Art in Heart have released a sequel to their previous game, GoNNER – the imaginatively titled GONNER2. Now, I’ll admit that I never played the first game, and so was coming to the action of GONNER2 completely fresh. But was it a pleasure to play, or more of a chore? Well, come to a very strange world of giant worms, giant guns and weird heads. Come to the world of GONNER2!
The first thing that strikes you when you fire up GONNER2 is the unique graphical style, with the second thing fast following that normally being an enemy coming out of nowhere and headbutting our hero back to the start. The graphics are simple, colourful and effective, and luckily with the amount of action that is on the screen at any one time, there’s no slowdown and the controls are tight and up to the job. The sound is a bit minimalist, with just the sound of gunfire and the audible cries of Ikk’s – the hero – inevitable demise being heard. In all though the presentation of the game is very much on the indie end of the spectrum. The other characters in the game are a mixed bunch too, with Death appearing to be almost Mexican Day of the Dead or Mayan-inspired. The design choices are very interesting.
Now, the story is a bit of an odd one. Apparently, Death needs a hand, as her lair (yes, in this game, Death is female) has been taken over by a mysterious presence. We are described as an altruistic and unexpected hero, and our name is Ikk, at least according to the official website. You see, in order to find all this out, internet research is required as there is absolutely no exposition in the game at all. Not a dickie bird. I was thrust into the game, seemingly squeezed from a giant worm’s rectum, and was left to figure out what to do.
As you enter a level, you do indeed seem to squeeze out the backside of a worm, with the goal being to make it to another worm, jump into its mouth and then be swallowed. So far, so simple, right? Well, unsurprisingly there are enemies on the way that seek to ruin your whole day. Now, as you begin, you are unarmed, and while jumping on the baddies’ heads works quite well, it is quite tricky to time, so sometimes discretion is definitely the better part of valour. A clean pair of heels is a good defence. However, as you progress, you will find not only firearms, such as rifles, to pick up, but also heads that Ikk can put on. Yes, again, you read that right, Ikk can put heads on like other characters would put on a hat. You can also find backpacks that I assume allow you to carry more things, but again it’s not explained. When Ikk has no head on, he (or it, it’s not clear) dies in one hit. With a head on, the first hit will make him drop not only the head, but the firearm and backpack he is currently carrying. It is possible to pick them up again, and this is usually a great idea, as otherwise Ikk is just too squishy to survive.
So, Ikk must jump, wall jump, dash and shoot his way through the various levels, in an attempt to be eaten by a worm. Shooting is taken care of in a twin-stick style, with Ikk bouncing around like an idiot and attempting to shoot the many creatures that have a grudge against him for some reason. Unfortunately, there does seem to be more enemies than Ikk has bullets, so some dodging is in order. This isn’t counting the fact that some of the levels are set underwater, where guns don’t seem to work. Thankfully, swimming is easier than jumping about the place, but the enemies seem to be faster in water too, so it is very much a case of swings and roundabouts. In the levels that aren’t filled with water, Ikk has a natty line in wall jumps, where he can just constantly jump up the same wall to get to where he needs to be. Add to this difficulty in moving about, the fact that the levels are procedurally generated, and also that if you die you are sent back to the hub world where Death seems to hang out, and you can surely see that frustration soon sets in with GONNER2.
Well, it did for me at least. You see, I’m not a fan of the whole “rogue-like” genre, as I find them just difficult for the sake of being difficult, if I’m brutally honest. This game certainly falls into my personal category of “harder than it needs to be”, and as such it frustrates. However, the more you play, the more you understand what is needed to make progress, and so begins the opportunity to stay alive a little longer. I think that some of my issue is that there doesn’t seem to be any progression: no skill trees to unlock, no extra health or firepower to accrue. Ikk stays Ikk, even when he’s fighting the crazy bosses in the game, and sometimes it feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. To aid in the run, it is possible to bring a co-op buddy in, and while this does take some of the heat off you, it’s very easy to get confused as to who you are, and a lot of deaths occur when you mix up your character. It’s nice to see co-op included though, as not enough games allow couch co-op.
GONNER2 on Xbox One is absolutely rock hard and requires the reflexes of a ninja hopped up on Red Bull to get anywhere, and so this is not a game that you would play for a nice, relaxing blast before work. However, if you enjoy a challenge, it is certainly worth playing. Even with fingers made of butter, progress can be made by concentrating fiercely, and it is then when GONNER2 starts to become rewarding.