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"Death doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot here, though"

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    CSplitter
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    Enter the Gungeon

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    "Death doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot here, though"

    Enter the Gungeon is another product of the "where else can we shove roguelike elements?" indie tendency. I say shove but these elements are injected mostly gracefully and do not clash with the bullet hell nature of the gameplay. So, let’s enter the Gungeon.

    The excuse for partaking in this wacky adventure is that the Gungeon contains a gun that can kill one’s past. Several adventurers, your playable characters, seek that gun for different reasons that will become clear if you posses the skill and patience to traverse the floors of the Gungeon. What sets this particular dungeon apart is that everything, even abstract concepts, are morphed into some short of gun. Be it your actual weapons, the enemies, the bosses, the game finds a way to squeeze a gun form out of them.

    Therefore, it is made obvious that your main method of disposing enemies is shooting them. The game combines procedurally generated floors (the rooms themselves are handcrafted but the connections aren’t), top down shooter combat and roguelike-like progression. Died? Back to the beginning. What you carry in your run lasts only for that run. During your gungeoneering, you’ll unlock NPCs that will populate your starting hub, the Breach, that will allow you to unlock stuff that may appear in the Gungeon in your future runs but the moment you enter the Gungeon, you only have your character’s starting items and nothing else. A fresh start. Killing certain enemies and bosses as well as completing objectives can also unlock new items and weapons for your future Gungeon runs. Basically, there’s a hell of a lot to add to your potential arsenal but it’s just that, potential, there’s nothing that you can carry into a new run from the Breach or previous tries.

    The Gungeon is segmented into 5 main floors (and a few more if you comb the place for secrets or have access to Google). The main type of room is the one full of enemies. Upon entering such a room, the doors lock and you have to kill everything to progress. Killing enemies without getting hit nets you currency which you can exchange in the shop, a special room that appears in every floor. There are also other items that can potentially spawn after a room clear like keys for chests, healing items, ammo, etc. Each floor also contains 2 chest rooms, your other source of weapons and items, that need keys to be unlocked. Sometimes, you may stumble upon NPC cells that house beings who help with your adventure or challenge rooms. Finally, to descend to the floor below, you must face one of the floor’s bosses which can be easily spotted by the "this is a boss room" door. The game provides a very handy way of transportation, portals, that can be utilised to teleport back to rooms without backtracking through empty rooms. Just as with everything else in this game, there are secret rooms that serve different functions but they’re better experienced unspoiled.

    But what is a bullet hell experience without mechanics, enemies and bullets patterns to sink your teeth into? First of all, the tools to combat the Gungeon’s dangers are "guns", active items and passive items. One of Gungeon’s biggest strengths is its selection of guns, both mechanically and thematically as well as how both are ofter tied together. There are normals guns like shotguns and revolvers that work as expected. There are also slightly different weapons like nail guns and a barrel that shoots fish. The next level of twisted humour is reflected in guns like the Microtransaction Gun, whose description reads "This gun can also be unlocked immediately by buying the Collector’s Edition, or the relevant DLC". But it does not end there. You have a bullet that shoot guns. You have the letter "r" that apparently looks like a gun enough for the Gungeon to consider it a weapon. Every one of them has unique attributes that range from normal status effects, reload quirks and varied firing patterns to very specific uses like the AKEY-47, an AK-47 clone that shoots keys which can open locked doors and chests as well as damaging the enemy. I think that illustrates Gungeon’s ability to provide combat variety while also giving tools for the more inventive players to experiment. Oh and frequent moments that make you stop, take in what you’re seeing/reading and laugh.

    Your guns are complimented by equally out-there items. Active items are either one time use or have a cooldown. There’s limited room in your inventory to house them and their effects range from DPS boosts and health recovery to releasing a swarm of bees to track down and attack the enemies. The passive items are even more inventive. They can make you stronger, make you fly, give you ninja abilities or even spawn a police officer to fight with you. So hoard them up and beef up your character because they can be the difference between your bullets hitting like wet noodles and you feeling like a demi-god.

