Enter the Gungeon is a rogue-lite bullet hell dungeon crawler in which you play as one of several “Gungeoneers” on a quest to reach the end of the Gungeon and claim the fabled prize that awaits. This prize is a gun, a gun…that can kill the past! As the gungeoneer traverses the depths of the Gungeon they must battle the legions of “Gundead” and slay mighty bosses at the end of each floor in order to proceed to the next. Each of the characters seeking to erase something from their past and are willing to risk their lives to do it. So how does this action-packed gun-toting berserker of a game stack up? Let’s start with the gameplay.
The main body of gameplay revolves around clearing room after room of various Gundead through a procedurally generated floor to collect items and fight a floor boss to proceed to the next level of the Gungeon. Your character starts with a basic weapon or two and a special ability specific to the character you picked. The Convict, for instance, comes kitted out with a pistol and shotgun as starting weapons and has a Molotov Cocktail as her special ability. The Marine on the other hand, starts with only a pistol but starts the game with one armor piece in the form of his Helmet, in addition to his supply drop ability that will drop ammo to the player when in need of a re-supply. Guns, however, are not the only defense against the armies of pistol-packing handgun rounds and shotgun-shooting shotgun shells.
A key game mechanic is the dodge roll, which allows the player to get out of the way of danger and roll past bullets. This provides a few invincibility frames while rolling, but your character can still be hit between rolls. You can also interact with the environment by flipping tables placed around the rooms to provide temporary cover for yourself. If those two options are not enough to keep you out of the way of errant rounds, you are given two blanks at the start of every floor. The blanks clear all bullets in flight from the room and can be the difference between life and a lead filled death.
There a Cooperative mode, however it is limited to local cooperative only. The second player plays as “The Cultist” and comes armed with a nerf gun (yes the darts actually stick to the walls, try it) and the friendship cookie special item. This item when used, will revive a dead player once. If killed and no cookie is left, the dead player remains as a ghostly version of their previous selves following the still living player through the dungeon. The ghost does have the ability to still aid the other player by setting off a small proximity blank that has a cooldown period, which can be immensely helpful in boss fights when a wall of red hot death is screaming towards your partner. It does help to have another person fighting alongside you, but it does not make Enter the Gungeon easy by any stretch of the imagination. It would be nice to see the addition of online coop so you can play with friends who may be far out of local coop range.
Each of the five floors of Enter the Gungeon is created randomly drawing upon a bank of hand-design rooms each containing a myriad of enemies to oppose you, a weapons, or sometimes nothing in particular. One of the most user friendly aspects of this game are the teleport pads that are found fairly evenly spaced out throughout the floor that allow you to teleport to any room you have already visited containing a teleport pad so long as there is not an active gunfight going on in the room you are leaving from. This feature eliminates a ton of backtracking that would get annoying really fast. While exploring, your character will come across chests that contain a random item or weapon, which have varying degrees of usefulness depending on how your particular run is going at the time. The items provide boosts such as causing the aforementioned table flips to trigger a couple of seconds of slowed time to line up shots or evade danger, or act as special items that you can use at will during a fight. Upon killing enemies you will usually be given special shell casings that are used as currency in the floor item store, which can provide much needed hearts or weaponry. Also, there are occasionally alters within the rooms that will provide a bonus or item to you for the right fee…
As the title of the game hints at, the games key feature is guns. Lots of them. There is a dizzying array of weapons available to add to your arsenal, and each gun has its own personality and artful flair. For instance, one gun simple called “Lower Case R” is quite literally that, a text lower case r. But don’t let its looks deceive you, there is more to it than meets the eye. When fired, the bullets are letters that form the word “Bullet” and spell out “Blam!” when they impact with something. When you reload, the animation shows a cursor deleting the letter r, and retyping it, and now your lethal letter is ready to spell doom for the next foe in your path. This is just one example of the many many guns you can encounter on your run through the Gungeon.
The enemies you fight, the “Cult of the Gundead”, take many forms. Many of them are some form of ammunition, equipped with weapons that match their type. Shotguns for shotgun shells, pistols for handgun rounds, and sniper rifles for rifle cartridges, etc. Apart from our brassy friends, each floor has an assortment of foes including spell books that assault you with letter made from bullets or birds that lay bullet eggs. If you manage to make it through the floor and reach the boss room, you will be facing one of several floor-specific bosses chosen at random. They are significantly more powerful than the standard enemies (hence the giant life bar at the bottom of the screen that appears), and can quickly kill of a player as they have a habit of reminding the player that they are indeed playing a bullet hell game. Each boss has their own patterns and attacks available to them that need to be learned in order to come out victorious. You will also meet characters within the level that once unlocked (many times literally so) will aid you in some way, either right there on the spot, or on your next trip though the Gungeon. And you will be making another trip, most likely sooner than you think.
