Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late To The Game: Enter The Gungeon – So Many Bullets

Enter the Gungeon is a roguelike bullet-hell developed by Dodge Roll and published by Devolver Digital. It came out way back in 2016 so, as usual, I am incredibly late to the game on this one.

A gungeon, if you were wondering, is a dungeon that is filled with nothing but guns, bullets, and gun-related puns. 

The intro of the game states that the Gungeon was created when a great bullet fell from the sky and destroyed a grim fortress. Over time, this fortress was rebuilt, and at the bottom of it is the most coveted item in the universe: “The gun that can kill the past.”  Basically, it lets you travel back in time and change an event from the past., giving you a mulligan—or a second shot, if you will.

In the game, you play as one of four characters—eight if you unlock all the extras—each trying to kill their pasts for various reasons. You don’t really know what those reasons are until you actually beat the game with each character, because it’s not that kind of game.

It’s a bullet-hell. So, most of the game is spent shooting and dodging an inordinate number of bullets.

It’s always that last one that gets you

Now, bullet-hell isn’t exactly the type of game I play on the regular. I find them stressful and, honestly, really, really hard. There is a lot of information to process all at once, and a single slip-up could cost you dearly. 

That being said, I have played a lot of Enter the Gungeon lately, and because I’m sure there are plenty of others who are late to the game, I’d like to impart the things I’ve learned in case anyone else was interested in this bullet-riddled game.

Have a Blast

First and foremost. I’d like to talk about what, I think, is this game’s true strength. 

That’s right: I’m talking about puns

Not exclusively puns, but the attention to detail that revolvers around this game and its gun based theme is a barrel of amaze-bombs. 

Let’s start simple.

  • The inhabitants of the gungeon are called “gundead” and they look like bullets. 
  • There are Gunjurors who conjure bullets and guns. 
  • Instead of Iron Maidens they have Lead Maidens
  • There are zombie bullets called “the Spent”
  • The bosses include the Gorgun, the Beholster, and the Cannonbalrog
  • There is a sword in the game called “Blastphamy” and we’ll get into why in a second
  • There is a barrel weapon that shoots fish—and if you don’t get that, I can’t help you.

These are just the tip of a gunpowder-laden iceberg. The whole game is like this, and it is literally one of the best things I’ve ever seen. However, what makes this even better is the extent to which this gun theme is taken seriously. 

For example, in the Gungeon, any kind of knife or bladed weapon is considered heretical and picking one up will literally curse you, making the game harder. This is why that one sword was called “Blastphamy”—because it is and does. 

Without this insane level of dedication to the overall gun theme, Enter the Gungeon would probably be a good game, but it would definitely fall short of greatness.

Gunz & Ammo

One of the things you probably guessed from the previous section is that there are a lot of guns in this game. Like, so many it borders on the ridiculous. What I like about this, combined with the roguelike elements, is that it means that no two playthroughs will be the same.

I also like that they left the guns unbalanced. You might find a gun that can wipe out any enemy in one hit, or one that is so pathetic that you might as well throw it at the enemy, because it would certainly do more damage.

This is something you can literally do in the game

I mean, they do balance this a little with the amount of ammo each gun has, or having to charge the heavy hitting  weapons up for several seconds, but for the most part it’s chaos. 

I also like that most of the guns in the game are references to popular culture, or an homage of sorts. Just to list off a few that I’ve seen recently:

  •  The Alien Sidearm is the plasma pistol from Halo
  • The Judge is Judge Dredd’s pistol
  • The Grasschopper is the Noisy Cricket from Men in Black
  • The Zorgun is from the Fifth Element

There are probably too many of these to actually list accurately, but I can’t help but smile every time I pick up one of these guns and immediately get the reference.

Other than the guns, there are active and passive items which can help you in your quest to claim the gun that can kill the past. I’m not going to bother with the active items. 

They’re fine. I guess.

The passive item is where it’s at. They can do everything from increasing your damage and movement speed to charming enemies and doing damage over time to anyone nearby. 

My favorite passive items, however, are the bullets. These little darlings influence how your ammunition acts once it leaves your gun.

You can get bouncy bullets, irradiated bullets, bullets that fire in a helix pattern, bullets that move slower but cause more knockback, and bullets that pierce through enemies.

What I really like about these, is that they stack in the most glorious of ways. If you get enough of them your standard pistol might be firing three bullets at once. These bullets will then poison, ignite, and charm an enemy, and then pass through them to do it to even more enemies before bouncing off a wall to start the cycle all over again.

Mysteries Wrapped in Enigmas

Another noteworthy aspect of Enter the Gungeon is how much is crammed into it, and how hard some of that stuff is to find. 

