By Josh Speer / May 6th, 2020
|Title||Enter & Exit the Gungeon|
|Developer||Dodge Roll, Singlecore|
|Release Date||December 14th, 2017 (Enter); May 17th, 2020 (Exit)|
|Genre||Rogue-like, Bullet Hell, platformer|
|Platform||PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||T for Teen (Enter); E10+ (Exit)|
Thanks to the Binding of Isaac, I’ve developed a taste for two things – rogue games and twin-stick shooters. Which isn’t to say I love them all, but I’m much more receptive to well crafted, challenging entries in the genre now than I was before. Games like, for example, Enter the Gungeon. I really enjoyed it years ago when I demoed it, but was worried I had missed my chance to review it. After all, it came out for Switch back in 2017. And though I had purchased it digitally on a sale, I hadn’t gotten around to playing it years later. But thankfully, Devolver Digital and Dodge Roll had a silver bullet up their sleeves. When they recently announced that crazed sequel, Exit the Gungeon, was coming to Switch, I saw an opportunity. I could finally dust off my copy (figuratively speaking) of Enter the Gungeon and then play through Exit the Gungeon. And while I don’t typically review two games in one shot, there’s a first time for everything. The big question is, was my trip into the depths of the Gungeon worth the wait?
First things first. Both Gungeon games aren’t big on plot. That’s not the same as saying there isn’t any, cause there is a motivating force behind both. In Enter, your goal is to find a mythical gun that can literally kill your past, rewriting your miserable history. The only thing between you and your goal is an ever shifting labyrinth of Gundead, deadly if comical looking foes. In Exit the Gungeon, your group of heroes has damaged the time stream by overusing that mystical gun. As a result, time and space are reacting in unpredictable ways, and the Gungeon itself is falling apart. Your goal is to escape before that happens. So there is definitely a narrative in both games, just enough to keep you invested. Both games also have tons of hilariously punny bosses, some examples being the Gatling Gull and Cannonbalrog, as well as fourth wall breaking humor. You can find a certain blue bomber’s Megahand in Enter the Gungeon, for example. Or you can murder cute little bubble spewing dragons. There’s tons and tons of little references like this to several classic series, and they all lend themselves to the overall zany tone of both Gungeon games. There’s also a ton of lore for each item, weapon and foe in the game’s Ammonomicon. Once I discovered that on the pause menu, I perused several entries and always came away entertained. But the real reason you’re gonna play either of the Gungeon games isn’t the plot – it’s the gameplay. And I can say that both definitely deliver.
Let’s start with Enter the Gungeon. This was definitely the more challenging of the two games. It took me somewhere in the neighborhood of 31 hours to beat the game once. Granted, rogue games have a tendency to be challenging, especially if you get a bad roll of the dice, but that’s still pretty rough. Thankfully, I kept playing because I was enjoying myself. The basic formula is explore and fight your way through several interconnected rooms, find and beat the boss, travel to the next floor, rinse and repeat until you’ve beaten the final boss. Much like Binding of Isaac, truly beating the game requires more than those simple steps, and suffice to say I didn’t have time for that. Thankfully I was able to beat the High Dragun, so technically speaking I did beat the game for the purposes of this review.
One thing I really liked about Enter was how much control you have over ever minute detail. You can manually reload each of your guns with Y, there’s a handy drop down menu that slows down time as you select your next weapon, and you can move and aim simultaneously with the joysticks. Guns are fired with the R trigger, and the L trigger does a handy dodge roll with temporary invincibility. Basic stuff, but it’s implemented really well here. When you lose, it’s generally cause you did something stupid like grab a cursed item or your reflexes just weren’t up to snuff. You’ll do well to hoard all the keys you can find, since each floor typically has multiple chests you can open up. These will either provide you a new gun or a new item, with passive or activated effects. Or if you’re unlucky, they’ll be a mimic in disguise, waiting to murder you.
As you travel you’ll also come across a not so friendly shopkeep that sells wares, but don’t make the mistake of firing your guns in his store too often. While there’s only one shop at first, you’ll gradually find and free various prisoners that will populate the Gungeon in subsequent runs. Some will also show up in the HUB area, so it’s good to not always Quick Start a new game, taking you immediately into a new run without visiting the HUB. All of them will offer some service, if you have the cash and the need. Perhaps my favorite feature, though, are the maps. As you run about, the current floor is accurately displayed, and most rooms have teleporters. At any time outside of combat, you are free to bring up the map, select a teleport node and just instantly travel there. It really made the experience flow remarkably well.
