“Rogue-like”, “dungeon crawler” and “bullet hell” are words that tend to get thrown about with wild abandon these days, and its often difficult to know what a developer means when they use one or more of them to describe their game.
So when Enter The Gungeon showed up on Steam, I wasn’t exactly over the moon to try it out. ‘Oh yay,’ I thought. ‘Another game trying to cash in on the weirdly successful Binding of Isaac’. Not that I have anything against Binding of Isaac, it’s just never been a game I’ve found particularly exciting or fun to play (or maybe the fact that I’m utterly terrible at it has put me off getting into it). I mustered what little enthusiasm I had for Gungeon and prepared to be underwhelmed.
Several hours later, I still hadn’t beaten any of the first level bosses, but damned if I wasn’t giving them a good try. I have no idea why I find Enter The Gungeon so compelling to play when it looks like exactly the kind of game I’d see on my Steam discovery queue and click ‘next’ without ever thinking about it again. There’s an addictive quality that keeps me continually engaged and I’ve had more fun with this than I’ve had with Ubisoft’s excellent dungeon-crawler-disguised-as-gritty-third-person-shooter The Division.
The basics are fairly simple, especially if you’re familiar with Isaac and its ilk. There’s four characters— Marine, Pilot, Prisoner and Hunter— and you can pick any one of them to blast through the titular ‘gungeon’ with. There’s some kind of story but it pretty much doesn’t matter when there are lots and lots of bullets to kill.
And yes, I did say bullets to kill. Develoepr Dodge Roll Games has really committed to the ‘gungeon’ aspect of the title— this game is about guns in a way few games ever have been before. Not only are you dodging patterns of bullets spewed out by enemies, but the enemies themselves are often walking bullets with guns, shotguns and even sniper rifles (cutely, the bullets all look like the bullet fired by the gun they use). There’s also grenades which blow themselves up when they get near, ghostly bullets who spam you with machine gun fire, and even bullet ninjas who’ll dive right towards you.
As you’d expect from a game so committed to the themes of guns and bullets, there’s a huge variety of weapons with which to destroy them. All the expected weapon types are there, with machine guns, shot guns, laser guns, crossbows, revolvers and so on. Things quickly go off the rails though, with weapons that are giant ants, guns that shoot bombs, reflecting laser weapons, and even a gun that is actually a lowercase ‘r’ that shoots the word ‘BULLET’ at enemies.
All this is held together by serviceable pixel-art visuals and the incredibly satisfying gunplay. I spent a while getting the hang of the roll mechanic, which is necessary to beat some of the tougher rooms and especially the bosses, but once I did things got pretty fun. There’s also a cool ability to knock over tables to turn them into cover, though it only takes so much damage before shattering. A cool touch is that enemies will also use cover, and even have animations for diving out the side of it to attack.
On the downside, Enter the Gungeon is unrelentingly tough. This wouldn’t be so bad if it had a nice difficulty curve to ease players in, but it’s all over the place, unfortunately. Bosses are exceptionally difficult and require huge amounts of damage to defeat. This means that most boss battles are exercises in tedium rather than the fast, fun and challenging affairs that make boss fights such a great part of the bullet-hell genre.
I also can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of any kind of scoring system. While Enter The Gungeon does rank you based on time to complete the game (and has a speedrun mode that shows an in-game timer at all times), there’s no real score beyond the count of enemies killed. Given that the game sells itself in part on being a bullet hell game, this feels like a missed opportunity, as scoring big points is an essential part of the bullet hell genre in general.
Not that a lack of scoring system has stopped me from enjoying the hell out of the game, of course. While the uneven difficulty could definitely be fixed up, the rest of the game is fine enough as it is. While rogue-like games are a dime a dozen on Steam (and near enough to it on the PS4, where Enter The Gungeon is also available), there’s no problem with some additional variety being added to the genre, and mashing it up with bullet-hell style games is a pretty neat idea. If you haven’t been excited by other games in the genre, or you’re looking for a new challenge after burning yourself out on the latest Binding of Isaac rerelease, then Enter the Gungeon should be a satisfying scratch to that itch.
Brilliant commitment to the core game concept
Satisfying shooting action
Catchy theme tune
Bosses are tedious bullet sponges