Review: Enter the Gungeon (PS4)

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Title: Enter the Gungeon
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.17 GB)
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Dodge Roll
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: T
Enter the Gungeon is also available on PC, Mac, and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

It seems to me that roguelike games are becoming as frequent as first-person shooters nowadays. Almost every other indie game that I play has elements of that permadeath-action/RPG genre. I recently played and reviewed Ziggurat on PlayStation 4.

It’s a first-person fantasy themed roguelike adventure game, where death meant starting all over with very few elements carried over from my previous experience. Enter the Gungeon shares a lot of similarities with Ziggurat.

Where this little game stands out is with its charming bullet-envy personality. This is a world where bullets are personified as well… living bullets.

Gameplay:
Enter the Gungeon shares its spiritual motivation with a shoot-em-up. “Bullet hell” is both a description of the gameplay, but also a literal narrative motivator. You are, after all, embarking on a quest through “bullet hell” to find a gun that can alter time.

By “bullet hell” I am referring to a place where bullets walk around and shoot you with their little cousins. Bullets in this game are the bad guys. They have little cute faces and want to kill you, permadeath style.

You explore a corridor at a time, clearing out enemies, earning money, and sometimes finding treasure that yields even more loot like new guns and support items. At the end of each stage, you fight a boss who mercilessly fills the screen with bullets and makes your life a further living hell.

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Despite the frustration that comes from games where dying means a painful loss of hard work, Enter the Gungeon is such a blast to play that you don’t mind coming back for more abuse, especially with the promise that some quirky new gun might be in the very next room.

The game arms you with the most unique and whimsical guns in existence. Don’t believe me? I looted a chest with a gun that shoots t-shirts at the enemies. It was pretty useless. Still, I also looted a gun with heat-seeking bullets that got me out of a few nasty situations.

It’s a roll of a dice with this game, everything from the placement of rooms to the boss you will encounter is predetermined by nothing. So you might be doing great, only to encounter that asshat boss that always kills you.

… one of the few ways to avoid enemy gunfire …
Fortunately, as you progress through the stages you rescue characters that help you along the way, providing access to shops that give you the choice of buying armor, health, or new guns. Do you risk filling up your health in order to try that new gun on the counter? I took the gun, and regretted my choice in the next room.

In addition to your arsenal, you are also given the ability to dive dodge. This is one of the few ways to avoid enemy gunfire, besides, you know, getting out of the way. When you take a dive, you are invincible for the first few frames of the animation. Once you hit the ground, all bets are off. The dive is also used to clear deep chasms and quickly move towards cover.

And speaking of cover: this little game has a cover system of its own. Most tables in the game can be toppled with a quick press of the Cross button. Standing behind them yields some temporary protection.

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Thus Enter the Gungeon is rarely, if ever, about going in “guns blazing.” You do that, you die. It’s that simple. It’s the simplicity of that notion that makes the game so much fun. The map system is easy to use and you even have instant warp points to get you between rooms as soon as you discover them, since backtracking will happen often.

You are also given the choice of four characters although the difference between them is minimal, with the exception of the hunter who travels with a little pet that digs up ammo and items for you.

Dying after discovering an amazing gun does induce feelings of absolute rage, but once you discover a gun and meet a certain requirement, that gun becomes available for loot, making its rediscovery very likely.

… living, walking bullets …
Visuals:
Small team indie games are, for the most part, going to look like games from twenty-five years ago. If that’s something you cannot get past, then you probably aren’t reading this anyway. For those that appreciate this 16-bit pixel art style and enjoy traversing worlds that harken to decades gone by, you will find a very attractive game here.

Corridors are beautifully hand drawn and the lighting effect adds to the ambience. Even more delightful are the bad guys themselves. Some are designed to look like living, walking bullets while others resemble the cast of old Zelda games.

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Audio:
I’ve got nothing but love for the musical score. It carries you through the action and stays with you long after you’ve quit the game. Otherwise it’s business as usual for a retro styled game. There’s nothing necessarily special about the sound design here, but there’s also nothing that hurts gameplay.

Online/Multiplayer:
Initially Enter the Gungeon starts as a single player experience. After completing a run through the game, you are given the option to add a second player. While it certainly is helpful to have another player helping you out, the screen can become a mess of bullets as it is.

… extremely enjoyable …
It becomes stressful confusing your buddy’s bullets with the enemy’s in that you might dodge enemy fire only to find that it was friendly fire, and now you are exposed to actual enemy bullets. Regardless, it’s a nice addition to the game, but I spent most of my time playing this alone.

This is just as enjoyable alone as it is with a friend. In fact, it’s probably a better single player experience.

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Conclusion:
While we are slowly becoming a little oversaturated with rogue-type games, I found Enter the Gungeon to be a very enjoyable take on the mix-genre. It successfully merges Ikari Warriors with dungeon exploring.

Quite honestly, this game could have existed without the need for perma-death rogue elements. It would have been just as entertaining and collecting guns would have been even more satisfying if you could keep them. But it’s the “in thing” now, and what is here is still extremely enjoyable.

It just alienates folks who might like the dungeon-exploring and shooter elements, but just want overall progression to be less frustrating. But if you don’t mind the challenge, the development is masterful and progressing is possible, with a little patience and strategic approach to each room.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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