“Died to stay there, never have to leave there.”
It’s 2020, and it appears that roguelikes… well, they aren’t dying, but they sure seem like they’re slowing down. Once you’ve unsuccessfully tried to make Dark Souls into a roguelike — multiple times — the collective groans can be heard across the galaxy. Nevertheless, it’s time to come full circle, back to the “go big or go home” formula, and GoNNER 2 is indicative of that.
This is the latest game from Art in Heart and the sequel to the cutesy but brutal roguelike platformer, GoNNER. Once again published by the Devolver Digital of Devolver Digital, Raw Fury, the game follows the treks of the charismatic blob Ikk, who is seen doing dirty work for Death once more. Death’s home is being tormented by new threats, and she calls upon Ikk to clean up her house once more, a new cavalcade of visions awaiting them.
If you haven’t played the original GoNNER, it’s not exactly recommended for the sequel, unless you want to see the original vision. GoNNER 2 is more mechanically advanced, almost terrifyingly so, and everything, from the aesthetic to the music to the bosses, has seen tweaks and upgrades. On the surface, GoNNER 2 is almost thrice as big as its predecessor.
More guns! More heads! Fewer backpacks — no, wait. It’s all fairly obvious from when Ikk first plops into the grassy knoll of Death’s humble abode. The hub area is a perfect place to not only see what all your fancy pick-ups will be, but also get used to the new movement system in place. Should you be returning from Ikk’s original adventures, then this will certainly be a “ripping off the stabilizers” experience.
As opposed to the original’s limited left and right movement, with the wall-slidin’ and jumpin’ for good measure, GoNNER 2 has been given a tweak with directional aiming and dashing. It feels a lot more fluid, with gameplay and gunplay fusing brilliantly with it. Whereas the first GoNNER saw you outmatched in certain scenarios, the new movement and aiming system provide a fairer chance, with the aesthetic being the true challenge.
Everything’s a lot fuzzier visually in GoNNER 2, and that’s a good thing. The tribal and plinky-plonky nature of the original GoNNER has now been replaced with warm hugs of bright blazes, smoother animations, and a beautiful display of combat. The game has kept its tempo-increasing combo system, with the upgrade being an immense flood of flat colors that radiate wonderfully as everything explodes. It’s DOOM: Eternal for people who take ambien.
It’s the collision of the gunplay and music which is GoNNER‘s unique trait, and it continues to be improved so much more in GoNNER 2. The new tracks from returning beat-maker Regular Graphics feel more claustrophobic, but the tracks don’t just increase in tempo as your combo gets higher. They form new landscapes of sound, the highlights being Pool Party, Blast from The Past, Tolu Mata, and The Granny Exorcism.
Still, when the ethereal bliss hits and the screen and sounds become a visual/auditory bliss, you wouldn’t be remiss to find yourself unable to follow the action at all. Aside from turning off the screen shake, there’s no way to tone down the action of GoNNER 2, which does get hectic, quite unbelievably so for a 2D platformer. In the long run, it might not be a deal breaker considering how difficult it is to actually initiate it, or rather, the difficulty in general will put you off.
GoNNER 2 is hard, but it doesn’t come down to enemy placement or poor level design. It’s more that the movement is a wild beast that’s nearly impossible to tame. Ikk moves with such fluidity, and so do the enemies, but it’s the bosses and their weird animations that’ll throw you off. It’s like an accursed puppeteer is pulling their strings in the background, which considering the story, might not be that much of a stretch.
In order to get good at GoNNER 2, you need to be smart, not just a gung-ho warrior. As the combo climbs up and up and up, you also have to consider exactly where everything on the screen is and where it’s going to go. It’s a difficult thing to consider that mindset on its own as well, as GoNNER‘s other main gimmick is the limitation of only being able to see a few feet in front of Ikk.
Only enemies will be plastered on the screen in full force, but walls and platforms will require potentially foolish exploration, which usually ends in a reward. Placed around the levels are heads you can pop open for a trove of coins, combo multipliers, and upgrades. They’re fairly standard implementations, almost to the point of humdrum simplicity, but that’s to GoNNER‘s strengths more than anything else.
Take the customization available for Ikk, which slowly adds to your hub world with each successful find. The heads you can plop onto your adorable blue blob make such small tweaks to how Ikk performs in-game, but because of this focus on minimalism, it expands your play styles significantly. Even the guns, with range being the primary factor in their effectiveness, make minute changes become major.
It’s the “easy to learn, hard to master” principle, but on every factor. Art in Heart plays every card with such confidence, despite what some could consider alienation in its mechanics and design. The way the game simply stops in its tracks once you complete a run, the passive “You Died Again” when Ikk meets his fate, the cynical achievement descriptions — if you’ve played Art in Heart’s previous works, this is more of the same, but if you’re new, it’s a slight obstacle one would have to work around to be rewarded with comfort.
For example, the first GoNNER has your first boss fight end with an encounter with the now-infamous Sally the Whale, with her watching your every movement. Her small smile and chirpy image reactions were so disgustingly saccharine, they turned back around to heart-warming pleasure. GoNNER 2 not only replaces her presence, but explicitly states her departure from the series, with the new Sally somehow being more of a delight.
They speak in warbles and offer nothing but love. Flora and fauna sway in their presence, animals aren’t afraid of their slim build and lurching figure. They grab Ikk with an unintentionally scary grasp, and love. It throws you off at first, but the game design language in plain sight, and even then, it’s nice to be held. It’s nice to be loved. It’s nice to know that someone cares.
That’s where GoNNER 2 shines. It’s certainly a shorter game than its predecessor, with only 5 base worlds and 4 of them playable in a run, but it’s how Art in Heart communicates to the player within the sequel that makes it much more endearing. The gameplay is much tighter, even with an inherent lack in verticality, thanks to some varied arenas. Despite this shortened length, this is a fully-fledged sequel just as much as it is a personal statement.
GoNNER 2 is art, crafted with a perfect balance of commercialism and slight auteur genius. It speaks not just from the heart, but the hip as well, with cathartic gameplay and wholesome narrative beats. Even though it has objectively less to offer than its predecessor, it hits more than it misses, with the steps it takes being bold. It’s a warm hug and a punch to the gut, a curry with a kiss.
This review of GoNNER 2 was based upon the Xbox One version of the game.
A wonderful follow-up to one of 2016's most curious delights, GoNNER 2 is a worthy sequel, with one of 2020's best soundtracks to boot.
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