For fans of the particular genres that Enter the Gungeon borrows from, namely bullet hell shoot em ups and roguelikes, there’s an awful of a lot to like about this game. It has its own peculiar charm and quirky sense of humour as it blends its various inspirations.
Just the basic twin stick controls are simple and effective, allowing you to ping bullets off enemies very accurately – there’s just a smidgeon of auto aim that really helps you with single shot weapons like the crossbow – but there’s also the constant pressure to dodge in the incoming fire. The bullets that come at you are moving at just the right speed to make them challenging but not impossible to dodge, but even in just the first level of the Gungeon, it can be difficult to avoid being hit. Dodge rolling lets you avoid damage during its animation, so you can roll through an otherwise impossible spread of bullets, while flipping tables and making good use of cover will block them entirely.
The Gungeon is a very strange place, though. The story tells of the four Gungeoneers who are venturing into this murderously difficult place in search of a gun that can kill the past. They’re all slight variations to give you a good start as you head down into the dungeon below, with the Thief my personal favourite. Alongside her infinite ammo rusty revolver crossbow is a single hit kill early on, and she has a cute little dog that yips if you’ve forgotten to pick up a dropped treasure item in a room.
Having said that, the Marine’s bonus layer of armour is very useful, to help you preserve your pool of health, the Pilot’s got a laser pistol with infinite ammo, and the Convict can chuck molotovs. There’s something to like about all of them, but really it’s about getting past the first level and deeper into the Gungeon, picking up more powerful guns and boosters along the way.
Initially you have to contend with fairly simple enemies. The first level is mainly guarded by anthropomorphic bullets and shotgun shells, wielding guns and shotguns of their own. They’re quite adorable as they march toward you firing the odd shot here and there, or occasionally kicking over a table for cover, before popping out to take a pot shot.
They can occasionally catch you out, but they’re fairly easy to handle. It’s when you have rooms that contain wizards, gelatinous cubes, big sword-wielding knights or iron maidens, and having to deal with the different and much more challenging patterns of fire that they can spew out in your direction. I dread seeing the iron maidens, who can only be damaged when they are open and firing.
The bosses at the end of each level are much more demanding and challenging though. Just as the Gungeon is procedurally generated, the boss fights are picked at random from a pool of possible bosses. You might face the Bullet King or a minigun toting man bird at the end of the first level, the Gorgun or Bullet Bros. on the second, and so on.
These are the enemies that can truly fill the screen with bullets all on their own, and while they have patterns of attack that can be read and adapted to, you’re always on the verge of being hit and overwhelmed by the sheer weight of gunfire. Your limited number of blanks can come in very handy in a panic, as they clear the screen of bullets and give you a brief respite.
In roguelike fashion, when you die everything you collected on that run is completely gone, and that can be discouraging to have to work and build your character’s arsenal again. It can feel like you’re not making progress when you die time and again around the same area, but there is an overarching metagame in which you can advance. It’s a little randomised as to whether or not he’ll appear, but there’s a blue character you might meet who will offer to let you skip layers, if you can survive and collect enough keys and shells in one go.
There’s also a shop that lets you spend an overarching currency earned from killing bosses, so that you can add more potential weapons to the already ridiculous and varied arsenal. Find chests, get a little lucky, and you’ll receive guns, passive power ups and active abilities that can do a lot to help you on your way.
You’ll naturally find things like a submachine gun and sniper rifles to the truly ridiculous. A rainbow firing sniper rifle, a huge laser cannon, a reptile skeleton that fires chaining bullets, a lower case letter ‘r’ that fires the word bullet. Mix those with passive abilities that chain lightning between bullets or has them bounce off walls and you’re well on your way to making a bullet hell storm for your enemies. It can turn into a glorious chaos.
You can double the potential carnage with the game’s local co-op mode. There’s a Cultist in the Breach who is the second player’s character, whose starting loadout and skills are designed with that role in mind. It’s perhaps a shame that this is offline only, but it creates a new and interesting dynamic as you play. The game’s a little bit easier, for one thing, but you can’t just revive one another willy-nilly. It’s either a case of finding a chest to open or making use of the Cultist’s one shot revive ability. Even as a ghost, you still have a lot of use and impact, with the ability to do a mini blank every once in a while, which can help clear a little hole in the bullet hell and increase the odds of the living player surviving.
Enter the Gungeon naturally won’t be for everyone, especially with its high difficulty and the pixel art graphics, regardless of how well crafted they are. It is, however, an excellent blend of roguelike and satisfying bullet hell gunplay that’s easy to dip into time and again.
Version tested: PC