Firefights in the dark. Bursting into a candle-lit room guns blazing, I immediatley uproot the nearest table just as a spray of bullets burrows into the wood. Pixelated books and shattered glass sail through the air. Enemies begin to flank around my precarious position, forcing me out of cover and into action. Frantically selecting an appropriate weapon comes next, as I unload bullets, arrows, bees, lasers and more than a few t-shirts into the baddies, igniting a volatile firework display that licks the walls of the grimy dungeon. This is bullet hell at its most entertaining — this is Enter the Gungeon.
Hatched by Devolver Digital and the appropriately named Dodge Roll, Gungeon is a breathless top-down shoot-‘em-up that is as inspired as it is bat-shit insane. Before you stands a ruined fortress, said to be home of a mythical gun capable of killing the past. Such an elusive weapon is pinned as the underlying story of Enter the Gungeon, drawing a Convict, Hunter, Pilot and even a musclebound Marine into its depths.
Kill the Past, Save the Future
That quartet in question serves as the playable characters in Dodge’s rogue-like title, with each adventurer boasting their own starting gear and passive skill that acts as something of a silver bullet when venturing into the randomly generated dungeons. The Marine, for instance, comes packing an extra armor perk to shield his health, whereas the Convict is equipped with a handy molotov and a mean attitude from the get-go.
Purely for the crossbow, revolver and canine companion named Junior II — who can discover keys and other items within each chamber — the Hunter fast became a personal favourite.
One concise tutorial with the wonderfully named Ser Manuel later and you’re ready to step foot in the Gungeon, an intricate labyrinth divided into separate floors with each culminating in a balls-to-the-wall boss battle.
To get there, you’ll need to mow down hordes of increasingly difficult enemies, as you travel from room to room unearthing locked treasure chests, health points (bullet shards) and anthropomorphic bullets hellbent on cutting you into ribbons. Yes, Enter the Gungeon takes its love of all things guns and infuses it into every pixel, pun and NPC encounter.
Bullets are everywhere. They line the halls you explore and, after besting a wave of enemies, the fabric of your in-game wallet. For empty shells act as the go-to currency in Dodge’s high-octane shooter, allowing you to purchase new weapons, passive and active items, along with health and armour at the shop. You’ll find one shopkeeper per level and, much like Spelunky, locating the amicable salesman — unless you open fire, that is — fast becomes a priority when your ammunition is depleted.
A Shotgun Blast of Love
It’s a risk-and-reward system that forces you to be more strategic, too, and though the action may seem mindless upon first glance, there’s much more depth to Enter the Gungeon than simply ducking over and under projectiles.
Some rooms are cleared in seconds, for instance, while others require a more tactical approach, rationing your ammo as you scope out the terrain for nooks, crannies and tables to flip. Make no mistake, the action sensibilities and charming animations of Dodge’s title ensure that, no matter how many times you do so, the feeling of storming into a room, guns blazing, and flipping over a table in the heat of battle never loses its novelty.
Once you’re hunkered down in a particular cavern, you’re locked there until you clear out the enemies or die trying — this is old-school dungeon crawling in its purest form, and the rogue-like elements of Enter the Gungeon ensure there’s variation to your adventure no matter how many times you bite the bullet.
If and when you stumble — and stumble you will — you’ll find yourself back at the Breach, the entry point to the Gungeon that evolves into a hub of activity the further you progress. There’s much more to be found in the dark corners of Dodge’s labyrinth, after all, and freeing wayward NPCs and sending them back to the Breach opens up new perks and shortcuts, be that in the form of two helpful shop assistants or a budding engineer capable of building an express elevator.
Shoot to Thrill
Such bonuses prove instrumental once the going gets tough, and your plight against the bullet kin is all documented in the Ammonomicon (hail to the king, baby!), a compendium of the enemies encountered and bosses bested, along with the game’s ludicrous collection of armaments.
Let’s get one thing straight: Enter the Gungeon’s arsenal is truly something special, one to give even the fine folks at Insomniac Games a run for their money. Stuck with your back to the wall? The bee hive is always a bankable ace in the hole, while the riotous shark gun is just about as entertaining as it sounds — if not more so.
Beyond the sheer fun of discovering quirky weapons, experimenting with your arsenal on the fly opens up endless possibilities for wonderfully wacky firefights. As an example, you can chip away at an enemy’s health bar with your default gun, freeze them with an ice weapon before blasting them to kingdom come with the t-shirt cannon.
That’s just three of seemingly 190 weapons to discover in Enter the Gungeon, with a particularly ravenous treasure chest giving you the chance to combine two guns together before it spews out an entirely new creation.
Even after spending a couple of hours with each playable lead, there are still plenty of secrets yet to be discovered in Dodge Roll’s rip-roaring shooter. Yes, story elements are peppered across the dungeons — be it a decrepit altar worshipping the fallen bullets or those aforementioned NPCs — but the real beauty of Enter the Gungeon can be traced back to its buttery smooth gameplay.
Weapons of Mass Hilarity
In the end, it may prove to be an overly familiar romp, sharing many similarities with The Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne in both style and gameplay. Plus, though they may be intentionally stylized after archetypes, there’s not much variation between the core quartet, and technical hiccups and jittering load screens can threaten to hamper the experience at times, purely for the fact that they prolong the wait between one intense firefight and the next.
Nevertheless, this is title crafted with care and a gaming heritage that ought to tickle any player — the Ammoconda, for instance, shoots out bullets in the vein of Snake. Toss in co-op gameplay, excellent writing and a genuinely entertaining sense of humor that is often self-referential and never trite and you’re left facing a competent shmup that is familiar, yes, but damn entertaining.
But enough small talk — you have a past to chase, explorer. We’ll see you in the Gungeon.
Enter the Gungeon review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.