There’s a handful of characters you can pick from, and each has slight quirks that might make them more or less appealing to certain playstyles. These are the main possible characters in both games – Marine, Pilot, Hunter and Convict. They each have a primary weapon with unlimited ammo, and they all fire somewhat differently. Also, they have passive boosts, such as the Marine’s Military Training, which makes his shots fire more accurately and reduces charge time. And though it took me a while before I noticed, each character has a handy item they can choose to activate, generally with limited uses. The Pilot has his “Trusty Lockpick,” which sometimes lets him open chests without a key; meanwhile the Convict has access to Molotov Cocktails she can use to burn foes to a crisp. They all play somewhat differently, and those passive boosts can go a long way. There’s technically a fifth main character, the Cultist. The catch is she can only be used in co-op, which I was unable to try for this review. And if you’ve spent more time with the game than I have, you can also unlock some other playable characters. My favorite was definitely the Marine, since he starts with a layer of armor and his Military Training meant his Pistol was more useful than the other starting weapons. But none of them are horrible, they just force you to try different things to succeed.
When you’re not picking up weapons and blasting holes in things, there’s a lot of other elements that spice up gameplay. You’ll find obstacles that can be used to your advantage, such as explosive barrels and chandeliers you can drop on enemy heads. There’s also less helpful features like buzz saws, jets of flame, freezing ice cubes and more. And lest I forget, holes. That last part normally wouldn’t merit mention, but after I died repeatedly from rolling into holes I didn’t realize were there, it started to become problematic. Which isn’t to say the gameplay is bad, far from it. But for whatever reason, the game likes to generate holes in already dark rooms, where they tend to blend in with the background. Maybe it’s a matter of shading, but it caused me more frustration than I expected. Thankfully, the rest of the Enter gameplay works wonders. It’s fun to dodge and weave, flip up tables to block bullets, roll through bullets and the like. Both Gungeon games definitely reward you for playing skillfully, especially Exit the Gungeon. And you’ll need to play well, since these games have some intense boss battles.
Enter the Gungeon has a whole ton of bosses, and besides referencing things like Dungeons & Dragons, they all tend to be focused on gun and bullet puns. Which I was totally okay with, even if it was a bit silly. I mean in a game where even keys have bullets, you tend to either appreciate the goofiness or get turned off by it. The bosses are where the game shows off the bullet hell features, as even the most basic will flood the screen with interlocking patterns of nasty projectiles. Many of them also love to move around the arena, forcing you to evade and think on your feet. Even the easiest boss is more than capable of killing you if you’re not careful. Going into battle armed with a great gun or two definitely helps, but it’s not required. That said, I did appreciate how much breathing room you generally had to avoid projectiles in Enter the Gungeon. That’s definitely not the case in Exit, where the screen is much smaller and forced into a 2D perspective. Thankfully, overall the bosses in the sequel are a bit more forgiving, at least once you’ve learned to successfully dodge their attacks. I also loved how practically all the bosses in Exit the Gungeon are insane mashups of two or more bosses from the first game. As an example, there’s one called Medusilier Bomb Shell, which is the Gorgun from the first game in the hollowed out Fusilier mini boss’ shell, using weapons brandished by the final boss of that game. It’s really silly and rewarding if you’re familiar with the original adventure.
Overall I really enjoyed my time with the first game, even if it could frustrate me on occasion. There’s a plethora of items to unlock that can increase your odds of success, such as one that makes it so flipping a table stuns all foes, or one that makes dodge rolls reload your guns. The hardest part of this game was the platforming, especially when you get a run that’s focused on murdering you. And for minor irritants, how about the fact that weapon combinations aren’t listed anywhere? You might get two weapons or items that work better together, providing enhanced effects, such as having the Bubble Blaster and Siren guns equipped, providing homing bubbles and massive bubble blasts. I was also annoyed that I couldn’t find anywhere that the game tracks which characters have beaten the game in Enter. And lastly, Enter the Gungeon can really cramp your hands, at least playing the Switch portably. Not that any of these complaints stopped me playing for very long. Plus, considering the game only costs $14.99, all my issues are pretty easy to overlook.
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