Very few games have made me swear as much as Enter the Gungeon has. Even fewer have given me the opportunity to use the word ‘gungeon’. It’s a weird, wacky and punishingly difficult game that I could not stop playing, even though I wanted to time and time again. Every time I died, I’d just hit that quick restart button and I’d be straight back into it, onwards again to certain death. Already out on PC, Xbox One and PS4, Enter the Gungeon has just been released on the Nintendo Switch and the console’s portability coupled with Gungeon’s shoot, die and repeat gameplay loop makes it a natural fit for Nintendo’s console.
A bullet hell shooter with rogue-like elements, Enter the Gungeon sees you choosing from four character classes and entering a procedurally generated dungeon (or gungeon, if you prefer), looking for the ultimate weapon – a gun that can destroy the past. The gungeon takes the form of a series of rooms, each filled with an assortment of baddies that you must clear out before you can move onto the next one. Doing this involves elaborate and often intense shoot-outs as the screen fills with bullets coming from all directions and you run around like a maniac, tipping over tables for cover or diving behind walls looking for time to reload. You have a limited number of hearts representing your life and once you lose these (and you will) you’re all the way back to the start of the first level no matter how many floors or bosses you’ve cleared.
Gungeon has a charming pixel art style and sense of humour that belies its difficulty. Each of the four characters you can choose from play relatively similar to each other but have distinctive abilities such as the Marine’s extra armour and the Convict’s ability to inflict extra damage after being hit. The rooms are full of destructible objects that fly apart as you shoot or crash into them, adding to the chaos but never really cluttering the view. The numerous power-ups and guns you can pick up as you traverse the dungeon show off the games humour, from pillows that have a chance of stunning enemies at close range, to guns that shoot other guns that fire bullets simultaneously. One gripe I did have with the game was that sometimes the power ups were more of a hindrance than a help compared with the basic gun but that’s part of the game’s humorous nature. The boss encounters are a particular highlight, with each floor randomly cycling in a few bosses so that you’re never exactly sure which one you’re going to get. These bosses take the game’s bullet hell concept to an over the top level and while their patterns are generally simple to read, they flood the screen with so many projectiles so quickly, that the pressure on the player to make a mistake is continually escalating.
The perma-death is where frustration with Enter the Gungeon can set in. It’s core gameplay is undeniably solid and fun but there’s a tug of war between punishment and reward that can sometimes lean a little too far in the punishment direction. There’s a roller coaster of emotions involved moment to moment, with the enormous sense of satisfaction you get from finally beating a particular boss followed by disappointment as you blunder into a wave of gunfire and die in the first room of the next floor. It’s a game of highs and lows. To Gungeon’s credit, the deaths never feel unfair. The game gives you all the necessary tools to survive and there’s always a sense that if you could just get a little bit better with your timing, you’re bound to last a little bit longer.
Enter the Gungeon isn’t a game for everybody, but it’s definitely worth giving a shot. If you’re a fan of the bullet-hell genre, then it’s an essential purchase, especially on the Switch where the console’s portability and the game’s quick bursts of gameplay make it a natural fit. Even if you’re not a shooter fan, there’s enough here to keep you entertained for hours on end. I personally have never really been a fan of the bullet hell genre but Gungeon won me over to the point where I grudgingly came to love it. It’s a very fun, occasionally frustrating piece of dungeon diving that never gets boring.
Review by Matt Russell