This week’s review is for something special on part of its premise alone: a shooting game where the enemy is actual bullets. Not just the bullets being fired at you, but the fact that those bullets were fired BY bullets. For the ultimate irony, it’s Enter the Gungeon.
Enter the Gungeon is a rouge-like bullet-hell twin-stick shooter, for those who know the jargon, on Steam by Devolver Digital. For those of you who don’t know what those terms mean, twin-stick shooter means the main control scheme is through a game pad or controller with two analog sticks, one for moving around and one for aiming your weapon. Bullet hell refers to when a game has a large number of projectiles, or bullets, on screen at once that you have to avoid. Rouge-like, a term coined by the 1980 game Rogue, is used somewhat frequently these days, and has a few different implications. First, it means that the player is intended to lose all of their lives and have to start over, but as part of the regular gameplay, not as a game over. Secondly, the levels are somewhat randomized, usually in terms of enemy placement in levels and the level layout itself. Thirdly, a common aspect but one that’s not always necessary, is the concept of being able to improve yourself permanently between deaths. Now, onto the main premise of the game.
You play as an intrepid vagabond, who has traveled from across the galaxy to the fabled Gungeon, a massive fortress that is said to hold a powerful artifact: the gun that can kill the past. Play as one of four gunslingers with haunted pasts who wish to make undone what has been done, and dive into the Gungeon with gun in hand, but be wary of the inhabitants of such a place, for they guard what you seek. Fight past living bullets, blobs, undead bullets, magicians, and more as you make your way to the through the levels of the keep. If that’s got you interested, I’d suggest keep reading.
Visually, Enter the Gungeon has a well-animated pixel-based art style. Enemy designs are varied enough to differentiate them, but carry enough similarity to tell which enemies are related and which are completely new. Bullet hell games need some way for the player to understand which bullets are from enemies and which are from their own gun. Very simply, all enemy bullets are red orbs with white centers, leaving all player projectiles to have any other form or style. The sound design is solid, and fits well for the dungeon-crawling shooter. The background music is very techno, very upbeat, very action-y, and very awesome. I don’t have much more than that. You can check it out here.
Guns. Lots of guns. Tons of guns, making for loads of variety in gameplay as you discover and pick up new weapons. The cooler and more unique designs can be found in the higher-level guns, but that’s not to say that no thought went into the more common weaponry. Besides guns, there are other items that the player can pick up. These are separated into two categories, active items and passive items. Passive items are just that: passive. They provide a bonus just for having them. Active items are sometimes one use, but can provide very powerful, if short-term, bonuses, like full health or an icy explosion. A lot of the item concepts for Enter the Gungeon are references to other media, from movies, to video games, to even things like pen and paper role playing games. If you like your references and in-jokes, Enter the Gungeon’s got your fix.
One of the cool features of the game is the codex of all of the various guns and items you’ve found, and enemies and bosses you’ve defeated, with a little backstory for each. When you go into it, however, you’ll find out pretty quickly a detail not immediately apparent from the game: enemies names are puns. All of them. Especially the bosses. As if a game whose very title is a portmanteau of gun and dungeon wouldn’t have puns to play off of that. One of the first bosses you’ll fight in the game is a humanoid with a seagull head with a minigun, known as Gatling Gull. If puns are not your thing, I am sorry.
The basic equipment each character has starting out is a simple gun that deals only minor damage, but has infinite ammo, and at least one passive item. Beyond this, you have blanks, similar to bombs in other bullet hell games, which clear the screen of enemy bullets, and a dodge roll, which lets you roll past bullets with good timing. More gear can be found in chests throughout the Gungeon, or bought from shops that can appear randomly. The first two levels aren’t terribly difficult, and could be done with the starting gear alone. As you delve further and further into the Gungeon, the difficulty will ramp up pretty hard, as enemies have more health, deal more damage, and there are more patterns of bullets to dodge. This is especially noticeable if you didn’t find a more damaging weapon, leading to more time spent in combat and more chances of being hit by enemy attacks.
As previously mentioned, some rogue-like games have the option of permanent improvements to your game, making the game easier. For Enter the Gungeon, these upgrades happen in the form of items you can buy. To buy them, you need credits that are only gotten by defeating bosses. This means that, even if you only get past the first boss of the Gungeon, you’ve gotten credits and have made progress towards your next purchase. Unfortunately, these purchases are randomly placed into the Gungeon as possible items for you to find, not immediate upgrades. It improves your chances of success indirectly, which can mean that they’re not always helpful.
If you like rouge-like games, such as Binding of Isaac or Don’t Starve, you might want to give this a look. If you like top-down shooters, like Hotline Miami or Nuclear Throne, you might want to give this a shot. I’ve put in a number of hours into this game myself, but still have not seen the end. I’ll definitely be spending more time on it soon.