Enter the Gungeon is the latest in the recent trend of action rogue-likes. Combining the designs of The Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne, the game is one of the hardest entries in the genre, but a few decisions leave me reaching for my holster.
The story of the game is that you are one of four characters who have come to the mysterious gungeon: A gun and bullet obsessed place filled with sentient bullets. Your goal is to find the greatest treasure of the temple: A gun that can kill the past. Standing in your way are floors full of enemies, bosses and dwindling reserves of ammo and guns.
To start, the game looks great and is a perfect example of the quality that you can get with pixel art. The gun motif gives the game an interesting and unique aesthetic that works.
Enter the Gungeon feels like Nuclear Throne taken up a few notches. Using a similar isometric perspective, you’ll have to shoot your way through waves of enemies with different attack and shot patterns. While Nuclear Throne was entirely procedurally generated, Enter the Gungeon copies The Binding of Isaac’s design of taking set room layouts and procedurally designing the level floor plan out of them.
Each character starts out with a different starting gun and items to take into the gungeon, but they all respond the same way. Action is fast-paced, as you need to train yourself in shooting and dodging attacks. Your main defensive option is a combat roll; while you are in the air for the first part you are invincible, but you are vulnerable after landing. The game knows this and has prepared shoot-em-up worthy shot patterns for you to attempt to avoid.
Besides dodging, you are given two blanks: Items that erase all bullets in the room and prevent the enemy from firing for a few seconds. These items are emergency use, but you will always have a supply of at least two whenever you enter a new floor.
Don’t let the looks fool you, Enter the Gungeon is a challenging game and leans more towards bullet-hell compared to games like Isaac and Nuclear Throne. Unfortunately, I feel that the game falls into the cheap side of things due to several design and technical decisions.
Enter the Gungeon features an amazing art aesthetic as mentioned, but the aesthetic has caused a compromise of the game mechanics. You’ll find that the actual amount of screen that you’re going to see is drastically smaller compared to Isaac and Nuclear Throne. The developers did this in order to keep the game looking sharp, but it has a severe affect on the gameplay.
The reason is that with the viewing screen so small, most often you’re going to take damage from shots entering off screen before you had a chance to react. Zooming in doesn’t work, because all it does is make the view window bigger and more blurred, not increasing the size of the view window.
The bigger problem is how the game is balanced against the player and their skill. The starting guns for each character suffers from low accuracy, high bullet spread and a long reload time compared to the aggression of the enemies. The main reason you’re going to use it is because it has unlimited ammo compared to the other guns. The problem with this is that it makes the player’s skill less important than the randomization and abstraction.
In The Binding of Isaac, players could still get through challenges without finding powerful tear upgrades, and it was possible to make the best of a bad situation. In Enter the Gungeon, you will simply not win if you don’t get the right guns and passive upgrades. I hate games that make the main mechanic annoying to use, because it just makes the majority of my time spent playing frustrating. One character (The Marine) starts with increased accuracy and faster reload times; making him the superior option for me by default.
Speaking of upgrades, Enter the Gungeon slips up on the meta-game component of the design. One of the best parts of The Binding of Isaac was how the meta-game worked.
The more you played the game, the more achievements would unlock new content and challenges in game. The game was still beatable from the start, but the achievements made a great game better and rewarded players who stuck with it.
In Enter the Gungeon’s case, too much of the game’s difficulty is tied to unlocking content through the meta-game. At the start, the number of joke or useless items greatly outnumbers the good stuff.
As you play more and unlock new options, you’ll start to give yourself a greater chance at getting items and guns that help. More specifically, you’ll get items that change or upgrade your bullets; in turn, improving not just all the guns you pickup, but your starting gun.
You’ll find that the game features a number of mechanics that make the game harder and more punishing for the player. Money and key drops are random and sometimes very limited; decreasing your chance to buy new items or get rewards from the multiple chests on a floor. Enemy stats and shop prices gradually increase as you get further into the game and it just feels like the game is constantly punishing the player. I would have preferred the meta-gameplay to also increase the difficulty both passively and with more enemy variety, but I’m not seeing anything at the moment.
There is always that fine line between cheap and challenging gameplay, and I feel that Enter the Gungeon at the moment is cheap. I would either do one of two things: Improve accuracy similar to the Binding of Isaac or Nuclear Throne, or have some better items unlocked for the randomization at the get-go. Right now, it feels like you need everything to go right on the abstraction end in order to have any chance of winning with your skill. Once you’ve played with the Meta long enough, the game becomes a lot more manageable and beatable, but you’re going to have to go through a lot of losses through no fault of your own first.
Lastly I noticed two other problems. It felt like there was a delay sometimes with my dodge and other actions; causing the game to be a little choppy. Also, the number of rooms for each floor felt limited; after a few plays, I started to see repeat rooms and situations.
Overall, Enter the Gungeon is a great start for a rogue-lite and I could see great things for it in the same vein as the Binding of Isaac.
If the developers can improve the balance of the game and continue growing out the content, we could have a great alternative to The Binding of Isaac’s design. For more on Enter the Gungeon, you can check out my growing playlist of attempts at beating the game on the Game-Wisdom YouTube Channel.
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