Breaking My Backlog #9 – GoNNER

by Christopher David Lawton

Breaking My Backlog is a semi-regular features on in which I attempt to complete my entire backlog before buying any new games. You can read more about the quest and see my backlog here.

GoNNER is a game that has a name that I hate to type, because it uses stupid capitalization that is annoying. Other than that, the game is all right even if I found it more frustrating than anything else during most of my plays.

GoNNER is a side scrolling rogue-lite that features a lot of bullets, a lot of jumping, and a lot of enemies. The primary game is split into four randomly generated levels which you must traverse, killing enemies and bosses, finding items, and just trying to survive. The surviving part turns out to be the most daunting part of this task, as this game is hard. Like seriously hard. Like way harder than most games that I care to play.

Now, I’m not opposed to hard games. I cut my teeth on difficult games for the original NES. I’m currently replaying Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, which is a notoriously difficult game even if you know where to go and what to do. I’m also working on 100-percenting Celeste, and I’m making my way through Dark Souls for the first time in preparation for an unannounced feature on this website. I think where I start to lose interest in games like GoNNER, however, is what feels like a lack of progress. Each time you die, all of your progress is undone. You start back at the beginning, and have to make your way back through the game. Since the game world is procedurally-generated, it doesn’t exactly feel like you’re treading old ground each time, but it does become frustrating when you die and have to basically restart the game from scratch.

I get that this is a feature of the rogue-like genre. I just don’t like it.

I’ve played other rogue-likes that didn’t feel this way. If you check my Steam account for the game in my library I’ve invested the most time in, you’ll probably find Rogue Legacy, which is very similar in concept. Where that game also requires you to restart at the beginning after each death, though, there’s enough that follows you from round to round to give the impression of actual progression. There are tons of upgrades, with some that can even be taken multiple times and stacked. There are new weapons to find and buy. There are four bosses in the game, but once you kill a boss, you never have to kill him again. With Rogue Legacy, I never actually felt like I was restarting the game after I died. It always felt like death was just a part of the story.

GoNNER tries to do some of this. As you progress through the levels, you can find new items, such as weapons and powerups, to help you throughout the game. When you enter the world, you are given the option to choose a loadout from the items you’ve found. The issue is that there just aren’t that many of these items, and their actual use feels limited. Once I found the loadout that worked for me, I found very little incentive to switch items in subsequent playthroughs. If I have two weapons — one that shoots quick, weak bullets and one that shoots slow, strong bullets — I’m just going to use the one that matches my playstyle and stick with it. It never felt like there was enough variety in the actual gameplay to justify switching my loadout. Maybe I did a disservice to myself in this, maybe I wasn’t playing the game as the developers intended.

But, why should I? Why shouldn’t I play a game the way I intend to play it? And if I do, why shouldn’t it feel like I’m actually accomplishing something?

I think it’s easy to answer those questions with the idea that “maybe this game just isn’t for me.” But, that feels like a cop out in this case. The idea of progression is an inherent goal in most games. Narrative games not only have a clear beginning, middle, and end, but also a clear sense of how we as players move from one to the other. While GoNNER appears to have the first half of the equation, it feels like the second half is where it falters, and I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that this feels like a major downside to the game.

Again, it’s not about the difficulty of the game. I play difficult games. I enjoy difficult games. But, my time with video games is so limited, I feel like I need to accomplish something when I sit down to play. And, frankly, in the few weeks I’ve played GoNNER, I’m not sure I felt that sense of accomplishment once. Certainly not enough to justify the hours I sank into it.

Backlog Update:


Total Backlog: 241 240

(All images from the GoNNER website.)