You will die in Enter the Gungeon, many times, over and over. The game even highlights the fact you were killed by stopping time, placing a clock-styled crosshair over you, and shooting you again in a very visceral cringe inducing way. The combat is hard, really hard, and takes time to get the hang off. You learn how the enemies behave, what their shot patterns are, and learn how to time your dodge rolls effectively. Though individual player skill is a major factor in the success or failure of a run, the random nature of the game cannot be ignored either. The bosses are random, the rooms are random, the loot s random. Though this utter randomness is fantastic for replay-ability and keeping players on their toes and fingers on the trigger, it can mean that a player may end up at the floor boss with nothing more than their starting weapon and a whole lot of hope. Despite it being keyboard smashingly tough at times, it keeps you coming back. And this is good, because this is a sign that it is just the right amount of challenging and rewarding. Watching that boss you have been unable to defeat for 5 runs go down is a truly great feeling.
Enter the Gungeon’s music hits hard with the intro-sequence background music building into the main menu song. The lyrics and melodic might of the song (though simple) really complement the title screen art and the journey the player is about to take. Once inside the Gungeon, the songs however do not maintain their luster. Now this is not to say they are bad, far from it. They match the fast and furious combat floor by floor, but do not go much beyond that. They didn’t really standout, taking a backseat to everything else the game had to offer.
What did standout about the sound design was the sound effects. So much detail was put into the sound design for the guns, the characters, and the environment. When you play as the marine and going frolicking around, you will hear boots thumping on the floor, while when playing as the Convict who is barefoot, you will instead hear the soft padding noise of bare feet on the ground. Most of the guns have a unique firing sound, such as the “Lower Case R” discussed earlier. When it is fired is robotically states “BULLET”, which adds to the comedic element of the gun and game as well. The explosions sound like explosions, ricochets sound like ricochets, and desperate Bullet people scream like desperate bullet people (or what they probably sound like anyways). One particular moment where the sound design really shines is during the death scene animation. All goes silent while the crosshair is lining you up until, BANG!, a shot rings out and your character falls dead. The sudden and violent end to your character made all the more real by the gunshot sound effect really drives home the point on the matter.
This game utilizes the pixel art artsyle and does a great job of making it feel unique. This is pulled off chiefly by the gun and related paraphernalia motif. Many of the enemies are some form of ammunition, the bosses and related boss rooms are gun related in some way be it toting a massive Gatling gun or squirming about on a bed of shell casings, the architecture of the Gungeon itself is comprised of cartridges, even the health indicator is hearts made of red bullets! The level of detail is quite high. You can easily make out the little emotions characters have while shooting and being shot at. Bullets will hide behind cover sometimes and when they jump out of cover to take a few potshots at the player, they do so screaming wildly. The animations are very smooth and similarly detailed as well, from the recoil of the gun to the reloading of it. An animation of the gun firing can even be seen in the bottom right corner of the screen where the current gun you are using is shown. One of the characters, the Pilot, has tuft of red hair that sways around as he runs around the screen, which adds a nice little personal element to the character. The movement in general feels cartoony and bouncy, and that works well with Gungeon theme. When the shootout initiates in the room, the environment responds in kind. Stray bullets hit piles of book sending pages flying into the air scattering around the room, chandeliers come crashing onto unsuspecting enemies below. Shrubbery is aggressively trimmed, with the leaves peacefully floating to the floor as the fighting rages all around. At the end of it all, it really looks like the place really did just get shot up, with debris scattered all around and bullet holes littering the walls.
The Gungeon is a dark and scary place filled with all manner of nasty gun-toting monsters, but is a highly challenging one that will keep you entertained for hours upon hours. The charming aesthetic of the game is endearing and makes the world you play in more cohesive and feel more fleshed out, encouraging you to explore to see more of it. The sheer randomness of the game will keep you guessing and challenged run after run, as the arsenal of weapons available to you in each play through is constantly in flux, and no two floor layouts are ever the same. The music is nothing to write home about, and the randomness can be a double edged sword that can destroy your play through by simply not giving you a good weapon. This game is hard, and can be punishingly so at times, but it is simultaneously enticing as well. When you are killed, you don’t think “This is way too hard, screw this”, you think “Damnit, I can do this, I am going to try it one more time…” and you go through it again and again until you are standing above the still smoldering corpse of the boss that had tormented you so many times before. Enter the Gungeon hits right on the mark with accuracy that only a anthropomorphic bullet person can achieve.