Enter the Gungeon is the first game from Dodge Roll, a new development company formed by four industry veterans. The game offers a different take on the bullet hell genre, mixing it with roguelike elements and a dungeon setting. As the name implies, it’s a game that’s all about the guns, with the screen being constantly full of bullets. Exactly a year after the game’s initial release for other platforms, the game has now landed on Xbox One. So, is Dodge Roll’s first product worth your time? Let’s find out.
Developer: Dodge Roll
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4
Players: Single Player, Co-Op
Genre: Bullet Hell, Roguelike
Release Date: April 5th, 2017
You’ll quickly notice that everything in Enter the Gungeon is gun themed. The character you choose to play as is armed to the teeth, and the enemies are literally living bullets themselves. So you’ll be firing bullets at bullets, who are themselves firing bullets back at you. There is some variety in enemies as you progress through the game though, and your choice of character when you start up the game will affect your experience as you run through the Gungeon. The Gungeon is randomly generated each time you enter it, creating a wide variety of floors for you to explore. This randomness includes the weapon drops, you never know what you’re going to get each time. The power and versatility of the weapons you happen to get will greatly affect each of your runs. Each of the game’s characters has its own starting load out and strengths and weaknesses. They’re all quite capable of clearing the game, so it really comes down to figuring out which one suits your personal playing style best. An important element of the game’s flow is your ability to dodge roll at any time, which causes you character to fling themselves forwards over walls of bullets. This gives your character a small amount of invincibility, and is essential to surviving in the Gungeon.
The general gameplay revolves around running and gunning your way through the various floors of the Gungeon, while dodging the myriad of bullets being fired at you. Each floor takes around 15 minutes to blast through, and there’s usually a shop hidden within where you can cash in credits dropped by enemies for useful items. You can also randomly find treasure chests which contain both active and passive abilities for your chosen character. At the end of each floor lies one of the game’s various bosses, chosen randomly. There’s some rather amusing designs among them (the giant, muscular raven wielding a machine gun was a highlight) and they’re all very challenging. Perhaps even too challenging, but more about that later. Beating a boss allows you to move on to the next floor. You’ll be able to unlock new weapon drops as you fulfil certain requirements, and even unlock a couple of new playable characters with unique play styles of their own. In addition to the standard gameplay, there’s also a full co-op mode for two players available, which even includes an extra playable character which has co-op specific abilities.
Something that’s going to strongly divide people is the game’s difficulty. It’s a hard game, very hard. Each floor of the Gungeon is large, the bosses are bullet sponges that require a huge number of hits to take down, and they all feature complicated attack patterns. In addition, entering any of a floor’s rooms causes you to be locked inside a small space which will quickly become full of bullets. Unlike most other games of this type, you can’t leave a room until you’ve killed absolutely everything inside. There is a small amount of cover available, but it only helps a little, and later floors increase the number of enemies considerably. Item drops are frequent enough, but what you get is completely random, and if you have bad luck with you drops it can ruin your whole run or at least make it far more difficult than it should be. There’s no difficulty settings, so what you see is what you get, and the only way to really progress is to practice and practice until you can finally make it a little further. You’re kicked back to the first floor after each death, which feels a little too punishing even for a roguelike. Usually shortcuts are unlocked as a matter of course in modern roguelikes, but unlocking Enter the Gungeon’s requires a level of mastery that most players will be unable to attain before either giving up or getting bored.
Enter the Gungeon’s visual presentation is excellent, with crisp pixelated graphics, heaps of creative enemy designs, and a strong variety of environments to explore. It’s all easy on the eyes, and the many interactive details of the Gungeon’s floors are a nice touch. The soundtrack is also enjoyable, with a variety of electronic music tracks, some of which help to create a feeling of tension during boss battles. Everything is well animated too, watching your character dive over walls of bullets is always entertaining, and the enemies move very smoothly around the screen as they assault players.
Overall, Enter the Gungeon is a bit of a mixed bag. While the basic game mechanics and presentation are great, the game’s difficulty can sometimes feel cruel, and there’s no way to lower it. The idea that the success or failure of each of your runs relies fairly heavily upon your luck with weapon drops feels a bit unfair. Some highly skilled/patient players will still manage to do well even with bad drops, but for the average player it’s going to cause a lot of trouble. Adding to this is the way you’re trapped in each room in the game until you either kill everything or die, and you’ve got a game that really pushes players hard. On the positive side, the range of playable characters is good, and there’s heaps of different guns to find and play around with. Even the limited story is surprisingly well done for a game of its type. It’s clear that a lot of effort was put into every part of the game, and that deserves respect, so it feels like a bit of a shame that the game almost seems to go out of its way to punish players. Your mileage with the game will definitely vary greatly depending on your level of experience with difficult roguelikes, and your level of patience.