Four years after its initial launch, Nongunz returns. Completely rebuilt for consoles as the “Doppelganger Edition”, it’s still a brutal yet alluring game. The Finger Guns Review.
Here’s a fun fact: The original Nongunz was the second game we ever reviewed here at Finger Guns. That was all the way back in 2017. I think it’s fair to say a lot has changed since then. I’ve had two more kids and lost all of my hair (I imagine there’s some direct correlation there). Finger Guns has grown from a passion project ran by three idiots into a passion project ran by six idiots. Nongunz developer The Brainwash Gang had a messy split from the shady publisher Sindiecate Arts. The most important change over the past four years, in respect to this review, is the near complete reinvention of the roguelike game genre.
When Nongunz initially released, it was at the height of the roguelikes and roguelites boom. It was one of the best examples of the genre from that year. Since then, the genre has started to change. The bar for the sub-genre has been lifted. Titles like Children of Morta and Hades have evolved the focus from simply defeating a dungeon boss to experiencing a narrative. Is there still a place for Nongunz in 2021? The short answer: Yes. The long answer? Let’s get into it…
The Two Most Powerful Warriors Are Patience And Time
Nongunz sets itself up as an intentionally perplexing game. You’re thrown in to the deep end with no information of what to do or why you’re doing it. The only help you’ll be getting comes in the form of any almost incomprehensible set of low-poly pixel art in a book featuring less-then intuitive icons and no text. You’re presented with a controllable headless, gun-toting skeleton in a predominantly monochromatic gothic environment. Everything else you have to discover for yourself. Akin to the original Rogue, knowledge of the game is one of the only things you’ll be retaining with each run and figuring out what exactly you’re supposed to be doing takes a lot of time and patience.
If you like your games to give you any sort of gratification within the first hours, you’ll bounce right off Nongunz. Without consulting a guide, you’ll likely enter the procedurally generated dungeon, die and see very little benefit in what you’re doing before trying again. This game is self described as nihilistic and unforgiving. Both are utterly true. Until you’ve experienced enough of it to understand what you’re doing, it does feel like you’re simply throwing yourself into an organ grinder over and over. Over time, all becomes clear though.
Nongunz? More Like Plentyofgunz, Am I Right!?
Each time you enter the procedurally generated dungeon of Nongunz, it takes a different structure. There are only 3 constants – a shop, a weapon room and boss toom. Filling each of the interconnected rooms between these constants are spikes, ghoulish monsters and beasts. Dismembered limbs that crawl around on their own. Flying skulls with bulging veins popping out of them. Scorpions that seem entirely made of viscera. The monster design in this game is quite fascinating, like a mash-up of carnival based horror and nightmarish monsters.
These monsters and spike traps will strip the headless skeleton protagonist of a chunk of its health each time they touch it or hit it with a projectile. If that health bar is emptied entirely, it’s game over. That run ends. It’s back to the start of the game and almost nothing is retained. In order to prevent that from happening, you’ve got to avoid the gory projectiles and shoot back. Kill an enemy and you’re awarded with a small boost to the health bar, helping to extend that run.
With great risk often comes great reward
At the core of Nongunz is a smart risk vs reward system. You begin each run at the game with nothing but a pistol. You enter the dungeon and start shooting. Each foe vanquished rewards a set amount of ‘score’ and advances a multiplier. Kill enemies in quick succession, keeping that multiplier alive (simply damaging them is enough to keep it rolling) and you’ll really start to rack up those points. This is important because score can be spent in 2 ways – in the shop room or at a giant altar outside of the dungeon.
Fight your way to the shop room and here you can spend the score points you’ve accumulated during that run on whatever wares are available. This can be new weaponry, cards which increase stats, and skulls for your skeletal body (more on those in a second). The items on offer in the shop vary from run to run so you can’t always be guaranteed you’ll get what you want/need.
This is where the other score deposit comes into play. The altar. In many rooms within the dungeon there are windows. These can be used to escape the dungeon entirely, returning the skeleton to the starting area. By doing so, you also retain anything you’ve collected on that run, including your score. Here there is a huge mural featuring every weapon and skull type in the game. Stand on the central pedestal and you can invest the score you’ve accumulated on purchasing anything from the mural by filling it up.
