At times, I don’t want to kill the enemies in Enter the Gungeon. The world that you venture into is full of weird and wonderful enemies, but there’s something so adorable about the anthropomorphic bullets and shotgun shells that are the most common enemies you’ll see. The feeling doesn’t last too long once they start shooting at me, but its clear from the off that Dodge Roll have imbued the game with a lot of character and flair.
That’s true of the gunplay as well. This is a twin stick shooter with a leaning toward the bullet-hell end of the spectrum. Enemies will spew out relatively slow moving bullets that you have to try and artfully dodge between while also returning fire. Move with the left stick, aim with the right, shoot with R1 and dodge roll with L1.
The roll is particularly handy during some of the more intense battles, as you’re immune to damage while rolling. Just wandering the Gungeon can bring up some rather tricky rooms and enemy set ups, but bosses are the most likely to completely fill the screen with a seemingly impossible number of bullets. My favourite of the few that I’ve encountered was like a bullet hell version of Super Hexagon – noting this seemed to please Dodge Roll’s Dave Crooks, who admitted this was the inspiration.
As you progress deeper into the Gungeon, you’ll come across chests and defeat bosses that give you more weapons and, more importantly, more ridiculous weapons. This is a game with giant bullets shooting guns at you, you didn’t expect the guns to be sensible, did you?
Each of the four characters have a base weapon with infinite ammo to fall back on, but almost everything beyond that has the potential to surprise in some way. I’m barely scratching the surface with the insanity that is tucked away in the game’s depths, but alongside the sniper rifle – an absolute delight when you string a series of hits together – shotgun, SMG and other typical weapons, there’s a Witch Gun, lasers, T-shirt cannons, a “gunbow” that sends a bullet ricocheting around the room, bee guns… it all gets a bit over the top, especially when you might find a power up to augment them with lightning that arcs between nearby bullets.
You can’t be sure what you’re going to find though, as this is a roguelike, in the vein of games like The Binding of Isaac, Don’t Starve, Downwell, and the countless other entries in the popular genre. What this means is the Gungeon you face is procedurally generated each time you start playing, with rooms bolted together in a randomised order. You’ll never quite know what’s through the next door or which boss you’ll find at the end of that floor.
The entire game is about exploring and learning how it works and how to reach and beat the fifth and final level, then do it again and again. That changing layout will affect how each run goes, but you’ll learn how to find secret hidden areas and Easter eggs, you’ll look for the shop to stock up on certain items – blanks that cancel out all the bullets on screen are rather handy – and you’ll start to fill out the Ammonicon with details of all the enemies and guns you can find.
The Marine, Convict, Pilot and Thief all have their particular starting load out – I’m partial to the Thief’s crossbow and treasure collecting dog, personally – but they’re all heading down into the fortress to find a gun that can kill the past. You’ll also start to rescue people from the Gungeon and bring them back to the little camp that the four Gungeoneers have set up at the entrance, those survivors gradually unlock new guns and things for you to buy and advance the overarching meta game.
You only pick one to play as of the four characters, but that doesn’t mean you have to play alone. A second player can join and fight alongside you as the Cultist, whose unique ability is that he can revive you one time per attempt, in addition to rescuing you from chests in a flurry of colourful feathers. Playing solo, losing all of your hearts will send you back to the surface, but in co-op you turn into a ghost, with the ability to create a mini blank effect and wipe out a small patch of bullets from around you. That can be the difference between life and death in a tricky boss fight.
I’ve always been a little indifferent toward roguelikes in the past, and have rarely indulged in taking the time to learn the peculiarities of the treacherous world within. Enter the Gungeon could very easily have ended up in a similar place for me, but I’m glad it hasn’t, with its smart blend of genres and the prospect of some truly ludicrous guns ahead of me. It’s a game that I look forward to spending more time with, now and after release.
It helps that the bullets are cute, though.