Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition
Developer: Brainwash Gang
Genre(s): Platformer, Action
Platform: Nintendo Switch (also available on Xbox, PS and Steam)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 06/05/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is a remaster of the original Nongunz. The developers boast about the nihilist nature of the game, saying it will change the player’s perceptions of life and how they view mankind. Not only should it alter their nature, but it should offer a difficult but rewarding gameplay loop at the same time. Does Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition achieve the goals it set out to achieve? Find out in this Rapid Review.
Though the developers discuss the implications and lasting impact of the story in the product description, Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition rarely features story elements. In fact, the game intentionally shrouds itself in mystery, barely explaining the context to the players. Despite the minimal emphasis on the story, minor details begin to accrue in the player’s mind as they notice various background details. Once the game is completed, there is a cutscene that explains everything. It is shocking, harsh, and will stun the players. The developers solidified their purpose and left a lasting message on the players even without a strong central focus on the story.
Not only is the story cryptic, but the gameplay tutorials are also never fully explained to the player. While basic movements are explained, and the player is given slight guidance from a help book, the mechanics of the game are never truly spelt out for the player. This was one of the more interesting elements of the game and allowed the player to decipher the best way to beat the game, what the assets were used for, and how they impact each run. Even things that they unlocked were not explained, forcing the players to guide themselves. Going into the game without any knowledge is highly recommended, and thus I am putting a spoiler warning on the rest of the gameplay section of this review. I recommend skipping down to the [A Bone to Pick With Nongunz] section if you wish to experience the game the way the developers intended.
Slide to the Left
The first thing the player must learn is the movement of the skeleton. The skeleton can move side to side, jump, avoid damage with a roll, and look upwards by sliding on the ground. Both the roll and slide increase the player’s speed. Players will find themselves chaining together rolls and sliding to navigate the various areas. Not only this, but by pressing the roll button in the air, the skeleton will enter what looks like a tornado, and be completely invulnerable. These movements are fluid, and while it is frustrating to require the player to slide to aim upwards, the design decisions here are excellent. Moving the player is intuitive and invites precise movement with a variety of options.
Players must do more than move to survive. The skeleton comes equipped with a basic pistol. However, throughout the game, players can receive new weapons. The variety of weapons on offer in Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is impressive, offering multiple different standard weapons, explosive weapons, and even melee weapons. Each run will feel different from the last, and this gives the player reason to return to the game. Unfortunately, with so many guns, some of the weapons are unviable. Players learn quickly which weapons are good, and which weapons barely improve. Though some weapons are drastically better than others, the disparity in weapons encourage multiple runs and keep players engaged.
Do Not Lose Your Head
In addition to the weaponry, there is a multitude of skulls that the player can obtain. These grant special powers depending on the shape of the skull. Some offer speed boosts, others shift gravity, and some even grant teleportation. These skulls add an additional level of strategy to the game but were rarely essential to progression. Players may find themselves forgetting about the skulls due to their underwhelming and inconsistent abilities. Though helpful, there is little reason to use their coveted points on skulls when they can purchase additional weapons. Despite being forgettable, the skulls were an interesting element of the game, and provide runs with additional variety.
Both skulls and weaponry can be purchased with accumulated points. The player can even upgrade their weapons and skulls to maximize their potential by donating more points. It is also important to note that skulls and weapons have durability. This makes players consider the importance of using an improved gun and decide whether the default pistol could suffice. This system works well and serves to give players with substantial points a significant advantage when beginning a run, but still requires active thinking.
Shuffle the Deck
Throughout Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition, the player will collect cards of various items. These will increase their statistics, but not drastically. Unfortunately, due to the cryptic nature of the game, the cards are often confusing. To show which statistics improve, the game features a table with icons that represent many different variables. It will take players substantial time to comprehend the cards, as the visual indicators are not explained, and there are so many areas for improvement, that the player cannot immediately determine what changes. These are often too difficult to understand, and players will give up attempting to understand the ways in which the cards impact the player. They simply focus on the fact that the cards increase their potential.
