Enter the Gungeon is a rogue-like entry coming out of early access from a small development team (formerly at Mythic) appropriately named Dodge Roll. While we’ve seen quite a few great entries into the Rogue like genre in recent years, Enter the Gungeon is one of the better we’ve seen in 2016, pulling the best aspects from games like The Binding of Issac, Spelunky, and Crypt of the Necrodancer, while at the same time making it accessible to newcomers. Sure, those are some of the better and more challenging games of the genre to pull from, but Enter the Gungeon is entirely its own thing — just as compelling, stylish, and fun as those aforementioned.
To better separate what you should expect from Enter the Gungeon, other than plenty of deaths, it’s a “bullet-hell dungeon-crawler” — at least that’s what the developers are calling it. I’d say the gameplay matches that description pretty well. If you’ve been on the rogue like path before, you know it’s one life to beat the game. What you’ll find along the way are things that help you make progress. Gungeon is structured in a pretty straight forward way, with only a few mechanics to master. Pick a character and enter the procedurally generated dungeon, defeat enemies and earn bullets to spend on items found in shops to help you on your quest. Along the way you’ll find secrets, and treasure chests which contain powerful items to aid you. Progress through the Gungeon to a boss battle, going further and further down the rabbit hole into harder and harder levels. This is fairly familiar territory for Rogue like fans, but what separates Gungeon from other games is right there in the name… Guns. There’s a variety of them in Enter the Gungeon, some incredibly creative and some more standard fare.
While Rogue likes are usually light on story, Enter the Gungeon does have something supporting this trip. The characters of Enter the Gungeon are all trying to get to the bottom of the Gungeon to find a gun that can kill the past. Each of the characters has something in their past that they want undone. What that means for the gameplay is that each character you choose has a special boss to beat to reach this goal… assuming you can make it that far. Enter the Gungeon can be pretty hard. Bullet hell games can be taxing, requiring great dexterity as they get tougher and tougher. Gungeon is no exception. The game gives you some options when starting out. You can choose between a few different types of characters, each with different starting weapons, each with their own special abilities. One character, for example The Pilot, starts with a laser gun as his main weapon, but his perk is a lock pick, which can help in opening chests when you’ve run out of keys. Another is the Hunter, who starts with two weapons and a canine companion who can occasionally dig up items for you upon completing a room. There are two other starting characters, three if you count cooperative play. Each have their own skill sets.
Gameplay in Enter the Gungeon features pixel perfect shooting at a wide variety of interesting enemies that are shooting back at you. They send hails of bullets your way, and it’s up to you to avoid them or lose your life bar. There’s quite a few ways to do this. You can dodge roll to avoid bullets, chasms, and other hazards. You can use blanks to eviscerate all bullets on the screen at one time. You can even kick over things like tables to form make shift cover in most rooms. While Enter the Gungeon starts off fairly easy on the first level, things can get pretty hectic as you progress. You’ll need to put all these things together alongside, hopefully, some powerful weapons that you’ve picked up or purchased along the way. My favorite of which is a light gun resembling that of the NES Zapper, which shoots light beams and a heat-seeking duck. Though honestly, every other playthrough I’ve found something that I’ve thought was my new favorite, a sure signal that there’s a lot of variety in the weapons to be found.
Clearing each level will require you to fight a boss, and even these can be random for any given playthrough. It’s not all random all the time though. Enter the Gungeon borrows a mechanic from other Rogue likes in its loot pool mechanic. Where reaching special vendors or different NPCs will allow you to purchase guns that can be permanently added to the loot pool while others will allow you to take a shortcut and start the game on deeper levels of the Gungeon. That said, it feels somewhat like Spelunky in that starting from the beginning will give you the best chance to beat the game as you can easily breeze through the early levels after you’ve played with a little experience, picking up power-ups and currency in the process.
While there is cooperative play in Enter the Gungeon it’s only local at the moment. This is unfortunate because this would probably be a ton of fun to play with a friend online and I’d probably score this game as perfect if it had it. I could see sinking many hours into this game with an online partner. That’s one of the only things I can really complain about with this game. Because of the random nature of it, each playthrough can be entirely unique. While it can get a little disheartening to die three levels into the Gungeon, it’s just as fun to get right back in there as you never know what guns or power-ups you’ll find on your next playthrough and how it’ll affect your progress. Couple that ‘one more run’ feeling that you get from the game with a great pixel art style and audio presentation, and Enter the Gungeon is a no-brainer for Rogue like fans or even newcomers to the genre.
While most of this review consisted of time spent with the near finished PC Early Access version on Steam, we also played around with the PlayStation 4 version, both are equally viable options and it’s hard to distinguish any true differences between the two games. Hopefully, Dodge Roll stays true to their word and continues to support this title going forward. The developer has already suggested that they’d be adding new content post-launch, which includes new guns, items, bosses which would certainly make the replay value high on a game that already feels like it has plenty baked-in.
While the Rogue like genre may be getting a little crowded, there’s certainly room for the likes of Enter the Gungeon. It ticks all the boxes, with gameplay that beckons you to come back for one more run, a great art style and presentation, and seemingly something new discover or unlock on every playthrough.