Dodge Roll Games’ Enter The Gungeon is one of the greatest games ever made. Not just one of the best indie titles or one of the best overhead, rogue-lite, pixel-art titles. No, it’s one of the greatest games ever made.
That might be a bold statement but not really. Anyone who’s followed or played Enter The Gungeon since it first launched in 2016 can attest to the game’s quality. This is a game that not only successfully carved its own niche but achieved its own success. It’s since had three major free expansions roll out in that time – Supply Drop, Advanced Gungeons and Draguns and A Farewell to Arms. All of these expansions were make an already stellar game even better.
"You start off with The Pilot, The Convict, The Marine and The Huntress with four secret Gungeoneers to unlock later. Each has their own starting weapons and perks."
How is it that a game like this still gets so much right in terms of weapon design, synergies, build diversity and personality while so many bigger titles struggle endlessly? With A Farewell to Arms marking the end of Dodge Roll Games’ development on the title, now is a good time to revisit Enter The Gungeon and outline why it’s so darn good.
It starts with the world and it’s lore. One day, the Great Bullet fell from the sky and hit this massive fortress on the planet Gunymede. It created The Gun That Can Kill The Past, a weapon that can change someone’s past. We’re talking about wiping away crimes, missteps or even just casually taking revenge. Given how powerful a literal time-altering device can be, it’s a given that various adventurers, crooks and rogues would try to obtain it. The fortress was subsequently rebuilt into the Gungeon and the weapon remained guarded. That’s not the entire story though. Something is seemingly manipulating the Gungeon behind the scenes. But what?
The Gungeoneers are your respective vehicles to investigating this massive labyrinth of ever-shifting rooms and challenges. You start off with The Pilot, The Convict, The Marine and The Huntress with four secret Gungeoneers to unlock later. Each has their own starting weapons and perks. The Marine begins with a piece of armour on top of his health and can call in an ammo drop one time. The Huntress is equipped with a revolver and crossbow but also has a dog that follows her around, occasionally digging up new items.
"The Gungeon is filled with tons of different foes but perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is that they’re bullets. Walking bullets with nondescript faces and guns that also fire bullets."
The goal of each Gungeoneer is to kill their past. I won’t spoil exactly how that’s done but it involves carefully exploring the Gungeon. The Gungeon consists of five floors or Chambers, each with their own unique theme. Though each Chamber has a different layout of rooms each time you enter, eventually you learn to recognize the different types. Chamber 1 is always bound to have a fireplace that requires a water barrel to douse and reach the hidden switch. Each Chamber has its own set of hazards as well – you’ll generally face dangerous fire hazards and an enormous hammer in The Forge. However, Chamber 4 aka Hollow will contain icy hazards, moving blocks and zombie bullet…enemies.
Ah yes, the enemies. The Gungeon is filled with tons of different foes but perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is that they’re bullets. Walking bullets with nondescript faces and guns that also fire bullets. Some bullets look like your average 9 mm shells and have pistols. Others look like shotgun shells and have, well, shotguns. Then there are the sniper round shaped baddies that… you get the idea. This isn’t to say that the Gungeon doesn’t have any imaginative foes though.
You’ll come across sorcerers that conjure bullets to fire at you; floating books that fire bullets that form letters; spiders that spray webs, slowing your movement while also firing bullets in a web arc; knights with swords that slam down and fire shockwaves of bullets; an Iron Maiden that fires pointy bullets out before they double back on you; and so on. The arrangement of enemies usually means a litany of bullets to dodge. Couple these with any environmental hazards and obstacles and the Gungeon becomes an incredibly dangerous place.
"Dodge Roll has imbued a hefty amount of personality into every single weapon."
The bosses represent the height of that danger but they’re also just incredibly fun to fight. The brilliance of each encounter can’t be overstated enough. It starts off with something “simple” like the Bullet King on his floating throne, firing tons of projectiles at you and creating flaming puddles or Gatling Gull, who hops from one place to another, raining down explosives when he’s not firing a near-endless stream of bullets. From there, you battle the Beholster, a beholder-like foe with homing rockets, lasers and bullets. Or maybe you’ll fight the Gorgun, a dual-Uzi wielding Medusa that can turn you into stone with a glance, poison a small area as she swims around and fire waves of bullets at the drop of a hat. When subsequent challenges include a living door and a monstrous wall, you know life doesn’t really get much easier the further down you go.
