Game review: Enter The Gungeon has a roguish charm

A mix of twin stick shooter and roguelike proves to be a match made in indie heaven, in this fun new PS4 download.

A few weeks ago we reviewed the Lego Dimensions Midway Arcade expansion, filled with golden age coin-ops from the ‘80s. Our favourite was always Robotron: 2084 – the game that popularised the twin stick shooter. From there to Smash T.V. and the modern indie revival led by Geometry Wars, they’re still one of our favourite styles of old school arcade game. Considering how relatively common they are nowadays it’s surprising they’re not more often crossed with that other indie staple, the roguelike. But perhaps there will be more of them now that Enter The Gungeon has proven how well the two styles mix.

If you’re already familiar with both styles of game you can probably picture exactly how this works, and one of the key triumphs of Enter The Gungeon is simply that it doesn’t mess up a good idea. As the title suggests it doesn’t take itself seriously, and the opening preamble about ancient castles being hit by giant space bullets is easily ignored nonsense. It may as well just opened with, ‘It’s a video game OK? Just roll with it’. And frankly it’s not far off that.

All that matters is that you get to pick from a variety of typical video game protagonists, from a space marine to a thief, and then, well… enter the Gungeon. Viewed from a top-down perspective, the game’s maze of interconnected rooms looks very much like an ordinary dungeon crawler. In terms of all the locked or hidden doors they are, but the action is purely arcade based.

A twin stick shooter, if you’re not familiar with the concept, is just what it sounds like. A 2D shooter that uses one analogue stick to move and the other to aim the direction you’ll fire in. That allows for a far greater degree of precision than most normal shoot ‘em-ups, which the games normally compensate for by throwing many more enemies at you than normal.

Enter The Gungeon isn’t that formulaic though, and instead prefers to use elements of bullet hell to keep you on your toes. Most enemies are able to shoot out complex waves of projectiles that would be almost impossible to avoid under normal circumstances. Which is why you’re provided with a dodge roll that essentially makes you invincible when initially jumping forward. Although you can also upend furniture to create a temporary shield.

Apart from a secondary item, from a Molotov cocktail to a jetpack, the game is sensible enough not to overcomplicate things further. Especially as the other main gimmick is how many different guns there are to collect and covet. These range from the obvious shooter mainstays to more bizarre weapons such as a barrel that shoots fish (geddit? Water also comes out too, so it’s great for dousing fires), a rainbow gun, and exotic laser weapons that look like something out of R-Type.

They’re all just as much fun as they sound but strangely far more difficult to come across than you might imagine. You can go hours without picking up a good one, despite there being so many, which means either we’re accursedly unlucky with how the randomly-generated dungeons work out or the game is a touch too miserly with one of its best features.

In all other respects though it’s very well designed, with teleporters that zip you around levels and a welcome lack of sadism in terms of the difficulty level. That’s despite some very tough bosses and the fact that, since this is a roguelike, when you’re dead you’re dead and you lose everything. Except technically you don’t, as weapon unlocks are carried over from beyond the grave – even if you lose the item itself.

Especially considering the price, Enter The Dungeon is a great meld of two very complimentary genres. The pixel art is great and there’s a fun sense of humour that permeates throughout the game. But it’s also filled with neat touches, such as automatically levitating collectables towards you when you clear a room, that help to make it as accessible and non-frustrating as possible.

We’re sure there’ll still be people who take one look at the low tech graphics and assume the game’s not for them but this should entertain anyone and everyone that has the courage to enter.

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