GoNNER is weird. GoNNER is also undeniably charming.
This contrast between an adorable story of friendship and unsettling tale of a zombie-child taught by Death going on a rampage is at the heart of why I love GoNNER so much. A roguelike platformer that handles superbly well and commits to its unique (a.k.a. completely bizarre) aesthetic, GoNNER offers a fantastic experience, as long as your willing to experiment and keep dying…
GoNNER is a tough as hell procedurally-generated 2D platformer with roguelike elements, following the largely misunderstood and altruistic Ikk on a journey to cheer up his only friend in this world—a giant landbound whale named Sally—by searching for just the right trinket in the deep and dark places nearby.
With Death as his mentor, supplying both a multitude of abilities and arsenal for Ikk to use, Ikk traverses an ever-changing land full of unwieldy creatures who don’t appreciate his trespassing or his friend Sally. Several different environments, arduous bosses, hidden secrets, multiple endings, and more await Ikk on his journey to make one person happy even if it kills him—which it certainly will.
The first thing you’ll notice about GoNNER is a lack of directions. Other than a few minor tool tips, there aren’t any tutorials, directions or hints as to how you should be playing or what you should be doing. While some might find this irritating, I (as longtime readers will no doubt surmise) love it, and in this case, I think the decision to avoid written or spoken instructions adds to the foreboding and strange atmosphere of the game. You’re stumbling through this strange land, hoping you’re doing the right thing and experimenting as you go. Controls also feel tight and responsive, which help to avoid any feelings that might arise of being lost.
In GoNNER, you have three pieces of equipment to manage, which affect how you play the game: your head, your gun and your backpack. Your head controls your total health and usually a special effect, be it the way you jump or an additional gun to fire. Your gun is…well your gun. Different guns have different spreads and rates of fire that you’ll play around with and find what works right for you and your situation. Backpacks generally control reloading, and like your head, some have effects.
Being a rouguelike, every time you die, you start over anew, and have the opportunity to visit Death once again, pick a new head, gun or backpack, before diving back in. As you encounter new pieces of equipment, it’s unlocked in Death’s collection, meaning that even if you die in a particularly long run, it’s doesn’t feel like you’re starting back from square one, which is a design decision I really appreciate.
The other major thing you’ll need to play attention to is sigils, which are the game’s currency. You get these by keeping combos of five kills going, so speed is of the essence as you navigate the game’s four worlds. This, of course, leads to you doing stupid, greedy things and inevitably getting killed, only to start the whole procedurally generated journey over once again.
Aesthetically, GoNNER is fantastic. The style I can only describe as “jenky” is wonderfully weird, and somehow manage to be disturbing and cute all at the same time. It’s all very consistent, while offering different landscapes, enemies and colors throughout the game, which provides some nice variety. The music and audio reinforce the visual aesthetics, adding an air of unease while peppering your ears with pops and squeaks that you can’t but say “awww” too.
GoNNER is a macabre tale about a skeleton of indeterminate gender and the lengths that skeleton will go to for a gigantic whale. It’s a brightly colored fever dream of platforming, bullets and perma-death that succeeds by embracing its bizarre aesthetic, and leaving you plenty of questions and mystery, not only about what you’re doing, but how you’re goign to do it.