It’s harder than finding ACTUAL Waldo at a Waldo look-alike convention

I’m not sure how to get into this section without spoiling anything for a five year old game, but I’ll do my best. 

I’ll start with the killing of the past, since that’s the ultimate goal of the game. Well, in order to do this, you need to beat all five floors of the Gungeon to claim the gun that can do the thing I just said. Unfortunately, the first time you get to the gun you’ll realize something. The gun is next to useless without “the bullet that can kill the past.” So, when you shoot the GTCKTP (that’s a mouthful) it will only take you back to the beginning of the Gungeon. 

So where do you get the bullet? Well, you have to build it yourself.

You assemble it from four pieces. These pieces can be found on each floor of the gungeon leading up to the final floor. The thing is, just getting one piece to the fifth floor can be daunting, because just getting to the fifth floor can be a challenge all on its own. 

At least you only have to collect each item once, because once the bullet is assembled, you can just pick up another during your next run.

This is just a taste of what the gungeon has to offer, because it’s also hiding:

  • 5 secret levels, each with their own boss
  • 4 secret characters
  • A ton of NPC’s to rescue
  • Five different ways to augment your experience, and you can stack them.
  • Synergies that make your guns and items act differently depending on your loadout
  • A punch out game

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more secrets I’m unaware of, but for the moment, those are the things I can remember.

Farewell to Arms

Overall, Enter the Gungeon is a fantastic game. Its simple design belies the wealth of content and diversity that lies within. The controls are responsive, and if you die, it’s because you done fucked up. I also enjoy that it’s an easy game to pick up and put down, since you start at square one with every run.

I’m giving Enter the Gungeon a ballistic 9/10 because It manages to be a near-perfect iteration of what a bullet hell is supposed to be, and it does so while slinging puns and references at you at about a thousand rounds per minute.

Now, we’ll need to put a pin in this conversation so that I can reload my game and blast through another run, all so that I can shoot on over and do all this again when I shell out some cash for Exit the Gungeon… 

Too bad the Gungeon didn’t have a revolver door.

Additional gun pun.  

Video Game Reviews

Returnal: Bullet Purgatory

Returnal is one of the first big Playstation exclusives to be launched on the PS5. Developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, it is a Roguelike third-person-shooter that falls squarely into the bullet-hell category.

The game takes place on the planet Atropos where Selene, a planetary scout for the ASTRA corporation, crash lands while searching for a mysterious alien signal. As she stumbles from the crash site, she discovers the body of another ASTRA scout. When she tries to confirm the scout’s identity, she is horrified to discover that the body belongs to her. 

It’s not too much later that an alien creature kills Selene, only for her to wake up in her ship, which is already mid-crash. As she tries to make sense of what’s going on, she starts to realize that she is stuck in a never-ending loop that always begins and ends with her death. 

It’s basically Live, Die, Repeat, but with less Tom Cruise.

I, personally, was looking forward to this game for a few reasons:

  • I thought the graphics looked great.
  • I wanted to see if it made full use of the PS5’s haptic feedback & adaptive triggers
  • I thought the story looked interesting, if somewhat cryptic.
  • I was ready for something more fast-paced than what I’ve been playing recently

It did most, if not all, of those things, and now that I’ve beaten it I can share my knowledge.

Don’t Fear the Reaper

Death in Returnal is almost mandatory. I’m not sure if someone could beat it the first time through, but even if they did, I think that would be missing the point.

When Selene dies, a number of things happen:

  • You lose all the currency you’ve accumulated
  • You lose the weapon & items you were carrying
  • You hurl obscenities at the screen because it was “some bullshit” that got you killed

The most important thing that happens, however, is that the game’s map changes. Nothing will be exactly as it was before. Sure, you might run into some similar rooms, but the overall layout will have changed. 

While this is typical of a roguelike game, what makes this feel so different from other roguelikes is how Selene herself reacts to the changes. You can almost feel her losing her grip on reality as she traverses areas that are both familiar and alien.

It was an interesting lens through which to view the death of an in-game character. You get to see the psychological toll that it takes on the being that you are ostensibly in control of. I would posit that Mario probably feels the same way as Selene once he’s died a dozen or so times.

Baby Steps

There is a level of progression that you do get to keep between loops (or cycles, as the game calls them).

You retain a specific type of currency that can give you some major advantages on future cycles. You also get to keep some suite upgrades which let you explore different areas, much like a standard metroidvania. And you can upgrade weapons through repeated use.

