Every time death comes in Enter the Gungeon, the player character is struck down with a loud gunshot. Often times, it's a frustrating kick in the teeth, but many times, it repsents a stark wake-up call. It's a sign that while success wasn't meant to be this time around, it's right around the corner. All it takes is another try... at which point, you'll probably get shot down again. Enter the Gungeon, from developer Dodge Roll, is quite an unforgiving top-down roguelike on the surface, but with easy-to-handle controls, a massive variety of weaponry, numerous secrets, and imaginative enemies, it's one of those roguelikes that's worth braving repeatedly.
Enter the Gungeon's story is a basic one. Players take control of one of four playable characters: the Marine, the Pilot, the Convict, and the Hunter. All of them have distinct traits, but the idea remains the same. The goal is to kill the past with a magic gun found deep within the depths of the titular Gungeon. The labyrinthine dungeon is procedurally-generated and random enemy layouts, requiring careful approaches to the simple strategy of shooting anything that moves.
'Gungeon' is best described as dungeon-crawling bullet hell, in more ways than one. Anthropormorphic bullets roam the halls with their own distinct attack patterns. Some bullet patterns are an easy matter of moving out of the way, but tougher enemies come with far wider-reaching attacks. One common foe, for example, has a Cloud-sized sword that creates a wave of bullets whenever he swings. This is where the developer offers some more options, like ducking behind a wall or kicking over a table to use as temporary cover. But more importantly, it becomes time to utilize the game's most distinctive element: the dodge roll.
The dodge roll is a simple mechanic, but one that must be mastered to proceed. The idea is that the first half of the dive allows players to leap over bullets, while the latter half allows them to quickly recover and keep up the twin-stick shooting. This allows Gungeon to pack in some tough-as-nails fights and sprinkle in wild attack patterns without feeling unfair. It lets players feel like they have a fighting chance and feel like if they die, it's because a roll went slightly awry or their reflexes weren't quite up to snuff. It adds legitimate challenge, as opposed to throwing in stupidly hard battles for the sake of being stupidly hard. That makes a lot of the difference and adds to the urge to keep coming back for more.
It also helps that 'Gungeon' is a visual treat. The actual level design is solid, but the fun is in the enemy variety. It's hard to get enough of goofy-looking walking bullets with smiley faces trying to kill you. But Dodge Roll also tosses in some more creative-looking foes, like a living iron maiden that shoots out projectiles that spawn even more sprays of bullets upon hitting the wall. The enemies here are incredibly dangerous and if they aren't making you smile with their playfully murderous expressions, they're intimidating you with their menacing designs. This extends through to the bosses, like the first floor's Gatling Gull or the sullen Bullet King, which bring some predictable, yet hard-to-avoid attack patterns.
Surviving is one thing in Enter the Gungeon, but advancing means finding the game's numerous secrets. The Gungeon will often spawn with special treasure rooms filled with chests holding special weapons, which can be any of hundreds of guns. The pure joy of this game is in discovering the dozens of different ways to dispatch foes and while a lot of those weapons are conventional, there are some truly clever ones, like the Quad Laser, which should sound familiar to fans of classic "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." It takes a long while to scratch the surface of the Gungeon and its many hidden secrets, but it's an effort that's worth sticking with, because finding some of these weapons is a truly satisfying feeling.
Enter the Gungeon does fall into the trap that some roguelikes do in that it's difficult to tell whether any actual progress is being made. It's easy to kill the Gatling Gull until your face turns blue, but that doesn't do a lot of good. But once players start exploring the Gungeon more and finding the NPCs lurking around, that's when it feels like the game truly begins. There's a lot of depth in this game and it's a real treat to play, assuming you're the patient type that sticks around long enough to enjoy it.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Enter the Gungeon is available now through Steam and the PlayStation Store for $14.99. The game is rated E10+.
Enter the Gungeon
- Simple controls with standout mechanics
- Genuinely challenging that feels rewarding to conquer
- Heavy variety of weapons, including many creative ones
- Clever enemy and boss design
- Numerous secrets
- Can take a lot of time to see real progress
- Sometimes tough to tell what's a pit