Enter the Gungeon
(Devolver Digital for PS4)
By Mike Delano
One of the best aspects of the current indie game scene is the incredible amount of genres represented. Not too long ago, at the peak of XBLA popularity, it seemed only a few styles, like 2D action games or platformers, dominated the majority of releases. Nowadays, there’s no end to the diversity. Earthbound-style RPGs? Check. Point and click adventures? Sure. Story-focused first person exploration? Why not.
Enter the Gungeon jumps into the fray with its own offbeat genre soup, and it’s particularly tasty: A bullet hell roguelike. You guide one of four characters through increasingly difficult, randomly generated floors of the titular Gungeon, clashing with enemies that spew all manner of bullet patterns at you. To survive the onslaught you must make good use of your dodge roll, a last-second bailout from harm that will feel instantly familiar (and satisfying) to anyone who has used that mechanic in any number of other games like the Souls series or Bayonetta. Stick around long enough and you’ll earn currency to expand your arsenal, and don’t be shy about spending your earnings since it all disappears when you die, making every shootout a tense affair as you try to gather enough momentum to push to the end with whatever lucky breaks you may have been given on each run.
It may not look too different from similar titles like The Binding of Isaac or Nuclear Throne, but Enter the Gungeon is a step above in presentation and gameplay. Whereas those two games opted for a drab, simplistic art style, Gungeon is bursting with color and detail. More than anything, its look reminds me of the 16-bit classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors because of its playful attitude, memorable enemies and dense environments. Even outside of all of the bullets and laser beams crisscrossing the screen, in any given room there could be books bursting into confetti and falling chandeliers setting the floor aflame, making for a fantastic fireworks display. And the minute-to-minute gameplay doesn’t feel as rigid as many other roguelikes or dungeon crawlers since your character is not only nimble, but the randomly generated environments constantly provide interesting cover opportunities and — if all else fails — you can kick over a table to create makeshift cover, making the strategies for each shootout even more dynamic.
Oh yeah, the guns are pretty great, too. There are hundreds of them, and since they run the wacky gamut from mermaid-tailed water shotguns to t-shirt cannons, your curiosity will often force you to buy a bunch of them when you really should be refilling your health bar.
Best of all, maybe the approachable design of Gungeon will create a few new shmup fans. I bet many gamers are curious about classics like Ikaruga and even great modern takes on the shmup like Jamestown, but those require a lot of patience and repetition, whereas in Enter the Gungeon you can experience the intensity of a shmup on each run while the randomized bosses and level designs keep things fresh. Bullet heaven?