Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Linux, Mac OS

Enter the Gungeon is one of those rare games whose entire premise is perfectly encapsulated in its title. It’s a dungeon crawler with guns. That’s the beginning and end of its entire thesis. It’s a theme that extends well beyond its mechanics – a mash-up of the rogue-like and bullet-hell genres – and into its flavors, story, and graphics. Priests hold staves that look life firearms. Enemies look like shell casings. Ancient temples are plastered with runic markings that look like six shooters. It knows exactly what it is, in a very tongue-in-cheek way. This isn’t a game that you’ll come to for an epic sweeping narrative adventure. This is a game where you shoot stuff. Awesome!

If you really need a plot, here it is. Out on a remote planet, in the deepest reaches of space, lies an ancient dungeon. This dungeon is said to protect an ancient mystic gun with the power to shoot the past in the face! The one who possesses this gun can undo any event in time, changing the course of history as we know it. Yet no one has ever come up from the dungeon alive. Now it’s your turn. Can you return with this mystical treasure and your life intact?

Probably not at least for a couple of runs.

Bullet Heaven

Your goal is to get to the bottom of the titular Gungeon, which is randomly generated every run. Inside the gungeon, enemies attack you with huge bullet patterns reminiscent of a Touhou game. They blossom and bloom, leaving you only inches to maneuver, all while you desperately fire back attempting to do as much damage as possible.

However, while most rogue-likes leave your progress up to fate and random chance, Enter the Gungeon goes to great lengths to make sure every run feels fair. For example, the rooms in the Gungeon are not randomly generated. Instead, they are drawn from a huge pile of hand-designed rooms, which makes it certain that you will have enough room to maneuver and will even have ample cover from enemy attacks.

Enemy attacks don’t start as wacky as bullet-hell attacks usually do. You’ll begin by just dodging a couple of shotgun blasts and maneuvering around laser guided streams of particles. This gives you plenty of time to understand the classic top down controls, which are more accurate than your standard bullet hell games. In classic bullet hell titles, your enemies are so big that all you have to do is hold down the fire button and not die. But Enter the Gungeon asks you to actually aim and time your attacks in order to hit smaller and more mobile enemies.

Another unique trait that Enter the Gungeon has is the dodge roll, which acts similar to dodges you’d find in other action games. The roll is entirely invincible, but there is a bit of a cooldown period after each one. This allows you to get out of tight spots where bullet patterns may overlap. You are still encouraged to keep your distance as much as possible, though. Getting right up in an enemy’s face will almost guarantee that you are hit by its next bullet wave, but staying across the room will give the wave time to fan out, giving you ample time to avoid getting hit. 

Randomly Enjoyable

Gameplay will vary wildly depending on what gun you have equipped. Using the sniper rifle will cause you to dodge endlessly while trying to line up one perfect shot, while rapid fire guns will have you holding down the fire button and hoping for the best. Rocket launchers will have you aiming at the terrain rather than your enemies. You’ll even stumble upon a gun that fires bees. BEES!

Items and power-ups are truly random, so no run will ever be quite the same. However, it never feels like your fate was determined by the equipment you got. New weapons and items do more to change how you play than how well you play. You can get upgrades that will increase your bullet spread or rate of fire, but no upgrades feel like duds, and you’ll always receive them at about the same rate.

The game looks fine. It’s yet another retro-throwback game with a pixel aesthetic, and as I said before the art direction has a delightful tongue-in-cheek style. The audio is good but forgettable. It’s yet another compilation of chiptunes meant to get your blood pumping, and it does, but you won’t be humming these ditties on your commute to work, if only because the sound of your gun firing will drown out most of the other audio.

Bring A Friend

Variety is Gungeon’s biggest strength. You can choose from several different characters, each with different starting guns and abilities. You’ll encounter totally different bosses, enemies, and stage hazards in each run. You’ll stumble into builds that you never even thought of before, simply because you picked up weapons and items in a certain order.

Its second biggest strength is just the sheer amount of neat stuff that is hidden in the game’s mechanics. Certain guns, for example, have special abilities that they activate on reload. Certain terrain objects, like tables, can be kicked over and used as temporary mobile cover. Co-op is an incredible delight, allowing you to destroy and kick around terrain objects to help your partner, and focus fire on bosses when you get a bit of breathing space. However, the game forces the second player to start as the “cultist” character, which has the ability to resurrect the first player if he dies. It’s a really powerful and interesting class, but it’s a shame that player 2 doesn’t get access to any of the other cool unlockable characters that player 1 does.

Honestly, there’s not much more to say about Enter the Gungeon. It’s just a solid and fun game all around. It has the same flaws as most rogue-likes do, nominally the punishing difficulty that will see you playing the game over and over again just to get one level further. But it also has an absurd amount of replay value, interesting enemy design, and just a ton of guns to play with. You can pick it up for $15 on Steam or PS4, and I would recommend you do, especially if you have another bullet crazy friend to play with.