“As sure as the sun rises each day, so too shall a new roguelike video game.” This quote comes to us from the one and only Albert Einstein. Don’t bother Googling it – it’s real. I promise. Yes, the seemingly endless amount of roguelikes continues. However, this doesn’t mean that their creativity has been waning. At least in the case of Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition, the genre continues to evolve in interesting ways.
Created by Brainwash Gang and Kittehface, this 2D, platforming roguelike is the latest game that will have you pulling out your hair in fear. A good kind of fear, of course. The threat of losing progress on each run is a delightful motivator that turns every battle into a tense, bullet hell ballet. Careful jumps and slides are the name of the game. Luckily, your character’s jumps carry a perfect weight to them, and sliding along the ground to blast what’s directly above you never ceases to feel like the slick, badass move that it is. The effortless transitions between these moves and an invincible dodge roll not only feel great, but they make avoiding whatever it is that baddies throw at you a delight. Said projectiles include bullets, shockwaves along the ground, their bodies, or even hostile boogers. Yeah, I know that sounds gross but what do you expect with giant, disembodied noses to shoot?
What’s the confused look you’re (probably) making? I promise that the nose is the least crazy enemy you will see. There are oozing, severed fingers that inch along the ground, bloated corpses, floating skulls with pulsing innards, and so many more. Like the best of the genre, this enemy variety lends a great sense of freshness to each new attempt after death. In this case specifically, it also adds to the delightfully morbid, gothic art style. You play as a skeleton with a penchant for swapping heads, and each time you start a new run, you jump up and out of the ground into a cemetery with enormous mausoleums. All of this is enhanced even further by the stark black and white colour pallet that is only occasionally broken up by bits of orange, green, or blue.
Despite the visual appeal, however, the heavily stylized aesthetic can also get in the way. The scratchy, static effect can be a bit obtrusive when one is trying to avoid a bunch of projectiles or navigate jumps. Mind you, the splash of occasional colour assists greatly in providing the player with gameplay information, but I still found myself skipping over loot, missing jumps, or getting hit by attacks due to the, at times, smeared look of the game.
Visual clarity is not the only thing that Nongunz has trouble communicating. Aside from little prompts that show the player how to shoot and jump upon starting the game, there is no sign of a tutorial at all. For those familiar with roguelikes, it is not too hard to figure out how the majority of the game works, but the loot/card/upgrade system is borderline baffling. Trying to discern bits and pieces of the game’s mechanics can be admittedly great fun, but it feels like information was withheld in odd ways in order to make learning the basic principles as frustrating as possible. For example, just moving through the menus and trying to close the game is a mess because of the super pixelated UI.
Of course, the game’s issues with clarity are not enough to mar its enjoyable gameplay. As stated above, deftly dodging attacks is a joy, and it is made even sweeter by the cathartic oomph of blasting away enemies. Weapons and new abilities are unlocked by spending currency in the cemetery at a large, rad-looking monument covered in guns and skulls. Putting points into different sections of the monument will unlock or upgrade the corresponding weapon, and also serves as a marker of your progress throughout the game.
How you earn your currency is easily my favorite part of Nongunz, and it is because said currency is actually how many shots you have fired during your current run. Like the progression marked by the mural itself, it is an incredible way to make your actions feel like they have a lot more purpose. Even better is the fact that finding a window during your dungeon runs allows you to exit into the hub world and cash in your bullet points without worrying about losing them all upon death.
At the moment, it seems like the roguelikes just keep coming. The best part, however, is that we continue to see roguelikes throw in new ideas to mix everything up. Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is no different. Even if some of its experimentation does not land quite right, it does enough to not only justify its existence but to provide an entertaining time as well.
Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is available for purchase for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One from the Xbox Store