Three hundred and twenty-six hours. When I started writing this, that is how much time my boyfriend has put into Enter The Gungeon, the freshman effort from indie developer Dodge Roll Games. By the time you’re reading this, there will probably be another ten hours on the Steam clock, and dozens more posts on the game’s active subreddit.
But Enter The Gungeon isn’t a hot new release—it came out in 2016. With over four thousand titles released on Steam that year, and that number set to double for 2018, it can be difficult for smaller indie titles to stand out among the deluge of new releases. But this twin-stick shooter roguelike—a genre built around quick, repeated playthroughs—not only managed to capture the public eye when it first released, but has built a dedicated fan base that has stuck around for two years. It’s not a multiplayer title like Fortnite, nor an esports phenomenon like Overwatch. On the face of things, it’s a pretty simple game about shooting your way through a cute dungeon shaped like a giant gun while avoiding getting hit yourself. So what is about Enter The Gungeon that’s kept people hooked for two years and counting?
“What I love most about this bullet-hell mixed with twin-stick shooter is the fact that RNG [random number generator] adds flavor to a run [through random drops of equipment], but doesn’t outright determine its success or failure. Obviously good drops will make things much easier or more forgiving, but player skill is a much greater determining factor.”
Many roguelikes rely on an element of randomness in order to stay fresh after repeated playthroughs. Rooms and floor layouts are randomized, as are loot drops. In many roguelikes, a run can be made or broken based on what the player picks up. Get an amazing weapon early on? That can help a lot in defeating enemies and saving resources later in the game. Didn’t know that choker was cursed? Well, unfortunately, you just killed your character and have to start again.
Enter The Gungeon does include the element of luck, but a firm grasp on the game’s shooting and dodging mechanics are more important. Good players can salvage bad luck by playing well, and even with the best guns and items will be useless if the player can’t avoid getting hit. No run is doomed from the beginning, and even unlucky ones help the player learn to roll with the punches. It can be difficult for new players to advance when they first pick up the game, but as WeekendBossing says, “The best tip anyone could give is to just keep playing and you’ll get better”.
A Sense of Discovery
“I envy him [a new player] because he can enjoy the first 20 or so hours of pure discovery.”
While Enter The Gungeon relies more on skill than luck to get through the game, there’s a lot to be said about the sense of discovery the game offers. There are a ton of guns, items, and secrets to find, and early on every run will bestow a plethora of new content upon the player. As she learns to play the game, the player’s skills are matched by new, ever-more creative enemies with more complicated and deadly bullet patterns.
The myriad guns available also spice things up. Guns widely vary in terms of damage done, firing rate, and the amount of ammo they have, and a key component in learning how to consistently survive runs in Enter The Gungeon is to learn how to utilize the guns you’re given to handle the threats in your way. It helps that a lot of the gun designs are either comical in nature or just plain odd-looking—it gives everything a fun twist without being obnoxious.
There’s the Megahand, a gun clearly inspired by Mega Man; the Hexagun, which can turn enemies into helpless chickens; and finally, the Bullet, which is a bullet that shoots guns. That’s just scratching the surface of all the fun items you can find in Enter the Gungeon, and even if the gun or item itself isn’t very good, it’s still a joy to find out just what the developers thought up.
It’s this mix of skill and discovery that has kept the community thriving for two years, despite Enter The Gungeon being a single-player title that doesn’t have the interaction that helps multiplayer titles stick around. The game’s subreddit has daily discussions about items and strategies and is the cornerstone of most discussions of Enter The Gungeon in general—besides the memes. New players can get help from veterans, and grizzled Gungeoneers can trade war stories and reminisce.
Dedicated and Responsive Developers
“I think one of my absolute favourite things about this game is not the game itself (although I do love it don’t get me wrong) is that as a dev team you guys are incredible… even now you take time to comment on posts, update us, and just generally act as a community with us fans rather than working as a separate entity, and in today’s world of corporate giants it’s awesome to see such a cool team.”
Dodge Roll themselves remain very active in the community and with their game.. You can see the developers post in the subreddit relatively often, chatting with the community and working to make their title even better.
Since Enter The Gungeon released, Dodge Roll has released two huge, free updates for the game. The second update, in particular, adds tons of new items and mechanics to the game, including synergies that can make previously low-tier weapons and items more useful. Dodge Roll even spent an extra six months on the second update, to ensure it was the best update possible for the community.
“This game has been out for over two years. I have very little time to play many games nowadays due to two jobs, working 60 hours a week and other life responsibilities. Yet somehow between the PC/PS4 version of the game I have over 400 hours of play time. This speaks volumes about the game you’ve created. It is challenging, fun and great experience.”
Enter The Gungeon is a perfect storm of mechanics, gameplay loops, and community building that makes the indie title stay in the minds of its fans, even two years after the games’ initial release. It can be difficult to stand out in a world where new games are released daily, but Dodge Roll has struck gold with their well-developed title, and their dedication to their fans to make their first commercial game even better is inspiring.