It is impossible not to have fun when playing Enter the Gungeon. Whether it’s the avalanche of firearm puns, the almost immeasurably daft bullet-themed enemies that you tangle with or the superbly well-judged shooter gameplay, Enter the Gungeon invariably seeks to entertain and it does so in spades. A top down, roguelike twin-stick shooter where the goal is to obtain a mythical gun capable of killing your past, Enter the Gungeon’s flirtation with anything resembling a narrative is fleeting. In the absence of a super detailed plot and cast of characters, Enter the Gungeon soars in the areas that count; it has lots of enemies to blast and lots of guns to do it with.
Right from the very first level the game makes its murderous intentions clear, as shambling bullet-people fill the screen with their gunfire in the sort of spectacle reminiscent of an LSD-fuelled NRA fever dream. Thankfully the brilliantly named developer, Dodge Roll, has put in a counter in the form of its namesake; an evasive dive that much akin to the Souls games has invulnerability frames built into it that allow you to pass through enemy fire unscathed.
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as spamming this command ad infinitum to grant yourself some sort of cheap invincibility, because when your character hits the floor during the roll animation, they become vulnerable to damage again and worse still, cannot evade for another split second. Due to these subtle catches that the developer has built into this mechanic, its use must be approached in an unconventional way in order to maximise your effectiveness during the heat of battle. Chiefly, because you have to time the roll to ensure that your character is invulnerable at just the right time, you often find yourself going against the norm by tumbling towards enemy fire rather than away from it, which as you might well expect takes some getting used to.
Elsewhere, Enter the Gungeon seeks to further educate the player in the defensive arts in other ways beyond the athletic. Tables for example, can be kicked over and used as makeshift cover, allowing a precious few seconds of respite before they crumble under fire. This can actually make all the difference between a successful room clear and your character being filled with more holes than the plot of Batman vs Superman.
Another neat trick that Enter the Gungeon lets players pull to defend themselves is the use of blank rounds which when triggered act like a defensive smart bomb, eradicating all of the enemy fire on the screen in one fell swoop. Given the potency of such an item, its use is understandably limited to two times initially before other rounds need to be collected, and so much like the evasion roll, it has to be used frugally in order for players to survive Enter the Gungeon’s more chaotic encounters.
Getting away from playing defensively, one of the main attractions of Enter the Gungeon is the veritable smorgasbord of guns that you can get your grubby pixellated mitts on and these truly do run the gamut of the reasonable to the certifiably insane. Things start innocently enough, with your chosen character kicking things off with a garden variety pistol or a shotgun but as things progress your arsenal begins to veer towards the bizarre as it swells in size. Perhaps nowhere is this design mantra better enshrined than in the nattily named Eye of the Beholster; a firearm that shoots damaging lasers at the enemy while also spawning mini cyclops-type creatures that slowly move toward the enemy opening fire on them. See what I mean? Madness.
Naturally this being a roguelike, randomised elements also happen to extend beyond just the level design too. Enter the Gungeon has a ‘gun pool’ which dictates the variety of weapons (there’s over a hundred) that you’ll receive each time you open a chest or defeat a boss. Where the developer cleverly hooks you though is that while you lose all of your money and items each time you perish, you still get to keep special gun credits which are obtained from every boss that you manage to overcome. These credits can then be leveraged to purchase new firearms that can be permanently added to the gun pool and thus widen the potential amount of bang-bang that you can obtain during any given run.
Above and beyond these dispensers of destruction are the various items which are littered around the numerous key-requiring chests of Enter the Gungeon’s randomly generated levels. Split into passive and active items, a good example of the former is the Ring of Miserly Protection, which bestows a lot of extra health on the user but shatters if anything is bought from the shopkeeper while the latter typically falls into special weapons (such as Molotov cocktails) or deployable buffs (such as an instant ammo refill).
One of the grandest aspects of Enter the Gungeon’s overarching design lay in just how much there is to discover. To be clear, the game does a grand old job of tutoring you on the fundamentals with a chuckle worthy tutorial that covers all the basics, but beyond that the game offers no guiding hand as to what to expect later on. From mysterious altars that require a sacrifice to trigger an event to secret doors, new vendors, shortcuts, and much more besides, Enter the Gungeon has a wealth of stuff to discover to supplement its already substantial longevity.
Indeed, those who might question the longevity of the whole affair have little to fear; Enter the Gungeon is a game that provides plenty of reasons to revisit it. Between the excellently randomly generated levels, the fiendish boss encounters and all the aforementioned secrets that the game has encompassed within, it’s a testament to the evergreen nature of Enter the Gungeon’s appeal that the twentieth hour of the game feels just as fresh as the first. Make no mistake; this is a game that will kick your ass over and over, but like all the best challenging games that grasp the dynamic relationship of challenge and reward, Enter the Gungeon never fails to satisfy.
As difficult as Enter the Gungeon is however, plenty of concessions have been made at a design level to ensure that frustration never rears its ugly noggin. Chief among these are the handily placed teleporters which completely eliminate the banal trudge of backtracking and can be teleported to at any time and from anywhere, as well as a quick restart that makes death more of a momentary inconvenience rather than a fist-clenching, controller throwing setback.
As if Enter the Gungeon wasn’t already an embarrassment of riches then the inclusion of local co-operative play is the icing on what is already a substantial cake of shooty goodness. With two gungeoneers plumbing the depths, the experience becomes even more compellingly manic as the pair of you scramble to avoid enemy fire, scoop up loot and team up to take down the game’s double-hard bosses. Neatly, when played co-operatively, death is not the end for either player since as a ghoulish apparition you can periodically fire a pulse that eradicates enemy fire and thus allowing your very much alive partner a split second of much needed respite. Fortunately, fallen partners are able to be revived at the end of a boss encounter or by opening a treasure chest; whichever one comes first.
What is a little baffling about how Enter the Gungeon handles co-operative play however, is in the lack of choice that the second player has when it comes to the characters that they can play as. You see, at the very beginning of the game the first player must choose between a quartet of different characters, the Pilot, the Marine, the Convict and finally the Hunter, with each of these boasting their own unique gun and item loadouts. In co-op though, the first player gets the pick of the four while the second player is instead forced to go through the game as a purple hooded figure who effectively doubles up as medic that can revive their fallen partner. While this co-op exclusive character is nice and all, it still would have been preferable for the second player to have the same amount of choice as the first.
No take on Enter the Gungeon would be complete without sparing thought for its richly retro aesthetic. Looking every bit the glorious lovechild of Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac, Enter the Gungeon is awash in the sort of daft charm that really validates its choice to embrace the pixel-art visual style with the sort of verve and charismatic extravagance that very few other developers have been able to manage.
In what has already been a thunderous year for the indies on PlayStation, Enter the Gungeon stands as one more feather for what is seemingly becoming an overcrowded cap. Both charming and essential, Enter the Gungeon is one of the finest roguelike and most accomplished shooters you can get for your scratch.