    Now, for the universal features that will accompany all of your runs. Firstly, your health. It is a Zelda-like heart system where each heart is made up of 2 halfs. A hit takes away one half. You start out with 3 hearts and there are ways to up your max capacity like items and killing a boss without getting hit, a great way to reward skill. Secondly, you have blanks. Blanks are this game’s version of screen clearing items that are intended to be a last resort when it’s raining bullets. They can also break certain walls that hide item rooms. Blanks are replenished after entering a new floor so you are encouraged to use them. Furthermore, every non-starter gun has an ammo count to make you mindful of your shots. Last but not least, the mechanic that also gave the dev studio their name, dodge roll. You know, your standard roll with the first half having invincibility frames. It’s not a novel concept but it is actually rarely found in a bullet hell shooter. Once you initiate it, you are locked into a direction so while it will help you escape a tough situation, try not to faceplant into a bullet while the animation is ending. All in all, a nice addition.

    To examine the tools the game provides you without also talking about how well they interact with the obstacles they are intended to help you overcome would be pointless. The game has a decent selection of enemies, the Gundead, that aren’t really characterised by the same inventiveness as the guns but still work as test of skill. There are several varieties of bullet kins which shoot in the usual narrow/spread patterns with some speed changes, sentient grenades, mages and buff dudes. Those are what you’ll be facing in the first floors sprinkled with some novel ideas like books that shoot in letter patterns and iron maidens that nail pointed bullets in the walls which come back to home into you after a while. As you descent further down, enemy design becomes more inventive. Now mages can take control of you bullets and shoot them back at you if you attack them during a certain animation. A totem pole that changes patterns as you slowly shorten its length. Dudes that buff up existing enemies and run away if you approach, making you choose between prioritising them and having to weave through bullets in the process or face the enemies in powered up forms. And the bane of my existence, the Shelleton, a mob that shoots eye lazers and 2 waves of spread while also being able to regenerate unless you break his skull. Amongst all the chaos, you can utilise barrel bombs, flip tables for covers, ride minecarts and drop chandeliers. Environmental interactivity helps make fights a bit more unique. Just don’t fall into pits much.

    The true test of skill are the bosses. They nailed it with these dudes. They have character, great animations and most importantly, they put you in tough situations where you have to think quickly to come out unscathed while not forgetting to fire in their general direction. There’s always the choice between getting up close and personal to ensure your hits connect but that also does not leave room for their bullets to spread and make path for you to weave in and out. Others are made up of several parts. How do you approach? Focus on one part to make the fight less chaotic but allow them to enter their next stage? Spread your damage across all of them to skip the tough phases? They do a great job of being a test of reflexes while giving also providing choices for your approach. There’s rarely a time where you have no way out of a incoming wave of bullets, be it with a dodge roll, a blank or just reading the patterns and gracefully getting the hell out of there. And with the heart increase for not getting hit, there’s a tangible reward for getting better, not just your personal satisfaction.

    There’s lots to love but there’s some to hate as well. For example,the variance from run to run when it comes to the tools the game provides is huge. You can find a good gun and a couple of decent passives in the first floors and tear a hole through everything. In you next run, the game may decide to give you junk and suddenly you’re on floor 3 with a water gun and a sling, if you managed to make it there. It feels like the game decides quite a big chunk of how tough your journey will be based on the stuff it spawns for you. There’s a tier system for chests and the shop has a hidden balancing system when you are lacking stuff but they merely make it a bit more manageable, they don’t remedy the problem. Gungeon giveth and Gungeon taketh away. Moreover, the soundtrack is… there. Other than the title track and floor 3, nothing really stands out. It’s not bad but they could’ve done a lot more. My last gripe with the game is the, admittedly infrequent, tendency to throw you into room where the Gungeon gods decide to put you into an immediate disadvantage. You can enter a room and have an enemy in your face and little to no cover from the fire that’s coming from out of screen.

    As for some thoughts I could not fit into my rambling above: Enter the Gungeon runs well on the PS4 with the only technical hiccup being some rare half-a-second-long freezes. It looks vibrant and the art does a good job of fleshing out the characters and enemies. So do the item descriptions and the NPC dialogue. There’s co-op and it works nicely. 2+ heads may be better than 1 but you’re also splitting your resources and fighting for camera space. Also, the different adventurers come with starting passive and active items as well as another weapon in some cases. Lastly, I have to state that the game has absolutely no problem hiding away large chunks of its content. There is a lot more than what a rush to floor 5 will reveal.

    Enter the Gungeon is full of energy, wit and action. But under that party atmosphere there is a game that is confident. It won’t serve you its content on a platter. It won’t provide you with much of a helping hand and when it does, it’s always at a price. It provides a very solid gameplay core and asks that you get good if you have any hope of killing your past. And when some problems, that do exist, rear their head, I find it hard to get mad at it. Mainly because I’m shooting anvils out of a crate.

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