These cards can be encountered in a variety of ways. Most rooms have a chest that can be opened in exchange for some health. Additionally, cards can be purchased with points earned from defeating enemies. These cards were always helpful, and even though cards alter statistics, the cards have other features. The player can destroy their cards for health. This removes the increased statistics that the card provided, but when the player needs health, this can be used to remedy their wounds. Also, the player must consider durability. Cards only last a certain amount of time before destroying themselves without granting health. The player must learn to balance the destruction of old cards while ensuring they are collecting enough new cards to maintain a healthy ecosystem. This works well because destroying old cards gives the player health whereas attaining new cards reduces it, forcing deliberate gameplay.
Let Us Make a Religion
In addition to collecting points by defeating enemies, Nongunz: Definitive Edition contains idle game elements. On each run, the player can collect worshippers that accumulate points every second. Collecting points from these worshippers allows the player to craft better guns and skulls for their next runs, as well as purchase additional cards. These worshippers are a permanent upgrade that remains with the player even through death. These worshippers were another excellent addition to the game. They rewarded the player for trying even when they failed to delve further into the dungeon or make substantial progress.
Moreover, there are significant non-playable characters that can be discovered. The player unlocks a way to gamble their money, attempting to double their money invested, an additional shopkeeper, and even a grave robber. These characters give additional reasons for the player to collect points and further encourage gameplay. Furthermore, these also encourage players when they fail, as they are also permanent upgrades.
Welcome to the Crypt
Finally, it is important to understand one of the most major mechanics in the game. Leaving. When the player dies, all cards, weapons, and skulls are lost alongside their skeleton. This means they need to start fresh each run. However, there are ways to circumvent this system. Throughout the rooms, there are occasionally windows. Approaching a window will allow the player to leave, starting them back at the beginning, but with additional loot and upgrades. Doing so will completely replenish any lost health but it will not change the durability of items. They can also deposit any items in the crypt, freezing the timer on durability, and safeguard them. This system forces players to weigh the risks of proceeding, as exiting will boost their next run, but remove all progress achieved on the current run.
Endless Life as a Skeleton
Not only is the player able to tackle the main campaign, but there is an arcade version that puts the player against consecutive rooms of enemies until they die. This was a fun distraction but never caught my interest as much as the main campaign as there was little reward for success. Either way, the addition of this endless mode was an enjoyable one.
A Bone to Pick with Nongunz
Unfortunately, despite the praise the game has received so far, there is one glaring issue. The performance of Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is not good. At times, the performance is completely smooth and the game runs perfectly. However, the game constantly gets overwhelmed with particle effects, and the game loses substantial frames. It did not occur in every room, but it occurred in almost every single run. Due to the high-stakes nature of the game, with death sending the player back substantial distances, the egregious performance of the game severely hinders the overall quality of the game. This will substantially impact the rating, as performance in a rogue-like is one of the most important qualities.
If the performance in single-player was too smooth, rest assured knowing that the performance in the cooperative mode is even worse. Though including cooperative play was an excellent decision, the game cannot handle both players. The framerate drops substantially, and there were issues occurring in many levels (many more in comparison to single player). Also, the systems were disappointing as well. Players share health, and each item must be shared among the players. This puts players at a disadvantage because they cannot access all the luxuries they are afforded in single player. Moreover, the shared health bar adds unnecessary tension, giving consequence to both players for one player’s mistake. Unfortunately, the cooperative mode was undesirable and failed to add to the gameplay experience. On other consoles, the experience may be better depending on performance.
Bone Chilling Tunes
The sound design in Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is creepy and mysterious. It fits the tone of the game very well and was a pleasant addition. Occasionally, the music would not play during certain levels but changing screens would generally remedy this issue. Sound effects were also sufficient. Guns made satisfying sounds and made killing enemies a joy. The sound direction was solid.
The visuals went after a minimalist style, using mainly black and white backgrounds, changing colours of enemies, and weapons to make them pop. The visuals were impressive and showed incredible detail with a minimal palette. Enemies are grotesque but somehow visually pleasing. Even the bosses, who simply resemble skeleton heads, are all unique and have their own personality. The art design was excellent.
Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is an enjoyable game severely hindered by the performance on the Nintendo Switch. While the mystery can be overwhelming, and there were additional minor glitches, apart from the performance, this was an excellent game. Perhaps check out this title on another platform, or wait for the alleged Switch Pro. Despite the performance issues, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3 out of 5
You can purchase Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition on the Nintendo eShop here
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.