A lone drifter stands before a dimly-lit fortress. A sea of falling stars illuminates the scene. A lilting voice croons, “Ennnnnnter the Gungeon, Enter the Gungeon.

It may only be April, but I would bet money that Dodge Roll Games’ first release has the best title screen of 2016. Between gorgeous pixel art and a jaw-dropping theme song by doseone, Enter the Gungeon makes one hell of a first impression. The first time I booted up the game, I spent several minutes just soaking it in.

The excellent presentation doesn’t end there. Colorful, cutesy, chunky pixels are put to good use in both the playable characters’ sprites and the dreadful Gundead – yes, that’s really what they’re called – you’re tasked with taking down. Meanwhile, the Gungeon’s five chambers themselves are given a darker, surprisingly atmospheric treatment, each with its own distinct aesthetic. doseone’s background tracks skillfully tread the line between grim dirge and sick beat, keeping you equal parts amped and terrified to see what lies ahead.

The game offers four characters to traverse the Gungeon with, each with a different starting loadout of guns, usable items, and passive upgrades. There’s an additional fifth character playable only by P2 in the local-only co-op mode, with a suitably co-op-specific loadout. Of course, you’ll also come across a multitude of chests, shops, and other ways to bolster your tiny adventurer as they seek out the legendary Gun That Can Kill the Past. Like most modern roguelikes, Enter the Gungeon features a way to make progress even after character permadeath, in the form of Hegemony Credits – a currency that carries over between runs, slowly earned from killing the bosses that lurk at the end of each chamber. These can then be traded to a duo of shopkeepers (whom you must first rescue from a cell in Chamber Two) for weapon and item unlocks. If you have the wherewithal to fulfill some difficult requests for a friendly repairman, you’ll even be able to begin from deeper chambers of the Gungeon.

screenshot1
Anthropomorphic ammo is no problem for a seasoned Gungeoneer.

As you might expect from a developer called Dodge Roll Games, this game has a dodge roll in it. Indeed, one of the most satisfying aspects of the Gungeon’s shootouts is the on-the-fly decision-making about whether to commit to a roll – potentially leaving you vulnerable when your character comes back to their feet – or to attempt to stay calm enough to simply weave between bullets. To complicate matters, you begin every chamber with two (or more) “blanks” – essentially, smart bombs that clear the screen of bullets and blow your Gundead foes outward. “Do I use my blanks now to preserve my health, or do I save them for the boss? Will I even make it to the boss if I don’t use them now?” Be prepared to answer questions like these at a moment’s notice if you dare to Enter the Gungeon.

In almost every respect, Enter the Gungeon seems to know what it’s doing. Enemy designs are distinct, making the art of memorizing which enemy fires which bullet pattern a breeze. The bullets themselves never fail to stand out from the environment, either, which is an immeasurable boon in a self-styled “bullet hell dungeon crawler.” Interactable objects outline themselves in white when your character is within interaction range, so you’re never left wondering whether you’re actually close enough to flip over that table for cover. The minimap fades out until the room is clear of enemies, limiting unnecessary distractions. Several rooms have fast-travel teleporters that can be accessed from anywhere in the chamber, limiting backtracking. Accessing your gun quick-switch menu slows time to a crawl, limiting accidental “I was trying to pick the right gun” deaths. There’s even a speedrun mode, if you’re into that kind of thing. From toe to tip, Enter the Gungeon is chock-full of smart design.

gun kill past
If you want to literally shoot your past dead, you better be prepared for some opposition.

All is not as golden as the Gun That Can Kill the Past, unfortunately. In fact, it’s Enter the Gungeon’s otherwise-tight bullet hell design that makes some of the less-stellar choices especially egregious. For example, guns won’t reload on their own when their clip empties – you have to do it manually. If the Gungeon were a place of patience, this might not be an issue, but it is a place of punishment; the time it takes to realize you need to press the ‘reload’ button is often time enough to lose your rhythm navigating a hail of bullets, and every (bullet-shaped) heart piece counts. Powerups often feel like they come too infrequently – particularly the guns themselves, which is a shame, because the guns are impressively varied and well-designed.

But the only problem that I really find unforgivable is the camera. There’s nothing that says “artificial difficulty” quite like being killed by enemies from offscreen. The options menu even offers a slider in which you can adjust how far the camera shifts in the direction you’re aiming, but it’s a no-win scenario: if you want to see the enemies behind you better, you’ll have to see the enemies in front of you worse. Boss arenas present a different problem, in that the intricacies of bullet-dodging often necessitate getting so far away from the boss as to leave them offscreen. I can think of no other way to put it than this: they need to zoom the dang camera out.

I’m mad about these problems because I care about Enter the Gungeon. I’m mad about them because I still want to recommend it to both dungeon crawler and bullet hell fans alike. I’m mad about them because I’m still having a lot of fun with this silly, beautiful game. I’m mad about them because I’m still going to be entering this Gungeon until I’ve well and truly plumbed its depths.

4 stars

"Good"

A finely-tuned mix of bullet hell and roguelike with a wealth of content to explore; Enter the Gungeon is easy to recommend.

About Austin

Austin is a WA-based player of games, writer of fictions, and seer of hellish futures. They voice only the worst of opinions, except when they don’t. They are a Staff Writer for VGCC. Their avatar image was drawn by Twitter user/good boy @fancydrak.

See Austin’s Posts

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