GoNNER (Switch eShop) Review
I think I’ve said it a few times now, but the Switch seems to be attracting a lot challenging games. GoNNER continues that trend and brings some satisfying platforming action to the lineup.
GoNNER is basically a roguelike, shooty platformer. That’s what I would say if I wanted to describe GoNNER while letting all the small details and nuances of the game and the decisions made in its gameplay fall by the wayside. So much of what makes GoNNER so much fun to come back to is not just the fact the levels and experiences are different each time, but the attention to what makes a game feel good to play.
The simple mechanic that makes this whole thing work, is your player character being a blob with legs. Being such a ‘bland’ shape allows you to add three items that have unique qualities. The first is a skull, determining how many hit points you have, and what happens when you take damage or lose a life. The second is a weapon, which shares similarities to items like machine guns, shotguns, etc. The last is a ‘backpack’ that is the more varied of the three items, either turning on a fully automatic firing mode, or pausing all the enemies on the screen, or just holding a spare reload for your weapon.
This combination of items caters for a variety of different play styles, and different scenarios. Enemies will attack and move in different ways, and different load outs will afford you better opportunities and maneuverability to take them all out. In fact, the game rewards killing enemies in combos quickly, with the game’s purple currency. This currency can be traded either for a respawn if you die, or for trading at intervaled checkpoint shops.
The actual amazing part of this game, is that none of this is explicitly stated to you. It’s all trial and error, figuring things out via context, or just playing the game while absolutely baffled at your options. At first, this was frustrating to me, but the more I played, the more I understood why it was so good. It’s a game that, simply, wants to be played. It doesn’t hold your hand, it doesn’t go easy on you, it doesn’t over-explain things. It just ‘is’ and the quality and quantity of your experiences are almost entirely up to you.
One thing that stood out to me the most about GoNNER, is the rough, hand-drawn art style. Seeing it in screenshots is vastly different from watching it all come together as you play the game. Most entities have that ‘shudder’ that is typical of this art style, as if the game is being hand drawn in front of you via loose sketches. On top of that, the level geometry only shows up around the player character and the enemies that show up on screen, with the walls and floors being (almost literally) thrown together on the fly. It’s such a cool, subtle motif that belongs with the rogue-like gameplay.
Another point I want to talk about, is the music. The eShop description was spot on – it’s really good. There’s not a huge amount I can say about it, other than the clichés of “it suits the game” or “I listen to the soundtrack on loop”. But I will say, the dark and gloomy feel of the game is reflected in the music itself, and the only way it could work better, is if it were procedurally generated like the levels.
Lastly, it feels weird to talk about a game without bringing up story, but the story here is as obscure and vague as everything else. There’s playable moments that share a sort of narrative, but it’s not central to the gameplay, perhaps more to the atmosphere and art style. I don’t want to give things away, as learning as you go is a big part of the experience, but I like that it’s open to interpretation.
You will die a lot in GoNNER. It’s part of the process, and the game doesn’t punish you for trying out new things, as a death usually just means you get to try again with new experience to take with you. I recommend GoNNER for anyone who appreciates a fun challenge, where the sense of progression is your own knowledge of the game.