon, b) you have more downtime as you backtrack across rooms, look for secrets and go to shops (another difference).
There’s even a mini-map and the ability to teleport between separate locations of a single level in Enter the Gungeon, something unimaginable in the relatively straightforward, no-nonsense levels of Nuclear Throne. In terms of design, this means Enter the Gungeon will have you spending time outside of combat, doing other things, while Nuclear Throne has only enemies for you to search, and the hard-to-miss chests (there are a few secrets, too, but nothing like the breakable walls and secret passages in EtG).
4. The meta-game is wider-ranging in Enter the Gungeon, more concise in Nuclear Throne.
In Enter the Gungeon, you’ll meet NPCs you can rescue back to the main chambers, gather hypercredits that you’ll use to unlock new items and weapons, unlock alternate skins, open shortcuts to deeper levels in the Gungeon and interact frequently with people you encounter in your gungeon-crawling. Nuclear Throne’s persistent system, on the other hand, consists of unlockable characters, unlockable skins for these characters, crowns that you can find that grant modifiers to each run, and golden skins for weapons that you can then start with instead of your regular loadout. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but distinct.
Nuclear Throne is locked at 30 FPS, and Enter the Gungeon isn’t. There’s no argument to be made here.
These aren’t all the differences, of course. In Enter the Gungeon you can tumble, which grants you invincibility frames and lets you clear traps and open spaces, and the gunplay is slower overall – dying is harder, as is killing enemies and bosses, while in Nuclear Throne everything’s a notch faster; depending on your loadout you will mow down bosses, and one slip of the mouse will in turn have you starting over. A single run of Nuclear Throne is much faster than one of Enter the Gungeon, but you can loop the game at increasingly higher difficulties, with plenty of side-rooms and optional bosses to do; Enter the Gungeon will take a bit more of your time to complete, and has a quest for each of the gungeoneers that you’ll want to complete.
I hope this helps you conclude that you should, in fact, buy both of the games. If not, at the very least which one of them is more your cup of tea.