For those who have yet to venture down the Gungeon’s floors, this smiling sun-colored package hides a fierce challenge, and one of the absolute best action roguelikes ever made.
Two years ago, first-time-at-the-bat developer Dodge Roll’s debut action roguelike Enter the Gungeon went platinum after selling 1 million copies. Most of these were downloaded on the Steam platform but, since then, it’s joined much of its indie cohort in finding warm welcome on Nintendo’s newest console, with a Switch version first hitting the eShop in late 2017. It’s now 3+ years since its original release but, with the Switch as its newest vehicle and aspirant Gungeoneers continuing to discover it there for the first time, this physical edition seemingly marks the end of its journey.
Perhaps it was closest in comparison to The Binding of Isaac at time of release, since Enter the Gungeon sports a combination of bullet hell shooter, room-clearing dungeon crawler, and roguelike, with plenty of randomization and unlockable items and weapons thrown in. Featuring four playable characters at the outset, each of which begin with certain passive and active weapons and tools, players are quickly drawn into its lethal RNG delights. Regardless of the starting character you choose, you’ll have a handy i-frames-powered dodge roll that can rescue you from certain death, and countless restarts between you and absolute victory.
A rambunctious pixelated visual design surrounds a genuinely solid and attentive story steeped in mystery, which provides some stakes to repeat play-sessions. There’s always a slightly goofy or snarky tone, with cute characters and hilarious animations, but the script and lore can also be surprisingly somber at times; it’s a thoughtful combination which works well. Players take on the role of a Gungeoneer, outcasts risking their fate in search of the Gungeon’s most valuable treasure, a gun which can kill a person’s past; this amounts to their mistakes and regrets, apparently, but to burrow any further into these details would probably be a spoiler. Additionally, the relentless motif of firearms — heady subject matter in 2019, as ever — never once grows stale or even creeps into bad taste, and the vast cache of weapons include everything from the absurd/somewhat-unhelpful (a gun which fires guns which fire bullets, a literal pea-shooter which shoots peas) to the pop-culture-worshipful (an NES Zapper which fires a Duck Hunt duck at the end of a clip) to the surprisingly OP (the trusty melee weapon to rule over the rest: a projectile-reflecting baseball bat named Casey).
Tucked into all these weapons and items are jokes, puns, and silly references, recalling the least groan-worthy bits from Borderlands 2 and also less reliant on fly-by-night internet memes. All these bits and bobs accumulate in the Ammonimicon, a virtual tome which tracks your unlocks and encountered enemies accessible from the pause screen, and containing just enough information to alleviate total confusion. Just like The Binding of Isaac, elaborate hidden synergies between every single piece of loot abound, though these are really best grasped and memorized through experimentation and time (in other words: losses). Almost all of them are locked at the start, and will need to be purchased with a special type of obtainable currency which persists between runs (common to the genre, a death means starting over with a clean slate), placing the new drop into the growing randomized pool to be found or purchased en route.
It's a recipe for a rewarding gameplay loop with some persistence, and newly discovered NPCs populate the hub, mini-quests arise which extend over several runs, all manifesting the mighty siren call to try again and eke out a few more inches of progress. Unlike the bullet-dodging precision found in Isaac runs, the game’s dodge roll adds a uniquely agile flavor to the shootouts. This is especially apparent in the brutal boss fights, final-exam-like encounters that are themselves slightly randomized, with each of the first four floors containing one of several different bosses and a special final boss saved for the fifth. Beyond that lie a smattering of brutally difficult secret levels and unique playable endings for each character, including the secret unlockable ones; the lack of simple cutscene credits feel like a worthy return on a player’s time investment.
After launch, Dodge Roll returned to Enter the Gungeon with thoughtful and meaty updates, and their last one, “A Farewell to Arms,” was especially thorough. Each of these content drops brought new encounters, items, weapons, and some obtuse but rewarding secrets only available to Gungeon veterans; it’s interesting how a fresh install of the game has an almost innocent quality, the adorable aesthetic seemingly disguising the hundreds of hours of content within.
In certain respects, this package recalls the NieR: Automata Game of the YoRHa Edition, in the sense that it’s a slightly older game presented with all its eventual trimmings and some premium pack-ins. Also similarly to NieR, Enter the Gungeon courts a devoted and supportive fandom full of esoteric memes, whose members are probably already lusting for the included exclusive Shotgun Kin character skin (and may even feel stabbed in the wallet for having to re-purchase a whole game to acquire it). The physical inserts here are fun, though, with a cute Bullet Kin papercraft and four high-quality stickers, rounded out with a download code for doseone’s phenomenal, chiptune-fueled soundtrack.
Unlike the aforementioned NieR package, though, all of the DLC (aside from the skin) has been released for no cost. Essentially, this retail version is like a “Game of the Year Edition” for a game that’s never previously charged consumers for new content in the first place, which does make it feel somewhat more wholesome and straightforward at this price. It’s also nice for those who just want to keep a physical version-complete cartridge of their beloved game handy, outside of the Nintendo eShop.
A victory lap for a top-tier action-roguelike, a fond adieu to Dodge Roll’s debut as we wait and see what else they have in store for the future, or simple low-cost fan-service? It’s quite possibly all three, and although some select supporters of Enter the Gungeon may feel shorted on the requirement to spend $30 for a skin, it’s hard to stay mad at this retail offering. For those who have yet to venture down the Gungeon’s floors, this smiling sun-colored package hides a fierce challenge, and one of the absolute best action roguelikes ever made.
The Enter the Gungeon Nintendo Switch retail edition hits stores on August 6. A copy was provided to Screen Rant by the publisher, for purposes of review.