The rising popularity of games with roguelike elements can be attributed to several factors; I can think of at least two right off the bat. The first is an increased sensitivity to the value of any given game, and it’s hard to deny that games with procedurally-generated content can last quite a while thanks to their endlessly novel level arrangements.
The other is the similarly increasing popularity of game streaming via YouTube and other services; watching other players deal with whatever the randomizer feels like throwing at them can make for some entertaining viewing. I get the feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of GoNNER, the latest procedurally-generated platforming shoot-a-thon, on YouTube in the coming weeks.
GoNNER has a story! …I think? You play as Ikk, who is trying to cheer up his space whale pal by searching for gifts in a catacomb with the help of Death…maybe. GoNNER doesn’t care much for words, you see, and this might make your initial steps into the game a little difficult, but the bottom line is that you’re trying to make your way deep into a dungeon with by using your head. And a gun. And a backpack or something.
This is a shooter, so you’re going to start each run by picking something to shoot, along with the aforementioned head and back item. The available weapons vary from a shotgun to a rocket launcher to a piercing laser, while your head offers a passive boost and determines how much health you have. Back items give you a special ability that recharges by killing baddies, which range from reloading your gun to making Ikk flip out in a bullet-spraying frenzy. Very little of this is explained to you since, again, GoNNER doesn’t like using words where bullets would do, so you’ll have to discover things like the passive abilities of heads yourself.
Once you’re geared up, it’s time to hit the dungeon! It’s packed with baddies to take out with your weapon of choice. Guns have limited ammo, but defeated enemies are pretty generous with reloads, and if worse comes to worse you can kill baddies by jumping on their heads Mario-style. Meanwhile, you’ll want to avoid taking damage as best you can. Taking a hit will reduce Ikk to his component bits – namely a squiggly blob and his head, gun and back item. The latter will go flying and you’ll have to pick them up again; this can be a big issue if, say, anything fell into a pit, leaving you defenseless! What’s more, Ikk can be killed in a single hit without a head, so it’s vital to get that back ASAP.
Successful play, namely by killing tons of enemies quickly and without taking damage, will result in Ikk earning purple chips that act as currency. These can be spent in Death’s shops throughout the dungeon, allowing you to change your loadout if necessary. If you drop the ball and die, you can also spend these chips to revive on the same floor you’re on, though the cost for this rapidly spirals out of control such that you won’t be able to count on it more than once. Paupers who can’t afford a revive when they die are forced to start over from the beginning, naturally.
Continue to not die and you’ll progress through the dungeon. The game gets steadily harder the deeper you go, but you’re rewarded for doing well with new gear and bosses to battle. The gear, in particular, is interesting; picking up new stuff allows you to start your runs with it from then on, providing some much-needed variety that can make the early stages feel less dull. The game’s bosses, meanwhile, are bizarre and have their own gimmicks to deal with, like a giant mech surrounded with turrets that doesn’t attack directly, but counterattacks by spawning enemies when you damage it. Expect to die at least once or twice each time you encounter one. Hope you’ve got the cash to try again.
GoNNER’s a lot of surreal fun, and the game’s nightmarish aesthetic certainly doesn’t hurt. The procdurally generated levels and the characters that inhabit them generally looks like they’re chalk drawings, with sections squiggling and shifting all over the place even if they’re not actually moving. Later areas play around with this concept a little by inverting the area’s colors; this can prove to be a shock the first time you see it! Tying everything together is some of the best sound design we’ve seen from a game that’s not explicitly a rhythm game; everything from the music to the bone-rattling sound accompanying a reload is memorable and helps make GoNNER feel special.
Fans of the roguelike fad who want something other than yet another version of The Binding of Isaac might find something to love in GoNNER. The game looks great, sounds amazing and features tight, enjoyable gameplay. It’s also only ten bucks. You can’t really go wrong!