Set in a rogue-like dungeon with a number of increasingly challenging floors, four diverse characters to choose from and a shed load of randomised boss encounters to battle through, Enter the Gungeon is pretty much the same on paper as about fifty percent of all indie games recently released on Nintendo’s Switch. Whilst standout examples of twin stick shooters to make the, erm… switch to Nintendo’s portable console include the likes of Hammerwatch and The Binding of Isaac, not all games are created equal. Does Enter the Gungeon have what it takes to hang out in such elite company, or is it destined for e-shop ignominy?
The short answer is that Enter the Gungeon is actually pretty good, despite having a disarmingly mundane start. Players choose from one of four characters before battling through a mercifully brief and fairly amusing tutorial sequence which teaches them the basics of moving, aiming, shooting, dodge-rolling and using a blink ability that cancels all projectiles currently on the screen. Once the game begins properly, Enter the Gungeon features the better kind of procedural generation that actively enhances gameplay, rather than the kind that creates dead ends and frustratingly tough rooms.
Enemies in Enter the Gungeon (including bosses) are almost always themed around weapons and ammunition, although the enhanced 16-bit style graphics don’t always show them in clear detail, despite the game looking decent overall. Basic enemies include cute little bullets and shotgun shells, whilst bosses are much more creative. My particular favourite is a classic Dungeons & Dragons beholder adorned in countless rocket launchers and machines guns, rather than its traditional tentacles.
Because of their size and the creativity they exude, these bosses are undoubtedly the visual highlight of Enter the Gungeon, but at all times the game pops with colour and excitement — especially on the Switch’s small, bright screen. Whilst I mentioned already that very fine details can be hard to pick out, it doesn’t present any real gameplay issues — bullets are highlighted against the backdrop for example, so avoiding them is a simple case of timing your dodge roll to a tee.
It is this dodge roll, plus the combat mechanics and other control features, that are the most unique aspect of Enter the Gungeon. Most games of this kind seem to feature unlimited ammo, no need to reload and relatively few additional controls to manage, which makes them kind of a straight shoot (so to speak) between how much fire you can put down and how many enemies the game throws at you. In Enter the Gungeon, you need to retreat, reload, dodge and shoot in a much more tactical way, which ultimately gives the game a different feel to almost all of its peers.
Dodge rolls, if timed correctly, completely negate the damage a bullet might cause. There is also a fantastic weight to them — you click the button and there is a millisecond’s lag (good lag) as your character bends their knees and hops in whichever direction you’re pushing at the time. Shooting is better off done by tapping the trigger, rather than holding it, which feels all the more satisfying given that a large number of basic weapons are revolvers that give the feeling of squeezing out rounds in a very manual way.
Aiming is done in the same way as it is in any other twin-stick shooter, in that you can run with the left stick and aim with the right. It is a little unusual to have to use a trigger to shoot in this kind of game, rather than have it happen automatically when you press a direction, but it really works in Enter the Gungeon. I never felt I was disadvantaged as a result of this style and in fact, because of the dodge roll, the myriad of items and weapons and the blink special move that cancels all current on-screen projectiles, the score is more than even.
In addition to a fairly satisfying solo mode, Enter the Gungeon features an excellent local co-op mode which introduces a fifth character (I should also mention that there are some secret, unlockable characters, but I won’t spoil the surprise) with a unique healing ability. Co-op is even more tactical than solo play and rather than feeling chaotic (as many co-op twin stick shooters do) it feels more calculated, more focused. In general, it feels better. That said, this is mostly true of the big screen experience, rather than handheld mode, which is quite a challenge to use in co-op due to the small size and level of detail.
When all is said and done, Enter the Gungeon is more evolution than revolution. I can’t think of a specific bell or whistle it uses to shout its message from the rooftops, but what it does do is more or less everything well. It looks and sounds good, with a fantastic feel which is head and shoulders above almost any other twin stick shooter I’ve played. It offers a good level of challenge and feels pleasingly tactical, whilst the co-op mode is more than just a tacked-on, throwaway element. Enter the Gungeon is a great game and like so many others, it feels as if it belongs on Nintendo’s exceptional handheld. Highly recommended.
Enter the Gungeon is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and on PC, Mac, & Linux