Back in the distant year of 2016, a developer known as Art in Heart (made up of a few folks, including Ditto on itch.io) released a side-scrolling roguelite called GONNER. This odd little game had players take the role of the bizarre yet altruistic Ikk as he goes on a quest to find something to cheer up his only friend, Sally the landbound space whale. Now, after four years, Ikk is back with a new quest in GONNER2. The sequel to the IGF winner for 2017 Excellence in Audio just dropped onto Steam, Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, and the Nintendo Switch, and it offers colorful and chaotic multiplayer action for up to four players if they're willing to deal with a colorful world that can get visually overwhelming.
The story of GONNER2 isn't one that gets much explanation in the game, so players will have to turn to the store's description to learn what's going on. It turns out, as the ominous press start message "Press Jump to Die" tells us, Ikk is dead. Fortunately, he has a good reason for his death, as it turns out Death is dealing with a mysterious presence in her lair and needs Ikk's help clearing it out. He'll have to platform, shoot, and lose his head through five different worlds in order to help Death with her problem and get back to the world of the living.
Each run in GONNER2 has players going through three of four different worlds, each with their own theme and obstacles, like a robotic world with bottomless pits or a world made up of water levels. Every level will have players to shoot and dash their way through swarms of enemies that block Ikk's path while racking up kill combos and collecting a currency that resembles magenta eyes. Once beaten, a boss will become a floating eyeball which acts as an unkillable enemy that stalks Ikk through future levels. However, killing three bosses is key to unlocking a door in the post-boss break level to reach the final world and find the source of Death's problems.
Speaking of Death, GONNER2 deals with getting hurt in a way similar to a Sonic game. If Ikk gets hit, he turns into a bouncy liquid form and drops his head (which allows him to take a hit without dying, up to a limit, and sometimes has powers,) his gun, and his backpack (which contains his magenta eyes and up to 5 upgrades.) Ikk can turn back into his legged form without collecting all of his stuff, but taking a hit without a skull (or falling into a bottomless pit) will kill him, requiring players to mash a button to pay magenta eyes and revive him. Given that this game is an entry in the hard-as-nails roguelite genre, players can expect to a lot.
Compared to the original game, the gameplay and controls in GONNER2 feel a good bit tighter. Ikk feels responsive to being controlled and it's noticeably easier to make him do what players want him to do. In particular, the ability to use the mouse or control stick to aim his gun or dash makes it much easier to deal with enemies. With cooperative multiplayer also being a new feature, having these tight controls makes the fast and intense run and gun all the better.
However, where GONNER2 really shines is in the highly unique visual aesthetic it pulls off. The world of GONNER2 is painted in splashes of vibrating colors, with walls and floors that move into position when Ikk gets close. Combined with the bizarre creatures that populate the world and a wild soundtrack from an award-winning team, it makes for a highly distinctive style that stands out among other games in the roguelite genre. Of course, it's hard to describe the game's aesthetic without actually showing how it looks in action, but that's what launch trailers are for.
Unfortunately, the distinctive style of GONNER2 can sometimes be too overpowering and get in the way of the game. Oftentimes when running and gunning through the game, the enemies that lurk among the colorful environments can be easily missed, resulting in more than a few times when players run Ikk into an enemy they completely failed to notice or a projectile they thought was theirs. This gets particularly noticeable if the player gets a double-digit kill combo, which causes the colors to go crazy and change around every time another enemy falls. Worse, when Ikk takes damage, the visual effect that plays can mask where he landed, causing a short but crucial moment where players frantically look for Ikk before he takes a second, fatal hit. It can only take a second or two to find him, but that might be all the time an enemy needs to finish the job.
Meanwhile, on the gameplay front, the game's listings on stores mentions how players can combine various heads, guns, and upgrades for a variety of loadouts and play styles. While upgrades can be purchased from shops and occasionally found in levels, players won't find any guns and heads other than the defaults. Instead of starting with a small pool that expands by completing challenges and secrets, players don't get any variety until they discover the game's secrets. In GONNER2, this equates to doing things like reaching a platform high above the stage or breaking through a series of breakable walls hidden among regular walls. While these secrets should be no match for an accomplished player, it's somewhat frustrating discovering that the variety you were expecting to stumble across is actually locked behind some secrets.
Despite a few problems, GONNER2 manages to be a solid roguelike that stands out with a style that's a feast for the eyes. The game's colorful and bizarre world combines with music from a highly-talented team to make a world that has to be experienced to fully grasp. It's not a game many players will sink hundreds of hours into, but it's a strange and surreal experience that deserves some attention.
TechRaptor reviewed GONNER2 on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
- Striking and Unique Visuals
- Tight Controls
- Evocative Music
- Highly Distracting Visuals
- Varied Gameplay Locked Behind Unlockables