What do you get when you cross a roguelike game and guns? Enter the Gungeon. Get it, Gungeon… they swapped the ‘g’ in guns with the ‘d’ in Dungeon to get Gungeon. Now I’m aware that you, the reader, can comprehend the finer workings of this pun without my assistance. I’m also aware that opening with a pun is a new low for me, but it’s the name of the game I’m reviewing so there’s no getting around it. All lame puns aside, Enter the Gungeon, developed by Dodge Roll Games and published by Devolver Digital, is a difficult, yet rewarding experience for players who find the will to relentlessly head into the Gungeon again and again.
Players have their choice of four characters who have each come to the Gungeon in the pursuit of changing their past. The item they seek lies at the end of the Gungeon, the gun that can kill the past. To find the most metal sounding gun ever, players must fight their way through floors of procedurally generated bullet mayhem, master their dodge rolls, and shoot their way to survive and claim victory.
Each character has a distinctive character type; the marine, the pilot, the convict, and the hunter. There’s also another character, the cultist, who is playable for co-op runs as well. Each character comes with different starting equipment consisting of guns, active items, and passive items. Some characters may have more than one gun, but less active/passive items and vice-versa. Despite their differing titles and personalities, the characters essentially play the same. One isn’t essentially faster than the others, or does more damage but is slower etc. There isn’t too much difference between the main starting weapons either, with each character possessing a gun with unlimited ammo (you’ll need it) that deals weaker damage, with a slight difference in magazine size. The similarity between starting loadouts is well balanced and doesn’t tilt the game towards one single character that has an advantage over the others.
What character you may personally favor will probably lie in their active and passive starting equipment. Due to the permadealth nature of the Gungeon, starting equipment matters. Once you die, you’ll lose everything you’ve found and are sent back to the beginning. In this way the starting equipment lays the groundwork for early success. You’ll likely settle on a character with passive and active abilities that suit your preferences. For me personally, I ended up favoring the Pilot due to the lock picking ability. As I was too cheap, and often too mortally wounded, to purchase anything other than health from the shop owner. That meant without lock picks the only way for me to open locked chests was through sheer gunpower. While rewards tend to be sub-par compared to opening chests the correct way, I was gifted junk on numerous occasions. I’m not joking, the chest quite literally gave me junk. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. I dare you. Pro Tip: The junk may be junk to you, but that doesn’t mean it is junk.
In a sense you’re a gun toting protagonist shooting it out against bullets shooting bullets (no, there’s not a typo in that sentence). The game does a great job of providing fun, varied, and humorous enemies and bosses to fight. The different types of bullet patterns and enemy types will definitely keep players on their toes. Ultimately I found success in the game involves staying as healthy as possible for as long as possible. A bit obvious of a statement, but compared to modern games with self-healing, or easily acquirable med kits, potions, etc it’s an important statement. To avoid damage, using your surrounding environments is a necessity. Flipping tables for protection, using the layout of the room to avoid or block incoming attacks, or using environmental hazards to defeat your foes are all things to keep in mind when jumping into a new room.
The most important skill you should master is not the way of the gun, but the way of dodge roll. It’s the only time where you gain a small amount of invincibility. You are vulnerable during the landing process. Learning to gauge where the character lands is a factor to always consider. It’s relatively easy to escape a particularly daunting spread of bullets, only to land directly in a stray one. Being able to expertly dodge roll around rooms in bullet hell situations, such as the boss fights, isn’t just useful it’s essential.
The procedurally generated Gungeon will always mix up the layout, the enemies you’ll find in each room (limited to a pool based on what floor you’re on), where the boss room is and where the shop is located. Players can earn shell casings as currency to purchase items. Keeping with the procedural mechanic, the shop’s inventory is also procedural. You can purchase passive items, active items, guns, health, blanks, armor, and so on. Money is not easy to come by. Just defeating enemies won’t turn this game into a rags to riches story. Depending on what you buy, it will get you one or two items max. That is however, if you want to risk buying nothing to save up for the shop in the next floor when, or if you get there. Sometimes, there’s a small room attached to the shop with a grate. A monster will pop up and ask for stuff, you can drop unneeded or unwanted items to it in exchange for currency (hink, wink) Lastly, here’s a pro tip: if you can shoot up the shop, make the owner mad, and then defeat the shop owner in battle you can keep all of the items… maybe.
The easy and quick to use teleportation system to move throughout the dungeon’s map allows for easy traversal. Since players will die fairly often and have to restart from scratch, the downtime of wandering the dungeon to get from Point A to Point B is largely a waste. For example, walking across the dungeon to pick up get to a chest would become annoying due to the game’s roguelike nature. Minimizing this pain in doing these mundane tasks like visiting the shop before heading to the boss can room make the game much more playable. There were times when I was teleporting to the next room over just because I didn’t feel like taking the five seconds it would have taken to get there on foot.
The Gungeon also doesn’t demand you find and clear every room to progress to the boss battle. You can elect to explore the entire floor in the pursuit of better gear, but risk taking more damage in the process. You can challenge the boss, have full health, but may not have the gear to defeat it. Regardless of your choice, you’ll face a boss on every level. The bosses themselves can be frustrating. The game has a bit of the bullet hell aspect, with many bullets being strewn across your screen. The boss fights are where the real bullet hell happens, this is where dodge roll masters and apprentices are separated. While I enjoy the randomness of the Gungeon, it can kind of screw you. I’ve been on runs before where my lockpick failed, the gun at the shop was too expensive, and I didn’t luck out with a better weapon in the chests. Bosses have a healthy serving of HP, and are quite honestly… bullet sponges (today’s bullet puns brought to you by Enter the Gungeon). It doesn’t happen often, but what gear you run into can make your Gungeon run that more manageable and enjoyable.
Speaking of gear. There’s a lot of guns to find and play around with, some are relatively mundane in the fact that they’re standard issue gun’s you’ll see in most games. The majority of them are interesting and quirky guns, which have useful effects. There’s even a T-shirt gun and my personal favorite so far is the pitch fork that has… one hell of a magazine size (I’ll stop). Different combinations of active and passive items, with certain guns can make for some lethal results. Although that depends heavily on what you happen to find, and what items you choose to keep and discard along the way. As I mentioned earlier, there were some times where decent gear wasn’t dropped, and I either died during the first boss battle or took enough damage that getting through the next level felt hopeless. Other times however, the random gun generating gods gifted me with powerful weaponry. The random gun/item drops mixes up each playthrough keeping things fresh. Overall, myriad of items and guns was a big motivating factor that kept me going back for more.
Enter the Gundeon is difficult. It’s not impossible, but it does require practice and patience like most roguelikes. With an interesting hook in its gun and item volume and versatility, Enter the Gungeon delivers hours of randomly generated fun. It’s witty humor, pop culture references, and puns makes reading and learning about the guns and items enjoyable. Bosses take a lot of damage and spit out mass quantities of bullets. Even fairly competent players may find themselves frustrated at later levels facing off against bosses with little to no health. If you’re a player who is unfamiliar with roguelike or bullet hell elements in their games, I would suggest watching some Twitch streams or Youtube videos to get a visual representation of the game’s difficulty to see if it’s right for you. Overall, I enjoyed my time with Enter the Gungeon. The game’s mechanics were well thought out and are executed well, the controls are responsive, the guns are fun, and there’s bullets shooting bullets. What more could you want?