By Dave Hill
If the success of games like Darkest Dungeon taught us anything, it’s that there is certainly a market out there for challenging, procedurally generated dungeon crawlers. Nongünz brings a new spin to this concept with its own unique mechanics, gothic art and a haunting soundtrack. While I usually roll my eyes at another side-scrolling, platformer, indie game, Nongünz took risks. It took a genre and dressed it up in some rugged goth clothes and gave it some guns.
Nongünz doesn’t waste time with exposition, or world building. You start dropped into a pixel art catacomb carrying a gun. Eventually you’ll figure out where to go as you leave the catacomb and explore the graveyard before stumbling upon the massive castle nearby. This is where the meat of the game draws you in. Horrific monstrosities wait around every drop and climb as you jump your way through room after room. The black and white motif is broken only by the red of the monsters. Haunting vocals are accompanied by menacing guitar chords as you traverse through the dungeons. This is the world of Nongünz.
As mentioned above, Nongünz, and its creator, Brainwash Gang, go bold into the pixel art style of the game. There is no text in the game, and basic mechanics are explained visually. The black and white world of Nongünz adds to the stark gameplay. The game layers shades of black masterfully, making images easy to see even in the darkest of spaces. Bizarre animal skulls, guns, hanging cages and torture devices decorate each room, echoing the bleak and gothic world you have stepped into.
When it comes to gameplay, Brainwash Gang, have concocted mechanics that are quick to learn, and difficult to master. Locked in as a horizontal shooter, your character runs and jumps across the map, shooting everything in its way. Does that sound boring? Well it would be except that within the game has more, like a simple economy and items that can be purchased. Guns and skulls can be bought to up your game. Skulls each have a special ability assigned to them that can give you the edge you need in a situation that otherwise would leave you dead or angry.
Throughout the dungeons, will be people to rescue from the horrific cages that hang from the ceilings. Once freed these characters open up shops out in the graveyard, or pray at an alter which gives you even more currency to spend. The currency can be spent at stores to give you a special boost. Alternatively, you can stand before the alter and invest your hard-earned goods on getting weapons or skulls before charging back into the oppressive castle of demonic horrors. Be warned, that these items are expensive and it will cost a lot to purchase even one. Thankfully the game continues to reward players who climb that learning curve as the more monsters you kill, the more combo multipliers you get and the more blood (I think that’s the currency) you will get per kill.
Each time you enter the castle, the dungeon rooms and the overall layout changes. A small grid map is overlaid in the corner of the screen and you can see how the rooms interconnect. This is similar to Darkest Dungeon’s system where you might stumble onto a chest with valuables, or find a merchant you can buy from. Nongünz doesn’t expect you to make it through the first dungeon levels easily though. You can escape in some of the rooms by hopping out a window and back into the graveyard if your health is low, or if you have enough to make an offering at the altar. After that you do have to start back at the beginning of the dungeon level with a new map, so there are some trade-offs for bailing.
Shooting your way past monsters requires jumping, rolling and making sure you get an angle on them before they get to you. The layout of each room is part of the challenge; putting a wall in the way that forces you into close combat with a creature you would rather stay the Hell away from. Range is mostly your friend in the game, but there are times the game challenges you to find that range in enclosed spaces. The designs for each room are smartly crafted, and cater to the monsters in that room.
The game runs into a couple of blunders in its quest for bleak austerity. The lack of explanation goes a long way to serve up the atmosphere that was carefully crafted for this game, but it can also leave players feeling lost. There are menus of “cards” in the game and what they do isn’t very discoverable (I’m still not sure myself). This makes buying things from the vendors a bit obnoxious since you don’t get explanations, just pixelated image of the item. There aren’t even pictorial explanations for these items, they simply exist. I avoid worrying about this by almost exclusively dumping all my blood into skulls and guns, because it’s very clear what those do and despite my gripes about mystery items, this game is a blast to play and a great challenge.
Nongünz will make you scream at your screen, swear at 8-bit monsters, and cheer when you leave it as a pile of gibs on a dirty, stone floor. The music will echo in your head after playing it, and you’ll be wondering how far you can get on your next playthrough. There is an end, and I haven’t gotten to it quite yet, but I am certainly going to keep trying. If you are looking for a gothic shooter you should definitely be looking at Nongünz.