I’m mowing down hordes of cute, walking bullets with a gun that fires junk mail, while a turtle in a space helmet provides covering fire as I frantically roll from upturned table to stone pillar. I’ve only got a few seconds before the next torrent of bullets destroys my last bit of cover and I’ve got to face the wave of smiling artillery without getting hit by a single shot or else it’s back to the start with me. These moments of pure lunacy happen at least three times a level while playing Enter the Gungeon, a bullet hell dungeon crawler from Dodge Roll Games which sees Gungeoneers flipping and dodging through thousands of multi-coloured bullets to find a Gun which can kill the Past. The constant drip of bonkers weaponry, challenging enemies and massive bosses makes for one of the best roguelikes in recent memory, one which will have you mashing the Quick Restart button every time you die.
The story in Enter the Gungeon is quite minimal, following the trials of four adventurers who are seeking a way to literally kill the Past and start over again. When your main plot thread is the quest to find a gun that is supposed to slay Time, you can tell that Enter the Gungeon is not taking itself too seriously. It is a game which revels in its silliness, via the hundreds of ridiculous guns or its obsession with making as many puns or references as possible without breaking game flow. Upon arriving at the Gungeon and entering the Breach, which can be seen as a sort of Firelink Shrine for gun-nuts, it’s your goal to delve deeper into the Gungeon, discovering more weapons, freeing fellow travellers from the depths and eventually trying to attain the fabled time-killing gun. The Firelink Shrine comparison is not just me trying to reference Dark Souls yet again, the chaps at Dodge Roll have taken a clear inspiration from From Software’s RPG, right down to the name of their studio. You slowly populate the Breach with more people you’ve found on your travels, ranging from shopkeepers, to hunters of Bullet-kin to even a sad, helmeted explorer whose helmet you can keep kicking into the depths for them to go collect. Every new NPC injects more life into the Gungeon, as makeshift shops and tents are set up to house the growing settlement of ne’er do wells who all seek the treasures of the Gungeon. Other roguelikes like The Binding of Isaac do this kind of meta-progression of unlocking new levels and items behind walls of text while Enter the Gungeon turns its hub into a living space which grows along with your skills as a Gungeon crawler. A new shopkeeper could mean a powerful new item in the item pool, which means you could clear that tricky boss to get to the next floor and so on. The feedback loop while playing Enter the Gungeon is precisely designed to always give you a new weapon to collect or a potential NPC to find for when you go back into the depths of the labyrinth.
The Dark Souls comparison stretches to Gungeon’s item descriptions, with each weapon and upgrade having its own little history and flavour text which either points to a larger universe outside of the crypt or is just there to make you laugh. Rather than just parroting back a typical Soulesian trope, the addition of humour adds so much personality to Gungeon, be it through the hundreds of little sight gags and references peppered throughout the in-game encyclopaedia or the deliberate parody descriptions which reference items found in the Souls series. The humour is just right, as it never becomes distracting or in your face by constantly reminding you that it made a reference to something else, but it is pitched well enough that you’ll get a decent chuckle after finding a weapon like the Wind Up Gun which plays ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ whenever you reload it. The light-heartedness of Enter the Gungeon goes a long way, especially when the game itself is rock hard. You’ll appreciate a brief moment of levity when you’re about to fight a giant cannonball ghost which shoots enough projectiles to turn the screen red with cannon fire.