The moment that you fire up this roguelike, action-platformer, there’s an unsettling aura that pre-warns you that you are about to dive into the rabbit hole of something quite sinister. As the splash screens of the developers and publisher appear, there’s an unnerving sound that looms in the background as it leads you to the game’s title banner where you are met with the artwork of two sprawling, yet cute and cheery looking worm-like creatures who are accompanied with a glaring skull that pierces straight into your soul.
A small amount of text dares you to press any button and, once pushed, a beat kicks in as if it was timed perfectly on cue. The screen then becomes littered with the enemies and items that you may encounter in this strange, yet compelling world. This is the world of GoNNER, and it’s addictively awesome.
The first thing that becomes clear about GoNNER is the abstraction of its narrative. There is no text, no hand-holding and no explanation of what things are or what they do. Furthermore, it doesn’t render what the story is about besides what you can visually interpret for yourself. The official website does give you a brief idea of what the plot is about, but I have decided to leave it out of this review so that you can decide whether or not you want to transcribe it on your own. Not because the story is necessarily deep or anything, but because part of the charm of this title lies in its discovery.
Despite its lack of explanation, GoNNER doesn’t leave anything too cryptic. The whole thing is a learning experience and, at its core, it’s a straightforward run-and-gun platformer. You venture through each procedurally-generated area blasting away all the enemies in sight with nothing more than your head, weapon and your bag. Take a hit, though, and you drop all of your possessions including your head, leaving you as nothing more than a bouncing torso scurrying to claim your valuable items back.
Each of these three items carries a unique ability that can be swapped with any others that you may find on your journey. Experimenting and mixing abilities will help you to find your feet on how you want to play. Die once though, (which you will, a lot) and you get kicked right back to the beginning of the game. Fortunately, any new items that you obtain are yours to keep, but you have to choose wisely on your next run-through because you can’t change your equipment whenever you want. There are some points where you can swap out items but it will cost you glyphs that also allow you to carry on in the event of your demise. That is, of course, if you have earned enough of them.
Although short in length, GoNNER is very difficult and you will constantly meet your maker as you press through the levels. While you do start right back at the beginning on each run, it never feels too repetitive. This is because the better you get at it, the better your score is when you die.
Platformers and scores are rarely a combination that is cared for. Traditionally you measure your ability based on how far you get and that’s still definitely the case here, but there’s something about aiming to beat your high score in this game that proves to be almost chemically addictive. Combine that with the procedurally-generated level design and each run feels variably different which makes you lie to yourself when you swear that this is going to be your last go.
The simple visuals of the enemies are dark and twisted yet adorably cuddly with animations that are clean and fluid as you blast them with your boom stick. The environments are barely visible yet give you plenty of notice of what’s around you. With the black backgrounds and neon colours, the whole thing creates a nightmarish beauty reminiscent of that drunken dream sequence from the 1941 classic Dumbo.
The audio fits the haunting atmosphere of the gameplay perfectly while the tempo builds as you take out you enemies in succession. Every pop, clang, crack and squelch sound as satisfying as squeezing bubble wrap, and, to top it off, the sound of your weapon as you feel the haptic feedback of the Joy-Con drives the immersion even further. The controls do feel a bit floaty at first, but you will soon mould into them as if you are one with your Nintendo Switch.
GoNNER is a great introduction to the roguelike genre. It may be short, but that doesn’t mean you will blast through it quickly even though its high difficulty may seem a bit too challenging for some. It plays and looks great on the TV screen and it fits nicely as a portable title. It’s clear that developer Art in Heart has respect for its audience by not spoon feeding the player like some toddler watching Sesame Street. With its highly addictive gameplay as well as the addition of added daily challenges, GoNNER is worth the price of admission in ranking among the best games that you can buy on the Nintendo eShop at that price range.