10th Jul2017

Digital Shorts: ‘GoNNER’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Matthew Smail

In DIGITAL SHORTS we review some of the latest video games that are only available digitally (at least in the UK), in a short-form review format. In this edition we take a look at GoNNER, a new roguelike game for the Nintendo Switch.

gonner-art

GoNNER is the first two-dimensional roguelike that I’ve played in a long time, and certainly the first on Nintendo’s Switch console. It features an abstract (but kind of touching) story in which the player controls a kind of limbless blob creature, who befriends (and must ultimately rescue) a friendly whale. This tale is entirely unspoken, and there is no onscreen text to bring things together, so you can rest assured that I may have drawn a different conclusion to what you might, but that is the gist.

The game is presented in an attractive, striking and minimalistic way that I found rather appealing. Stages appear in groups and the colour scheme is shared across about five levels at a time before changing. Most feature a dark (often pitch black) background, with the actual structure of the level presented as colourful wireframes drawn in a shaky hand. The player character and all his enemies are small but beautifully animated, and bring further contrast through the colours used. In particular, this is a style that works supremely well on the Switch’s small, high resolution screen.

The game itself is what I like to describe as bastard-hard. It’s a two dimensional platformer that takes place over a series of procedurally generated levels. As a roguelike, it also involves a permadeath mechanic whenever you die but don’t have enough runes to pay for a continue – usually, you’ll get about one second chance, but by that point the game will be so hard that gaining enough runes for another is very hard indeed. Every five or six levels (just before the art style changes) you’ll face a boss. If the astonishing number of enemies in each level wasn’t enough to kill you, these nightmares will. Most rain attacks onto the screen willy-nilly, turning the game from platformer to bullet hell nightmare.

Thankfully, the player has a few means by which to combat this kind of assault. Firstly, the controls are incredibly sharp and crisp, and the platforming mechanic has rarely been done better in a similar game. Levels often consist of tightly spaced areas that remind me of caverns, before they open up to larger areas filled with enemies. In the smaller spaces, GoNNER’s wall jumping mechanic works beautifully, giving the player a real sense of power despite the odds being heavily stacked against them. This is possible because the player is also heavily armed, with several weapons available and all of them powerful, with the flexibility to shoot outwards whilst hanging from a wall. My only complaint here is that the player can only shoot left or right, never up or diagonally, which does feel needed in some of the rooms – although this could be a balance decision to keep the challenge up.

Simply put, GoNNER is a great game for just £8.99, but it’s so bloody hard that it can’t possibly suit everyone. Regardless, it is very engaging and quite charming, so if you ever found yourself roguelike-curious, then in the absence of a version of Spelunky making it onto the Switch, this is definitely the next best thing. Aside from the story itself, there is also a daily challenge mode that tasks players with progressing as far as they can with a specific weapon, and soon the developers will be adding online leaderboards and other features which will keep things interesting.

**** 4/5

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