GAMES: Enter the Gungeon is the 8-Bit Borderlands You Never Knew You Wanted

Once upon a time, there was an ancient fortress on a distant world that was obliterated by a giant bullet from the sky. It didn’t destroy the fortress, but transformed it and all of its inhabitants to match its guns n’ ammo aesthetic. Legend claims that the many traps and defenders are protecting the most powerful prize imaginable—a gun that can kill the past. Many adventurers go seeking the mythical weapon, but none return. If you’re brave enough, foolish enough, or just plain desperate, you can take your chances and… Enter the Gungeon.

Yes, the title is a portmanteau of gun and dungeon. This fun new word tells you a lot about the game up front: it is indeed a dungeon crawler full of guns, a roguelite twin-stick shooter with a charming pixel art style and a quirky sense of humor that revels in irreverent pop culture references and weapons-grade puns. You choose from four different “gungeoneers” to make your run, and most of the enemies you encounter are giant pieces of anthropomorphic ammunition (called the gundead) shooting at you. Small bullets carry pistols, shells pack shotguns, etc. You can also take along a friend for some couch co-op. Along your journey down the procedurally generated levels of the Gungeon you will of course find a vast array of firearms, some left behind by unlucky adventurers, and others unique creations of this bizarre place. The game’s weaponry includes everything from water pistols to grenade launchers, as well as analogues for famous sci-fi firearms like Ghostbusters’ proton pack and the bolter from Warhammer 40,000. Among the more absurd armaments are a magic six-shooter that can turn enemies into chickens, and a giant bullet that shoots tiny guns that shoot even tinier bullets as they spin through the air. The game’s Ammonomicon is filled with pages of guns with a variety of strange effects and funny flavor text that brought back fond of memories of hunting vaults on Pandora.

The shooting mechanics are solid, and although your character is quite fragile, once you pick up a few new weapons you become a real glass cannon, killing columns of foes before they even have a chance to threaten you. You have a dodge roll for avoiding enemy fire and you can kick over any table in the game to use as cover. There are also environmental hazards to be exploited, like falling chandeliers and the classic exploding barrels. Bullets tend to be large glowing orbs you can see coming, and enemies will fire them with varying patterns and speeds. At the end of each level you will face one of the many ridiculous boss fights. There’s a Bullet King who sits atop a Lead Throne of guns, a heavily-armed parody of a classic D&D monster called the Beholster, and also the High Dragun sitting atop a mountain of ammo, to name just a few. As soon as you step into a boss chamber, Enter the Gungeon’s already considerable difficulty curve takes a pretty savage spike. Bosses are incredibly spongy, capable of filling the screen with deadly projectiles, and there is rarely any cover to be found in their arenas. It’s a pretty excruciating skill check—you can blow through all the rooms of a level without taking a hit and then get stomped by a boss with a frustrating attack pattern. Unlike Borderlands, dying carries a pretty severe penalty in the Gungeon. There’s no real character progression from one run to another. You die, you lose all your money, weapons and items and start back at the beginning. It’s at this point I have to admit to myself that I am not a very good gungeoneer. Although I wasted plenty of quarters on Smash TV and Metal Slug in my formative years, Enter the Gungeon is more demanding of reflexes that have only dulled with age. Sadly, my past still haunts me. I have never gotten anywhere near the Gun That Can Kill the Past—my best run ended on level three, and I consider it a personal triumph even to clear the first. This game is no joke.

Despite the punishing difficulty, Enter the Gungeon still inspires the kind of “one more run” play that can make an entire evening vanish without a trace. There’s always the hope that this time will be different. You’ll find an awesome weapon early on, like Judge Dredd’s Lawgiver or the Nintendo Zapper, and blast through those first few floors, maybe even unlock some hidden chambers and slay a few secret bosses for sick upgrades. This time, you’re going to kill your past for sure.


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