Call me old-fashioned, but there's nothing more that I love than a well-made 2D platformer. Throw in frantic gunplay, procedurally drawn levels, and roguelike elements and you've got GoNNER, the latest noteworthy addition for the NVIDIA Shield Android TV box. Developed by Art in Heart and published by Raw Fury Games, it's an incredibly stylish action-platformer that's reminiscent of games like DownWell and Super Meat Boy, and is well worth it's discounted $6.69 price tag.
The first thing that strikes you when you load the game up for the first time is the cartoon-creepy graphics and outstanding music and sound design. The developers really nailed the overall art style, with cleverly designed enemies and procedurally generated levels that feel as if they're literally being hand-drawn around your character as you progress. It's a game that you need to experience for yourself, as descriptions do no justice.
You play as a character named Ikk who — with some help from the specter of Death itself — is on a mission to cheer up his best friend Sally, a beached whale, by exploring a sprawling, ever-evolving underground hellscape in search of a present. That's the backstory, though it never factors into the actual gameplay much outside of visiting Death when you die, and occasionally visiting Sally for some health.
The developers really nailed the overall art style, with cleverly designed enemies and procedurally generated levels that feel as if they're literally being hand-drawn around.
One thing to prepare yourself for — this is a game where you're going to die... a lot. Early and often. GoNNER offers no tutorials or exposition, so you're thrown right into the game and expected to just figure things out as you go. Since every playthrough is slightly different than the last, the emphasis is placed on the player to improve their skills rather than simply memorizing level layouts.
Ikk requires three items before heading into battle — a head, a weapon, and a power-up. These are all collectible items, discovered at random points throughout the game, and each offers different abilities and advantages for your character. Heads will affect the way your character moves and also your health. Power-ups offer special abilities, such as weapon reloads or a brief blast of rapid fire, that you can use infinitely with a short cooldown period after each use. These new items are often found in secret areas scattered throughout the game and unlocked via mysterious parameters.
The trick to mastering GoNNER is unlocking as many heads, powerups, and guns as possible, then experimenting to find the combination that works best with your gameplay style. It's all about making calculated compromises. Your first head, for example, seems like a good option with its ample hitpoints — that is until you discover that it's prone to pop off whenever you get hit, requiring you to carefully recollect it without getting hit again or else it's game over. When you eventually unlock a sturdier head with less health, you have an important choice to make.
There's no denying that GoNNER can be tough and unrelenting at times, and this alone might turn some gamers off. But there's a stark difference between a game that's difficult and a game that's hard to play. While the learning curve here is steep to start, the controls are spot on and nothing ever feels inherently unfair — once you understand how the game mechanics work. The game heavily rewards you for linking kills together into combos, which are indicated with skulls in the top-right corner. Link five in a row and you unlock a purple artifact, which can be spent on upgrades before boss battles or, more importantly, exchanged to negate a game over screen.
There's no denying that GoNNER can be tough and unrelenting at times, and this alone might turn some gamers off.
The one downside to GoNNER is its length; there are only four bosses in the game. By the time you've invested a few hours and have a solid handle on things, you're well on your way to finishing the game. It should take a capable gamer around six hours of trial and error gameplay to beat, which isn't too bad considering the game's price. Whether or not you decide to return to the game after beating it sort of depends on whether not you're a glutton for punishment.
Overall I had an absolute blast playing GoNNER. It's a beautiful game that provides a new challenge every time you play. If you're in need of more great gaming content for your NVIDIA Shield Android TV, you definitely need to check this game out.
GoNNER is available for the NVIDIA Shield Android TV via the Google Play Store, and can also be found on Steam for PC and Mac.
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