The weapon upgrades were the cornerstone of my ability to make it further with each consecutive cycle. As you progress through a cycle, your proficiency level increases, allowing you to find guns of higher quality (but only during that particular cycle).

The higher the level of a gun, the higher the stats will be. This is useful for the current cycle.

However, there are persistent upgrades that you can unlock for specific weapon types, which can impact future cycles. 

This is not an empty threat.

Take the carbine rifle, for example. It starts off as a basic assault rifle. However, you can find versions that will allow you to unlock such upgrades as:

  • High Caliber: exchanges fire rate for more damage
  • Rising Pitch: fires faster the longer you hold the trigger
  • Hardened: grants increased protection from damage
  • Leech Rounds: gives a chance on hit to restore some health

Every time you unlock one of these upgrades, it becomes a possible feature of any future guns of that type. This means you might find one that has Hardened and High Caliber, or one that gives you Rising Pitch and Leech Rounds.

This makes it vitally important to unlock every single upgrade as soon as possible, so that any future weapons you pick up have more potential benefits.

Risk vs. Reward

Almost every decision you make in Returnal is about assessing a risk against a possible reward. You see, almost every item in the game has a second version that is considered “Malignant,” meaning that it is infected with purple bad stuff. This purple bad stuff has the potential to cause your suit to malfunction. 

Malfunctions are basically penalties applied to your current cycle. They can be anything from enabling fall damage to screwing up your map to decreasing your ability to heal. Though they can be fixed by completing specific requirements unique to each malfunction, it is often harder than it should be to get rid of them. 

This makes any interaction with a malignant item a potential risk. But if you’re super low on health, a malignant healing item might seem worth it at the time. 

Just remember what might happen next.

This is also true with one of the game’s other mechanics: parasites. These are essentially items that give you a boon but also come with a cost. You could find one that allows you to heal 25% more effectively, but that could come at the steep price of being damaged every time you pick up an item.

Parasites aren’t easily removed, either, so you need to be certain you need one before you let it attach itself to you. 

The whole game is filled with these decisions, and it was actually one of my favorite design elements. It made each cycle unique and allowed me to try and build a version of Selene that I thought could make it further than any other, despite the handicaps I had to place on myself. 

Xeno-Cartography

The map in Returnal was not a disappointment. It was, in a lot of ways, one of the best maps I’d seen in a while. I don’t think there was a single cycle where I got lost (except the one where a malfunction made my map all scrambled). It was clear, easy to read, and every point of interest was visible.

My favorite aspect of Returnal’s map was the way it marked doors. There was one symbol for a door that lead along the main path (meaning that you would eventually find the key or mechanism to continue the story), and another for doors that lead to side paths. 

This meant that if I wanted to explore, I could exhaust all the side options before returning to the door that would take me to my next objective.

The map even grayed out doors that I’d already been through, so it was easy to see where I might have missed something.

So, for someone like me, who really needs to make sure I didn’t miss anything, this was a tour de force. It made my playthrough of each cycle smooth and about as thorough as I could ever want. 

It’s the most helpful map since this guy.

All that being said, there was one thing that the map did not do that it really should have: it did not distinguish between malignant items and regular ones.

This means that every chest shows up on the map, but it will not tell you if the chest is malignant or not. It also means that you might see four healing items in an area, but only use one of them because the rest might cause your suit to malfunction.

This just seemed ridiculous given that the map would already tell you if a door or chest was locked or unlocked. They could have just made the malignant items purple on the map, or at least marked them as malignant once you got close to them. There was nothing more infuriating than seeing a chest I’d missed and running back through an area, only to find out that it was a malignant chest. 

All the Bullets

Overall, Returnal was fun to play. The play action is smooth, responsive, and ultimately fair, which is essential to any bullet hell. The gameplay loop—pun intended—was satisfying and gave you just enough to progress further each cycle without letting you steamroll your way through the game. And the levels were varied enough to keep things interesting. 

The story was… all right? I guess? It was incredibly hard to decipher, and sort of seemed irrelevant overall. But that never had a direct impact on my ability to enjoy playing. I often found myself shrugging after a cutscene, only to immediately forget my confusion while trying to dodge hundreds of onscreen bullets.

I’m giving Returnal a respectable 7.5/10. It was not the blockbuster I was expecting, and the story was literally ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, but it was some frenetic fun that got my adrenaline pumping and gave me a sense of accomplishment any time I survived a boss encounter.

Also, Returnal is one of the first big Playstation exclusives to be launched on the PS5. Developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, it is a Roguelike third-person-shooter that… falls squarely…. into the bullet-hell…

…anyone else getting some serious déjà vu?