Spotting the Devolver Digital branding atop a booth space is to make a bee-line for it, outstanding lunch or bathroom needs be damned. Amid a wonderfully generous number of exotic concepts at any indie-focused show, there's acknowledgement that Devolver's line-up assures full arcade flavour with a twisted aftertaste. You suspect what to expect, but still ready yourself for something different below the surface.
Directly under Devolver's own sign at this year's Rezzed was the gorgeous art of Enter the Gungeon, the first title from new outfit Dodge Roll. Game title and studio name alone give great shorthand in explaining what experience will unfold in grabbing a controller: guns, dungeon exploration, and dodge moves that'd make 80s action stars proud. Legend of Zelda meets John Woo.
The game taps into the same gameplay vein of its contemporary indie peers; procedurally-generated levels, rogue-like difficulty, pixelated visuals. Choose one of four stranded space-faring adventurers and delve into a labyrinth of trap-laden and enemy-filled rooms while occasionally chancing into the odd safe area to upgrade equipment. There may be an end-game but we've yet to spot it: we've spent our time just seeing how long we can survive.
Though we hate to roll out the easy comparison, there's a little of Spelunky in Gungeon's design. Not just how easy it is to scratch that ‘one more go' itch, but the (rightful) suspicion that in dying so early - and by early, we mean deaths measured in minutes of the low double figure variety - you're not seeing the real game.
Gameplay basics are learnt in seconds: the first half of a dodge roll animation leaves you invincible to bullets and able to leap over pits and traps. Left stick to move, right stick to aim. Hold button to fire, another to reload. Get hit a few times, die.
Once initial adrenaline wears off, you start wondering if there's anything more to this. We did.
Like Derek Yu's title though, the longer you survive, the more you start seeing, and you start questioning just how much there is to discover the further down the rabbit hole you go.
An element of complexity start creeping in. Different enemy types with altered bullet dispersals, aggressive runners that explode on death. New weapon pick-ups with built-in perks. Scavenging for coins amid bodies and wreckage to pay for new equipment in the underground store, just so you can see what exactly they can do. Barricaded doors. Keys. Stumbling on statues that'll initiate game-altering conditions.
Early on, we kick open a chest and find a crossbow that can one-shot kill most enemies. As with the best of the arcade strain, Gungeon infects you with an urge to perfect precision. Hearing the ‘clunk' of nailing a foe off-screen, surviving a Mexican stand-off without a heart wasted of your limited stock... fist-pumping moments. And as satisfying as any hyper-realistic kill in modern blockbusters. Then you pick up a foam dart gun, with accompanying audio, and you have to stifle a chuckle as you outmanoeuvre another attack.
Along with traps, many rooms contain tables. Walk to any side and tap a button to flip one and use it as a shield. We initially use them to hide behind, but as you can push them as well, we start utilising those wooden barricades to channel enemy waves, herding different types to contain them while we clean up the rest of the room.
We're still trying to get a feel for the distinctions between the cast. Each carries a different gun, but it's only the shotgun and Wild West-like hand-pistol that stand out currently and are our default of choice on re-entry. We're itching to see more complex bullet barrages to force us to exchange room circling for proper dances of death. We want to see if the game can really make us sweat. But first, we've got to stop being cocky bastards and survive longer than ten minutes.
As we're always happy to see, Gungeon's hitting console as well as PC and Mac when it releases later this year, and hopefully it'll find an appreciative audience on PS4. Though while there's the option of Remote Play, we'll hold out hope - as we always do here being such fans of the console - that a PS Vita port could be on the cards. The instant pick-up appeal of the game would make it an essential for our quick-fire handheld obsession as it would for a longer session on couch or computer chair. We await the full release of this one with an impatient itch on our trigger fingers.