A drab world, headstones as far as the eye can see, a massive monument to weapons and skulls and a tomb of endless depth filled with unspeakable horrors. Welcome to Nongunz.
Genre(s): Action Platformer
Developer: Brainwash Gang
Publisher: Sindiecate Arts
Release Date: May 2017
Played Main Story
Purchase At: Steam
The first I saw of Nongunz were a couple of frankly mind-boggling trailers, one with a cute cartoon that suddenly turns horrifically violent—and which reminded me of Happy Tree Friends—and another with random words on screen and minuscule gameplay segments. It wasn’t so much a preview of a game I was to review as it was a spectacle I can’t un-see.
Nongunz is a roguelike arcade action platformer where you play as a headless skeleton braving an endless dungeon of monsters shaped like human appendages and other fleshy bits. They look and act repulsively and sometimes it’s difficult to tell just what they are, until you see them in just the right way—or the wrong one I suppose.
Along the way, you pick up cards with items and powerups, perhaps another weapon, but the real prize is a skull for your headless form. Skulls in Nongunz grant your superpowers, from a simple dash and fast movement to teleportation abilities and projectiles that create gravity wells. They’re powerful items but much like any other in Nongunz, they have limited uses.
Killing enemies grants you points, much like they would in Dark Souls, which you can use outside the dungeon—by escaping and restarting it—to acquire new skulls or weapons at the giant monument. The problem lies in that no matter which one you get, or how powerful—you can acquire more powerful versions with more currency spent—nothing is permanent and as soon as the bar depletes you’ll be back to your standard pistol, which you can’t upgrade. This is especially painful once you manage to accrue enough “souls” to unlock higher level skulls and all enemies in the dungeon upgrade to match them.
It’s not even the rogue-like element which resets your entire progress should you die, but as soon as you buy a weapon, no matter the level you acquire it on, its level on the monument resets, which is disappointing to say the least. Weapons and skulls are tremendously expensive, making their acquisition a worthless investment when not even their upgrade progress is permanent.
But nothing tells you this, same as nothing tells you that chests found in the dungeon will damage you if you open them, or that you can use the crypt near the monument to save “builds” of yourself to retrieve if you die. Hell, even when you find merchants with items, nothing tells you what those items do or how long the effects last. I appreciate the focus on discovery and experimentation, but I would have liked some minimal effort into properly explaining the game’s core mechanics to the player, such as the cards you collect and whether you keep or use them, but the developers preferred to go the vague and obtuse way.
One thing that truly enrages me about Nongunz is how your own weapons can hurt you. Sure, I can understand taking damage from firing my rocket launcher in melee range, but with the limited space already available to you in the labyrinthine dungeon, the limited ammo and massive costs of the weapons, you’d think they would throw you a bone and make it so your own weapons don’t kill you.
No such luck. But it’s a theme in the game, where even chests hurt you. The entire title’s design revolves around ways to hurt your character.
I’ve complained a lot, but I can’t deny that Nongunz is a fun game. I’ve been playing it every day and even though I die more often than I clear bosses, I just pick up and go again. The one thing I’ve pretty much given up on is unlocking new weapons, for all the reasons mentioned above, unless I know the weapon is particularly useful against a boss, such as the grenade or the rocket launcher vs the first one and its clusters of minions. Otherwise, I just optimise my movement, avoid projectiles and kill things…slowly.
Music is pretty good, with very moody tunes that complement the drab and miserable world perfectly. Most of the pieces have very few cords, but have a little western tinge to them that I found very appealing. Do know that I say drab and miserable and mean it in a good way. The aesthetic of an endless graveyard and tomb are fantastic, as are the rooms of the dungeons which sometimes look like sections of a warehouse, or a home or even a temple. Also, a skeleton vs fleshy bits has some sick perverse appeal I can’t deny…or explain.
Speaking of the enemies, one thing that stands out is that the world and your character are in black and white, but the enemies, their oozing liquids, projectiles and even the corresponding “organic” items are all in a bright vivid red, creating a wonderful contrast.
Nongunz is a really fun rogue-like and as such it expects you to discover most of its secrets, but fails at explaining the basics to you, leaving you guessing most of the time, and this is a game that needs that kind of communication to the player, as there are many variables to be aware of as you delve into the depths of the dungeon.
4/5 – Exceptional!