There’s something just classic about a good dungeon. Whether it’s sitting with a group of friends and rolling D20s in Dungeons & Dragons, fighting off hordes of demons in the Diablo series, or even solving puzzles deep in a Forest Temple in a Legend of Zelda game, gaming has made dungeon-delving a quintessential experience. So what happens, then, when someone takes the familiar dungeon crawler formula and were to say, fill it full of bullets? You get Enter the Gungeon, that’s what.
Released in April of 2016 by developer Dodge Roll, Enter the Gungeon is a top-down, twin-stick shooter that sits firmly in the roguelike genre. Similar to games like The Binding of Isaac, Enter the Gungeon tasks the player with guiding one of four playable heroes to the bottom of the titular gungeon where the legendary “Gun that can Kill the Past” lies. Armed with gorgeous 16-bit sprite work and a catchy soundtrack, each of the four characters have been drawn to the Gungeon for a chance to right the wrongs of their past, but this is a task easier said than done. Like many other roguelikes, Enter the Gungeon is a devilishly difficult game where one wrong move can send you back to the very beginning. Thankfully, Gungeon has many tools and mechanics to help the player fight on to the end.
The most obvious of these tools is the sheer size of the arsenal at your disposal. Enter the Gungeon has. So. Many. Guns. Real guns. Space guns. Shotguns. Handguns. Guns from other video games. Guns that shoot other guns. Laser guns and rocket launchers that shoot out bees. With over two hundred available weapons, the player is almost always equipped to fight their way through the Gungeon. Just about every gun available has unique mechanics and abilities that add all sorts of variety to the many adventures you’ll undertake in Enter the Gungeon. Combined with the plethora of passive upgrade items and cool active items (like potions that make you immune to damage for a short time or a button that calls down an airstrike on your foes), there’s so much creativity and variety on display that you can’t help but get excited every time you open a chest or get an item drop. Various vendors in the hub world let you purchase new weapons and items to add to the Gungeon, and you get a sense that you’ll always have something new to play with. Unfortunately there is the odd gun or item that doesn’t bring as much to the table as one of its counterparts, but for the most part the game constantly rewards you with cool loot.
The game also gives you two important mechanics to help work your way through the Gungeon. The dodge roll, a mechanic so important the game studio is seemingly named after it, allows you to quickly dodge in the direction you’re currently moving and allows you to briefly ignore enemy fire. The dodge roll is something you want to master as soon as possible because it’s possible for an uninitiated player to accidentally catapult themselves into more danger as they try to dodge enemy bullets. The Gungeon also provides items called blanks that can be activated to instantly destroy any bullets around you. Essentially Enter the Gungeon’s “get out of jail free card”, blanks are a powerful tool for survival but are a scarce resource that the player has to use wisely. The fact that blanks are also used to reveal hidden rooms in the Gungeon adds to their strategic use: do you spend a blank on a chance to get new gear or do you save it for that boss you know you have trouble with? You’ll occasionally happen upon some armor within the Gungeon which protects your from taking damage once and also activates a free blank. Each of the four starting characters have access to different starting equipment which also helps you to flesh out a personal playstyle. All said, all of Enter the Gungeon’s core mechanics, the gunplay, dodge rolling, etc., feel responsive and well crafted.
The Gungeon itself is comprised of five chambers (plus a few secret ones) that are procedurally generated and get more difficult the deeper you dive. Each chamber is lightly themed with the first chamber being castle-like and deeper chambers being filled with spooky relics or caverns of fire. The gun theme carries over into the Gungeon as well; the denizens of the Gungeon are members of the “Cult of the Gundead” and suitably designed around ammunition. Living shotgun shells and bullets stalk you through the halls of Gungeon and are as cute as they are deadly. The types of enemies are fairly varied and every foe poses a unique threat to the player. The bosses of each floor are also incredibly unique, with many of them being Gungeon-themed versions of classic Dungeons & Dragons monsters. The Beholster, Cannonbalrog, and others all come with unique mechanics and challenges that are incredibly fun to master.
The Advanced Gungeons & Dragons update released in July of 2018 and brought with it a slew of new and free content. The update added a bevy of new guns, enemies, bosses, and even a whole new secret level to master. However, the most important thing it brought to the table is perhaps the brand new synergy mechanic. Sometimes, when you pick up two complimentary items they now synergize and create additional effects. These synergies add a whole new degree of variety and can grant you some really cool tools. For example, some synergies might allow you to dual-wield certain guns or give guns large explosive rounds. My only gripe with synergies is that there’s nothing in-game that explains what each synergy you unlock does and you sort of just have to figure out whatever it is you unlocked. This is surprising as the game contains an atlas of sorts called the Ammonomicon that lists descriptions of every enemy you defeat and every item you pick up. It seems odd that the Ammonomicon wasn’t updated to support the new synergy system, but the synergies are awesome nonetheless.
Enter the Gungeon is gorgeous and filled with well-tuned, exhilarating gameplay. Although difficult, there are so many possibilities within Enter the Gungeon that it very rarely feels like you’re not making progress. Runs are fairly quick and it’s easy to keep trying to conquer the Gungeon over and over. With an unlockable challenge mode and a multitude of hidden secrets to uncover, there are just a ton of reasons to keep on crawling through that Gungeon. So strap on your favorite sidearm, load up on ammo, and get ready to burn some hot lead!
Enter the Gungeon is available now for Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam. This review is based on a PC version purchased by the writer.