What’s more, each item on this mural can be filled multiple times over, stacking the score and increasing the weapons potency which retains any score your deposit into it after death. By storing up the score in this mural, you can build up an arsenal in order to mount a decent run at the dungeon to hopefully take out a boss.
Because of this, the risk vs reward system works in 2 distinct ways. There’s the moment to moment game play where you’re attempting to build up and maintain a kill combo multiplayer in order to score big. Then there’s the long game. Do you leave the dungeon now and bank that score? Do you retreat, grab yourself an Uzi and a new skull in order to take a run at the current boss? Or do you keep going to the boss while you’re hot, running the risk of losing what you’ve accumulated so far on this run?
Over time and with frequent visits to the dungeon, this risk becomes less insecure because of the meta game. Within the dungeon, you can find these little creatures locked up in cages. When you free these from their prisons, they’ll head to the mural outside and prey beneath it. They do this incessantly and for every second they do so, they add to the current run score. This starts out small to begin with with just a few extra score added per second. As you free more beings, this idle meta game can really stack up.
Get your head screwed on
The bosses in Nongunz are all creepy, weird and pose their own unique challenge. They each have a health bar which will take some serious chipping away at in order to empty. These battles require fast movement and dodging attacks before replying with your own firepower. If you try to take these on with no skull and your bog standard pistol, they’ll seem utterly impossible.
The skulls are the game changers here. Each different type of head offers their own ability. Double jump, a dash, a ground pound, the ability to fire vertically instead of just horizontally, a magnetic dot which draws all enemies too it and teleportation are all skills which can be obtained via these skulls. Whether you buy them from the store, find them in a dungeon room or spend your score at the mural to get one, these skulls can completely change the feeling of Nongunz.
Joined At The Hip Bone
New content is included as part of the Doppelganger Edition of Nongunz. The biggest addition to this new version of the game is the inclusion of local co-op. With a second controller, you can play with a friend (or stranger, if that’s your bag) who can help you shoot the gory beasts of the dungeon. During play, you can feel that there has been some concerted effort to make the co-op effective, like the camera tracking which works to keep both players in focus while not zooming out too far to lose the finer detail. Here’s the kicker though – both players share the same health bar. If the person you’re playing with takes a hit, you’re both penalised.
The level design of Nongunz, full of tight jumps and rooms packed to the rafters with enemies, does not really accommodate the co-op play as well as it could. There’s not a big enough difference between the 2 player models so when things get really hairy, it can be just too clustered and busy to see what’s going on.
The other big addition is the Arena mode. This is a series of rooms which challenge the player to kill every monster in it before pressing a button. Doing so triggers a new room format filled with more monsters to vanquish. So on and so forth. It’s a cool little addition which, for those who like a stiff challenge, have something else to take a run at.
All things are difficult before they are easy
Dear reader, the question you need to ask yourself before diving into Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is whether you have the patience for it. The first few hours can be a real rough ride and until you’ve got the hang of it, this game will feel far more than just ‘unforgiving’. It’s a game that wants you to uncover its secrets for yourself and the instructions that do get delivered are, quite frankly, awful. There are items in the game and, aside from using them to restore health, I still don’t understand their purpose. They’re simply not explained well enough. If there was one thing I would have changed moving from the original version into this remake, it would be been a more accommodating first few hours.
So, if you can read the phrase “this game takes a few hours before it gets good” and not turn your nose up at it, this title might be worth your time. When the game gets good, when the difficulty curve starts to level out, Nongunz is good. Great even. If I’m honest though – If I wasn’t playing this game to review it, I would have quit long before I reached that sweet spot.
A savage monochromatic roguelike shooter with a difficulty curve reminiscent of a vertical straight line, Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is tough to love early on. Over time though, the smart risk vs reward system rises to the surface and the slick gunplay becomes challenging rather than simply impossible. While it doesn’t match the heights of its more modern day peers, it’s still worth a look if you’ve got the time to dedicate to it.
Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is available now on PS4 (review version), PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: The Brainwash Gang
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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