Coming off of a one-week hiatus, Sony’s Launch Party 2016 promotion gets back into the swing of things this week with Dodge Roll’s combination bullet-hell/roguelike Enter the Gungeon. Melding genres is always tricky business, so let’s see if Dodge Roll was equal to the task.
Dexterity and simplicity are critical when it comes to picking off enemies that are dispensing dozens of projectiles at you, and Enter the Gungeon keeps things tight and responsive throughout.
Movement and aiming are handled with the analog sticks, and the right bumper fires your gun. The triggers bring up the map and activate items (like ammo drops, health packs, a knife shield, etc.), respectively, and triangle or d-pad can be used to shuffle through your collection of guns.
More important than any of those, however, is your dodge roll — it can be done via the left bumper or the circle button, making it convenient no matter how you hold your controller. It’s not only used to dive away from incoming fire but through it as well. The first portion of your dodge grants a few precious frames of invincibility, which you’ll need to survive the onslaught.
Also at your disposal is a screen-clearing defensive maneuver. It’s done by clicking both sticks at the same time, and each use exhausts one of your “blanks.” You start each new floor with two, and you can buy more from an in-level merchant or occasionally even find one dropped by an enemy. They’re necessary for certain bullet patterns and should generally be viewed as a measure of last resort.
It all works very well, proving to be simple enough to dive right in but complex to the point that you’ll feel viable improvement as you play. Death will take on many different forms in Enter the Gungeon, but it’s rare that the culprit will be traced back to your controls.
Visually, Enter the Gungeon features some of the same colorful styling as Fez, throwing all kinds of little details into each room. Most aren’t just for show, either, as there are tons of destructible objects for you to smash or shoot — it’s actually kind of addictive to knock over suits of armor or flip each table (they can be used for cover) to send the contents flying as you progress.
Enemy design leans to the silly side, which helps mitigate some of the challenge as it seems hard to get too upset when you’ve just been killed by a smiling bullet or a happy cube. Bosses are suitably clever as well, making those encounters memorable.
There’s a good, albeit understated soundtrack here that complements what’s happening on screen quite well without getting stale. Sound effects are solid, especially the large variety of guns that you’ll find, equip and fire as you start to rack up the hours.
There’s a kernel of a story in place here where, at the bottom floor of the titular fortress lays a gun that can “kill the past.” Each of the four available characters (the hunter, pilot, convict and marine) has their own reasons for seeking out this weapon — each death is accompanied by a performance review that confirms that you’re still haunted by your past — but that’s about the size of it.
Clearly, the overwhelming focus is on gameplay, and Enter the Dungeon brings a mix of bullet-hell shooting and roguelike challenge. That means upon each death you’re sent back to the breach to start on the first level all over again.
There’ll be no memorization of layouts or strategies, either, as the game features procedurally generated maps. In that way, a fresh experience is provided each time, though it also introduces elements of luck into the proceedings as you never know what a chest will contain.
That means you could find yourself facing a boss wearing wings that bypass traps that aren’t even on that level and wielding a gun that shoots fish. Or, you could find an item that adds a fourth heart while toting a Gatling gun. One of those setups will make the boss fight much easier, but it’s the fact that you’re never sure what hand you’ll be dealt that helps make the game so interesting.
Enter the Gungeon‘s random nature also means you need to stay on your toes at all times. The first room you enter might be packed with enemies spraying dozens of projectiles as you dive for cover, or it could contain a couple of basic foes that can be dispatched with a few shots. So just because you made it to the fourth floor boss on your last run doesn’t guarantee you’re reaching the second floor next time.
While starting anew each time is usually fun, the lack of progression can take its toll depending on your mindset. Eventually there are ways to bypass levels entirely by helping to repair the elevator, but it can be a pain to collect the needed items. There’s precious few health or ammo drops, too, and though that adds to the challenge it makes thoroughly searching levels feel rather pointless.
Instead of health or ammo, defeated enemies drop shell casings, which can be used to buy items — heart refills, armor, keys, guns, etc. — from a merchant found on each floor. Also of note, many rooms contain transporters, which make exploration fast and easy since you can go to them at any time.
There’s an awful lot to like about Enter the Gungeon, from its charming art style to its demanding gameplay. The further you progress and more you unlock, the deeper the game sinks it hooks into you, making it an unexpectedly addictive experience.