There’s a degree of familiarity anyone who’s remotely interested in top-down shooters will feel when playing Enter the Gungeon. After all, at first glance, it’s strikingly similar to many, many games that came before it. Just as its brethren, it’s hard and merciless, teaching you its ways by throwing you back to the beginning every time you happen to die.
What sets Enter the Gungeon apart, though, aside from its quirky pixelated aesthetic that has you fighting actual ammunition and other inanimate objects that just happened to spring to life, is how everything that you do in the game eventually ties in together in the long run. This being a game that’s very comfortable in its roguelike recliner, it’s surprising to see that there’s plenty of stuff that you tuck away and don’t lose between runs.
For instance, after every boss battle, you earn currency that goes towards unlocking new guns for you to find during your runs. And similarly to Spelunky, another excellent game in the category, but one that deals with platforming instead of shooting, you’re open to the possibility of unlocking shortcuts that can have you start the game at a later stage, closer to the end, at the expense of rare items. Surely, a lot of these elements might make Gungeon seem like a hodgepodge of roguelikes haphazardly put together solely for the sake of just being another one of “those indie shooters”, but it comes together so well that you won’t care about retreating these steps in this game.
With that in mind, there’s also aspects to this shooter that make it relatively fresh, although most of these are buried deep within its unlock system. Throughout your travels within Enter the Gungeon‘s randmoly generated bullet-ridden levels, you’ll end up running into a variety of friendly NPCs that open up side quests, activities and even bonus shops, which help not only vary the gameplay, but also change the way you look at playing each of your runs. Sometimes, for instance, it’ll pay to save blank bullets, which are used to clear the screen of enemy bullets, in order to spend them with in the aforementioned shortcuts, or, in one of the more amusing tasks, you’ll want to explore all the rooms in a level in order to help a fellow explorer who happens to be a cartographer. Little things like these help keep the game relatively fresh each time you jump in, and there’s just so much to these that you’re likely not to run out of challenges in the game soon.
Besides these hidden optional tasks, there are a few that actually move the little of what there is in story within the game. Each of the four starting characters, asides from their unique starting abilities and weapons, has an eventual ending that can be reached after performing a relatively difficult item hunt within the gungeon. These ending sections are a cool little twist to the general gameplay found within the game, with one of them in particular basically turning Enter the Gungeon into a vertical space shooter for a few moments. It’s clear that the devs were having some extra fun throwing in these segments for the more dedicated of their player base, and it shows. Although short, they’re well worth getting to and beating. Not only are they cool, they unlock cool gear for each of the heroes.
Enter the Gungeon is packed to the brim with references to gaming and pop culture, from the level designs and enemy graphics to the numerous gun unlocks that tap into the geek tapestry of sci fi and internet memes, such as a Minecraft looking pistol that spews letters that spell the word bullets. It’s quirky and funny, even though these basically function pretty much the same, with a few exceptions that are actually more powerful than the rest of the arsenal. The boss characters are also an amusing part of the game, also poking fun and referencing tropes from the past and present, with the machine gun totting buffed out buzzard (or eagle?!) being my favorite out of the bunch.
Although it doesn’t really blow the lid off the top-down shooter genre in any particular way, Enter the Gungeon is a disturbingly cute, extremely well done and tightly put together game. It’s just fun to jump into it for a few minutes and blow off some steam every now and then. The truly great thing is that it doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as other games of its ilk do, but is extremely engaging at the same time, taking a cue to kick your ass at every opportunity.