Influx of Roguelikes – Enter the Gungeon v. Moonlighter

Roguelikes. Everyone loves them. Or at least I do. Most of the time.

My first was probably The Binding of Isaac which hooked me for something close to 20 hours (which is pennies compared to what a lot of other people have sunk into it). There have been literally hundreds since then, with each one just different enough from those around it to stand out. Shining stars for me have been FTL, Teleglitch and, my personal favorite, Dead Cells.

Honestly I rarely seek out Roguelikes despite how much I like them. There’s still a lot of sameness to a lot of the offerings out there, so something needs either a really good reputation or a unique mechanic or system to grab my attention.

Or I could just get Enter the Gungeon for free from the Epic Games store, and accidentally by Moonlighter via my Humble Monthly subscription. That works too.

Enter the Gungeon came first. I’ll admit, I’ve always had a love of bullet hell games…but I am absolutely terrible at them. I’m terrible at most games, but bullet hells are on another level. Not only do you need completely undivided attention, you have to account for what’s happening on the other side of the screen while making the smallest little adjustments to your characters position to avoid a wave of bullets. Throw in dodging mechanics and invincibility mechanics and I’m done.

Fortunately, Enter the Gungeon gives you some breathing room from this, and the game is more about clearing a room safely than squeezing between two of three thousand bullets on screen. You’re more likely to get hit by an enemy you failed to notice or account for than by a barrage, which are generally easy to dodge. You can upend tables to create makeshift defenses that crumble with enough bullets, and the ability to warp to just about any room on the level you’ve cleared once you’re in a room without enemies is a mechanic I would appreciate in a lot more of these games.

The problems come in mostly with the boss fights and the general progression of the game. The boss fights often DO turn into the kind of bullet hell that I’m just awful at, so that’s on me, but it’s certainly limiting how much I can enjoy the game unfortunately. This second point could be related, but after sinking about a dozen hours into it I don’t feel like I’ve made much progress. There are promises of shortcuts if I can do better which, to be frank, I probably can’t. I’m also a little disappointed by the fairly straightforward selection of guns I’ve seen thus far.

Gungeon Boss

Yeah…I’m in trouble.

Comparing this to Moonlighter, which I just started last night, is not an apples-to-apples scenario by any means, but there are enough similarities to justify putting them under a shared critical lens. With that said, there are certainly people that will like Gungeon a whole lot more than Moonlighter, so, as with anything ever done by a person, this is just an opinion.

Moonlighter hews more to a Zelda formula than a bullet hell, which, to be fair, is already more in my wheelhouse. There’s also a story and a cute little town to build up, and the pixel art is absolutely gorgeous. The dungeon crawling is a little more chunky than a Zelda game, with sword strokes really digging into enemies, halting your movements for a moment. It’s a momentum you need to get used to, but definitely gives your strikes some heft. Dodging is also much faster than in Gungeon (and mapped to the left trigger instead of the bumper, thank god) and each room in a dungeon feels like a real danger.

The key thing that makes Moonlighter for me though is the store mechanic. Once you’ve had your fill of fighting in the dungeons, and (wisely) chose to exit before entering another room and risking death, you get to open shop. Apparently this poor bastard never sleeps. You put up the relics you collect in the dungeons for sale, guessing completely wildly at their price and then gauging the reaction of the customers to see if you should raise or lower it. I’ve certainly tried to sell a twig for 20 gold, which pissed off more than a couple people before I could change it to something palatable. On the other hand I’ve also sold relics worth hundreds of coins for a dozen, making my customers stupid eyes light up in happiness at ripping me off. Jerks.

Moonlighter Happy Granny.png

Granny is fine with the price and so am I.

The constant adjustment of prices and fine tuning your offerings to keep from flooding the market is made easy and immensely enjoyable with quick and easy menu options, and a very simple to read UI.

So while Moonlighter is going to be getting a lot more attention from me going forward, don’t dismiss Enter the Gungeon. Just get ready to train your reflexes to move without thinking or you’ll wind up where I am. Either way you’re sure to have a good time if you enjoy Roguelikes, and since both are still currently available pretty cheap it’s a great time to jump on it!

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The Disappearance of Eileen Kestler: A Marginalia Prelude

Eileen Kestler.png

I love waking simulators. And I love weird creepy things that aren’t jumpscares. So I really really love Connor Sherlock.

I’ve been following and supporting Sherlock on Patreon for over a year now and it’s a great way to drop five dollars. (Almost) every month you get a new walking simulator. Lately they seem to be a little more abstract than his previous work, more speculative fiction, more brutalist architecture. Eileen Kestler is an older piece, a collaboration with Cameron Kunzelman from around 2016 or 2017. It serves as a prologue to their larger game Marginalia, which I have yet to play.

Eileen Kestler starts off in a pitch-black valley, with the player in front of a burning house, which, if you enter, will kill you instantly and show you what basically constitutes the end credits. I know this because it’s the first thing I tried. And in my defense, entering a burning house in a game like this definitely is not a guaranteed way to die, and in most of the games like this you really can’t die.

Turns out you can in this one. So don’t go in the house.

After reloading I realized there’s a path of lit torches leading away from the house into the woods and later into the mountains. As you walk a woman talks about her love of the ocean, some cryptic poetry and sets a basic tone of loss and emptiness. I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t listen to it too closely as I leaned forward struggling to see in the darkness. This game is just a little too dark to enjoy casually, at least for my old eyes.

After a while the torches stop, or at least I lost track of them and just started wandering in the woods, waiting for something to appear while the simple droning soundtrack crept behind me. If the intention was to give me a little anxiety about being lost in the woods it worked well, but some further direction to assure me I wasn’t wasting my time would have been nice. After a while in my play through there was a pleasantly abrupt, wonderful glitchy end that made the woods seem less remote but also more intimidating. Sherlock generally doesn’t do any jumpscares but this games was intentionally spooky whereas his other work is generally more alien and bizarre, so I was on edge the entire time, which should tell you how wonderfully the atmosphere of this game works.

The woman talks again once those credits start to roll, recounting the early tragedy of a family from the ninteenth century. It reminded me a lot of The Witch (2016), which I watched recently. A family shunned and cursed in a hostile wilderness that’s likely hiding threats more personal and human than the wildlife.

I like the tone of this work a lot, and the graphics were very nice along with the minimalist soundtrack. I would have liked some more direction on where toward the end, but I think I was supposed to get lost, and nervous, and if that’s the case it delivers wonderfully and is totally worth your 10 minutes.

The Beginning

Hey there, this post is obviously for myself since there’s no real audience yet. Hard to blame anyone since I only had two posts and haven’t updated in three years.

But it’s a new day!

I indulged myself in a new MS Surface Go tablet/laptop and as part of that I promised myself I’d start writing again. I want to write about games mostly, including reviews, opinions on industry news and stuff like that. I got a little inspired by getting into the Mcelroy brothers and realized that they worked at Polygon and were pretty heavily in the game industry.

So I’m going to be posting a lot, hopefully, if I’m responsible and serious about something. So let’s see!