I had unreasonably high hopes going into my time with Enter the Gungeon, as it was seemingly handcrafted for my own personal enjoyment. Here is a roguelite that plays like The Binding of Isaac but replaces a grim and off-putting atmosphere with action movie references and a welcoming sense of dread. Every enemy bullet has an insane grin, seemingly happy to do nothing more than shoot its shotgun and huddle behind a flipped table. Looking at their faces, I can’t help but share in that unbridled joy. Gungeon is fast paced, explosive, unforgiving, and a hell of a great time.
Enter the Gungeon starts with a legend. A keep on a distant planet is destroyed by a bullet erupting from the sky. In the ruins remains a treasure that has brought warriors far and wide. Those who venture deep enough will claim a gun that can shoot through time, erasing their past transgressions and giving them a second chance at glory. You choose from one of four Gungeoneers, either a space marine, a convict, a pilot, or a hunter. Each character has unique starting equipment and items, although the ways in which you can take advantage of their subtle differences will only be revealed after hours of play.
Of course, narrative is nice in roguelikes, but gameplay is essential. Enter the Gungeon is a twin stick shooter that understands guns. Most games of this ilk will have you wielding rapid fire machine guns or other weapons that make “fire and forget” the best strategy. Gungeon has your Uzis and machine guns, but you’ll mostly be firing off each round with a pull of the trigger. Each firearm works a little bit differently and even the handling between a fully barreled shotgun and a sawed off feels distinctive. This attention to detail makes even joke weapons like the Camera and Barrel gun fun to play around with.
It’s not all gimmicks though, as Gungeon is filled to the brim with firearms that are both unique and referential. No two runs will net you the same loadout, and ammo is a concern, so you’ll be switching between guns constantly. The game’s random nature meant that some of my runs ended because I just wasn’t given the tools of destruction that I needed to succeed, which is a bummer whenever it happens. However, it’s hard to stay mad at a game that has a completely accurate Proton Pack, a BFG knockoff, and the letter r included in its arsenal.
Gungeon brings its exquisite gunplay and applies it to a host of tropes that will be familiar to genre veterans. There is a shopkeeper with a short temper and extravagant prices. There are active and passive items, consumable keys, and blanks that can stun enemies and reveal hidden rooms. There are bonus chambers with “Break the Targets”-style challenges, altars that offer boosts at an unknown cost, and even zoos that can spring up out of nowhere. It is true that you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken, but Gungeon takes much from its forebears and gives back very little in return.
However, the game does work to improve on what came before in one significant way. That is the introduction of teleportation pads, which allow players to avoid backtracking by warping around rooms that they’ve conquered. This system truly lets you reap all the rewards that each procedural stage has to offer, and it’s one of those changes that you want to see injected into every other roguelite past and present.
Of course, you’ll need to utilize those rewards well, because the Gungeon has no patience for beginners. Even on the first floor, enemies will spawn with tricky shot patterns that must be dodged with perfect timing. Learning the quirks of each foe brings flavor to every encounter early on, and I naturally began to clear rooms with ease just before making it to the next area and starting over again. It can sometimes take too long for this step up to occur, as levels are larger than in other games, and it’s entirely possible to run into rooms of tough foes over and over without respite. Health pickups are rare outside of boss rooms, and the bullet hell spewing titans that guard said health aren’t pushovers even once you learn their tricks.
Scratching and clawing your way to a new boss and then getting immediately overwhelmed by their firepower is frustrating, but it’s also rewarding in its own way. I found Gungeon‘s gameplay to be engrossing, inspiring me to forget where I was as I screamed in frustration at my latest death. Even after hours and hours, each floor had new secrets to unlock and surprises in store, and I was always engaged in the moment to moment combat even after the enemies and weapons became familiar. Looking the wrong way for a split second could be the difference between continuing on and getting gunned down by a common enemy, and it got to me every single time.
All this is helped by the game’s polished presentation, made possible by an extended development cycle. The team at Dodge Roll Game have found every possible way to cram gun references into both the decor and the lore. The menus are intricately designed with drawings of different enemies all combined into an architectural puzzle. The intro to the game that fades into the title screen and theme song is one of the slickest title cards I’ve ever seen, and the rest of the soundtrack isn’t far behind. It wasn’t uncommon to catch myself humming these tunes for hours after I had put the game down.
I stated at the beginning of the piece that my expectations for Gungeon were through the roof, and I’m pleased to report that the game exceeded them easily. The game does borrow heavily from those that came before, iterating in some ways but mostly sticking to the same script that saw The Binding of Isaac become a phenomenon. Gungeon doesn’t falter though; it feels fresh in an overcrowded genre thanks mostly to the style and charm exuding from its smoking barrel.
Enter the Gungeon delivers a polished package that will suck in players for hundreds of hours and refuse to let them go, and I don’t think any of them will want to use a mystical gun to get that time back when it’s all over.
Enter the Gungeon was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4.
A benchmark in the roguelite genre, Enter the Gungeon is a triumph that mixes familiar tropes and an arsenal of bombastic weapons that makes every run exciting and new.