Releasing an indie roguelike in 2016 is tough. There are already several almost perfect and incredibly popular entries in the genre floating around in the wild. Indeed, not only is the market flooded, it's flooded with liquid gold. Thankfully, Enter the Gungeon not only borrows good ideas from its peers, it also plays enough new tricks to differentiate itself.
If you've played an indie roguelike in the last couple of years, then you'll probably know what Dodge Roll Games' debut title has in store for you. You'll make your way through increasingly challenging floors of a randomly generated and enemy-infested dungeon, each ending with a particularly tough boss fight.
Every time you enter the gungeon, you'll discover new combinations of weapons, power-ups, and enemies which will require you to rebalance your strategy. The goal of this endeavour, then, is the perfect run; the ultimate marriage of skill and luck which sees you best all of the game's baddies, and conquer all of its floors.
As mentioned, this structure is certainly nothing new. However, one of the ways that the game sets itself apart is in the nature of its moment-to-moment gunplay. This sharp-shooter is clearly inspired by the bullet-hell genre, and as such, its enemies fire wave upon wave of complex bullet patterns which require you to pull off mind-bending displays of agility while also concentrating on firing accurately and efficiently.
Thankfully, you're equipped with a nifty and incredibly satisfying dodge roll. This often life-saving ability allows you to quickly evade enemy fire and relocate to safer soil. What's more, there are various obstacles which can be toppled and used as bullet barriers, as well as a plethora of environmental hazards which can be turned against your enemies.
Most importantly, though, there are many guns to discover. Some of them are fairly straightforward, but many of them are gleefully outlandish, and require you to change up your strategy in significant ways. For instance, there's one gun which shoots a hail of bullets in the shape of the word bullet. Another will occasionally transform your enemies into helpless bunny rabbits.
All of these individual elements come together to create gunplay which is dynamic and exciting. In particular, the combination of random enemy patterns and bullet-hell quirks mean that it has a rhythm unlike any of its contemporaries. It's fast paced, while also being very methodical, and this makes for a very fulfilling gameplay experience.
But this mechanical prowess wouldn't be worth a great deal were it not for the distinct sense of place that the game creates around it. There are countless enemy types, each with new and interesting visual designs and attack patterns. Similarly, there are passive and active abilities hidden in chests and shops throughout the stages, which can meaningfully alter the way that battles play out.
These efforts are compounded by NPCs you find as you explore. After chatting with them, they'll appear in the game's small hubworld, and either set you tasks to complete or sell you items which then appear in the gungeon. What's more, there are many different secret routes through the game's challenge. All of this means that the experience has a fantastic sense of internal progression, while also feeling like an intricate and living world.
Tying all of these elements together is the game's presentation, which is fantastic throughout. The visuals are crisp, and littered with neat little interactive details. Similarly, the electronic score keeps things moving during tense battles before seamlessly switching to a more contemplative atmosphere during exploration.
With all of that said, the title is not without its flaws. As with most roguelikes, there are times when you'll simply get a bad random selection of weapon and items. Similarly, there are infrequent occasions when the screen can become so busy that it's nigh on impossible to actually discern what's going on.
But by far the biggest issue is the game's lack of leaderboards or a daily run mode. As mentioned earlier, it does a great job of creating a sense of progression, but it can still feel a little empty at times. This is a particularly glaring omission given that these modes feature in just about every other game of its type currently available.
Enter the Gungeon is another in a long line of fantastic roguelikes. Its razor sharp twin-stick gunplay, huge variety of passive and active weapons, and clever world building make it an absolute joy to sink countless hours into. The lack of leaderboards or a daily run mode is a frustrating oversight, but you'll be too busy running, gunning, and dodge-rolling your way through its many caverns to notice or care.