It’s no secret that Dark Souls helped inspire the difficulty. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that Enter The Gungeon turns one of that game’s core mechanics into an incredibly powerful tool. Of course, we’re talking about the dodge roll. The dodge roll helps to avoid projectiles, re-positions you behind tables and other obstacles, and is an incredibly stellar movement ability. Kicking over tables for cover, maneuvering around an enemy’s attacks and even sliding over tables is all well and good. And yes, when you slide across a room with one long line of tables, regardless of the damage taken, it’s well worth it. But the dodge roll is your bread and butter, that short period of invincibility that will save you when all is lost. Subsequently, you might just roll into a bullet and die.
Let’s talk guns. Lots of guns. Enter The Gungeon could have easily thrown in some wacky guns and been done with it. For the most part, many of the guns are wacky like the assault rifle that fires energy rounds but swipes like a lightsaber when reloading, thus deflecting bullets back at the opposition. However, Dodge Roll has imbued a hefty amount of personality into every single weapon.
"There’s a super soaker that fires water and a beam rifle with unstable streams like Ghostbusters. Even Destiny’s almighty Gjallarhorn makes an appearance as The Exotic."
You have the Mega Buster that fires normal pellets but can be charged up for a devastating shot. Ditto for Samus’s Arm Cannon. Perhaps you fancy the Mass Shotgun which fires a single large projectile that breaks into twelve bullets, not unlike the Geth Shotgun from Mass Effect 3? Or how about the Mine Cutter which alternates between firing a single large laser and three piercing lasers, not unlike the Plasma Cutter from Dead Space? Classic weapons like the AK-47 and revolver exist but so do weapons like the Bullet (shoots guns that fire bullets as they fly out) and the Shell (shoots shotguns that fire shells as they fly out). Freeze guns, critical shot guns, multi-barrel guns, a shovel gun, a multi-missile launcher and even a magic lamp – it’s all here. There’s a super soaker that fires water and a beam rifle with unstable streams like Ghostbusters. Even Destiny’s almighty Gjallarhorn makes an appearance as The Exotic.
There’s more. Throughout the game, you also have a chance to pick up different items which can provide different benefits (as to be expected in a rogue-lite). Some are straightforward like granting increased health and armour. Others are way more bizarre and can either be passive (constantly in play) or active, which means they take up an equipment slot and must be used.
For instance, you have a special item at the start of each Chamber called a blank that dissipates any surrounding bullets and deals a slight amount of damage. This is good for getting out of tough spots, especially when the rain of bullets becomes a little too crazy. Equip the Copper Ammolet and suddenly, your blanks are igniting enemies. How about equipping a Uranium Ammolet and Frost Ammolet to poison and freeze enemies with blank usage as well? Each of these Ammolets will increase the amount of blanks on each floor by one when equipped.
"If you die and have the Clone active, you restart the Gungeon with all of the items and weapons from the previous run active."
If that doesn’t sound too useful, then how about the Roll Bomb which drops a bomb every time you dodge roll (akin to Metroid)? Or the Heart Synthesizer which provides a chance to earn hearts after clearing a room? Maybe you fancy the Wolf, a companion who follows you around and bites enemies, or the Wingman, which hovers around and fires rockets at foes? Maybe you want a bag of sentient junk to be your ally and continuously upgrade it until it obtains its own battle suit to fire homing missiles. Do you just want to summon Gatling Gull to fight by your side and pepper foes with bullets? Go for it.
If you die and have the Clone active, you restart the Gungeon with all of the items and weapons from the previous run active. This is particularly broken on Rainbow Mode (which we’ll get to in a bit). It’s friggin’ great.
While each separate aspect of Enter the Gungeon is brilliant in its own right, it’s the encompassing whole that makes it so much more enjoyable. Over time, you’ll learn about weapon synergies – special effects that activate when certain items and/or guns are equipped, allowing for awesome effects like dual-wielding shotguns or the AKEY-47 which can fire skulls and possess infinite ammo when paired with the Shelleton Key.
Other times you’ll wield a Relodestone and Elder Blank, the former sucking in nearby enemy bullets and replenishing your ammo while the latter is essentially a free blank that regenerates over time. Along with finding the components necessary to kill a Gungeoneer’s past, the Gungeon is rife with other secrets. Bosses like the Old King await in the Abbey of the True Gun but can only be accessed if you carry the Old Crest gained from another secret area without taking damage. There’s a rat that’s constantly roaming around the Gungeon, taking whatever items you drop or forget to collect, leaving notes about your “generosity.” This Resourceful Rat can be confronted if you have enough money to purchase a key to his lair and follow the right directions. What follows is perhaps the most epic boss fight and retro tribute you’ll ever see in a video game.
"There’s a guy you’ll rescue who will return to the Breach and simply sit on the ledge. That’s all he really does."
Sometimes you’ll come across a knight named Blockner, who betrayed the tutorial master Ser Manuel, and exact revenge. There’s Winchester, a game show host that oddly resembles Professor Layton and lets you partake in a shooting range mini-game to hit targets and win prizes. A vampire woman can be rescued and will pay you money in exchange for your health. A duo of sisters named Patches and Mendy can be found at random and will heal you. There’s a talking button before the elevator to the next Chamber who will save your progress.
Curses can be accrued depending on items acquired. Hit a cap of 10 Curses and an entity called the Lord of the Jammed will spawn and hunt you without stopping (it can even kill you during cutscenes and NPC conversations). No, it doesn’t die and it can’t be killed. Different rarities of chests spawn on each floor but some may turn out to be Mimics, and engage you in battle. You might also come across the R&G Dept, a Cabin in the Woods-style “grand operation” that contains all matter of monstrous creations for you to fight. There’s a guy you’ll rescue who will return to the Breach and simply sit on the ledge. That’s all he really does.
There are the various modes you can choose to spice up a run. You have the bog-standard Boss Rush mode which involves fighting one boss after the other. The real fun begins with Challenge Mode. This introduces random modifiers for each room entered. Imagine the game speeding up every time you dodge roll until a room is cleared. Other “fun” modifiers include enemies exploding after dying, Blobulins possibly spawning when bullets hit the room and objects in it, the Gorgun’s gaze turning players to stone at random in different rooms, objects firing at the player, and so on. There are even unique modifiers for the Hollow and Forge to make them that much more terrifying (like invincible snipers in the Wallmonger fight or all the crazy modifiers for the High Dragun).
"Even if this is how it all ends, I can’t imagine Dodge Roll taking us on another journey with such a fitting end. Until their next game releases, that is."
Not satisfied with the game’s speed? Make it even faster with Turbo Mode…which doesn’t actually increase the speed of your reload or charge time so some fights might actually become tougher. My absolute favourite and something that was introduced with A Farewell to Arms is Rainbow Mode. This makes all the chests rainbow-coloured, which dispenses the highest tier items available. The catch? You can’t get any other chests as long as Rainbow Mode is active. So if you find that Clone, a Yari Launcher, Elder Blank, Relodestone and some other room-clearing weapon, you better make the best of them. Still, it is truly hilarious when Bowler, the NPC that enables the mode, pops up on every single chest, preventing you from getting them.
If it wasn’t obvious, Enter the Gungeon isn’t for the faint of heart. Booting up the game and hopping in, expecting a breezy time without much stress is tough especially for new players. However, once you get a feel for the game, dodge rolling past bullets and striking down one enemy after another, you’ll come to appreciate it. Each new gun is a discovery. You might pick up something terrible but it will be fairly hilarious. Once you find something that breaks the game, that feeling of obliterating everything the Gungeon has to offer is simply invigorating.
The environments, despite fitting a certain theme in each Chamber, are beautifully detailed as are enemy animations. The synth-like soundtrack is excellent and pumps you up for every battle when it’s not downbeat and melancholic. Progression is fairly straightforward as you unlock Hegemony Credits that can be used to acquire new guns and blueprints. These will cause the items in question to have a chance to drop during runs.
Howsoever you may look at it, there’s no denying that Enter the Gungeon is a rush. The calm of the Breach precedes the manic fighting in the Chambers. Rooms are a complete mess of debris, bullet holes and bodies when you’re done. Anarchy is king but there’s a clearly defined order that holds it together, threatening to snap at the sign of a powerful weapon. Enter the Gungeon can be so many things and yet it distills that old-school cool feeling of difficulty with fluid controls and picture-perfect shooting. Even if this is how it all ends, I can’t imagine Dodge Roll taking us on another journey with such a fitting end. Until their next game releases, that is.