I Really Like Gun Rounds

Gun Rounds is a game that was released earlier this year, first on PC and Mac, then later on iOS and Android. It was created by developer Blabberf and costs a mere $3. It was part of itch.io's Bundle For Racial Justice and Equality, so if you happened to buy that, you already own it! That’s good, because Gun Rounds is a fantastic game.

Gun Rounds: fighting crabs and jellyfish

In Gun Rounds, you control a little dude and take turns exchanging fire with a squad of enemies as you try to destroy each other. You start with a basic pistol and one random “fancy” weapon. On your turn, you select a weapon, pull back to aim, and release to fire. On the enemy’s turn, you tap the screen to destroy enemy shots (knives, fireballs, bats, a giant skull)... and then you go again! As you defeat enemies, you progress further, finding treasure chests with new guns, shops with an array of different powerups, and weirder, trickier enemies.

It’s easy to pick up and immediately satisfying. The controls are straightforward (it’s basically Angry Birds). It takes a lot of notes from this Mark Brown video and combines its mechanics in order to minimize complexity. The art is loveable, with lots of explosions and pixel particles left and right. Each session has just enough variety to keep it fresh, with lots of guns, powerups, new enemies, and just a few secrets. There are unlockable color palettes for the 1-bit style. There’s an incredibly difficult final boss, but there’s also an easy mode… and finally, an absurd super-hard mode. Each round takes just a couple seconds to jump into, and if you die, you can jump right back in fairly easily.

Gun Rounds: shooting a skeleton

If you tried to give Gun Rounds a genre in the typical sense, it’d be something like “a mobile arcade action-RPG roguelike”, which is not a particularly useful description. Really, Gun Rounds is what I usually call a “bathroom game”, as in, it’s a game that is a perfect distraction when you’re stuck sitting down somewhere and you’ve got 5-10 minutes with your hands free. Bathroom games are a combination of: simple premise, quick to start, quick to finish, just a little different every time, and playable on a device that fits in your pocket. Essentially… you can play them on the toilet.

There have been a few fantastic bathroom games I’ve enjoyed in recent years, things like Downwell and Mini Metro. While a lot of devs have turned roguelikes into wonderfully expansive games with 30-60 minute play sessions - Binding of Isaac, Hades, Slay the Spire - there’s a need for games like Gun Rounds, where you can live and die in the 5 minutes before you have to go back to your desk. It combines the procedural generation of roguelikes with the quick action & short play cycle of old quarter arcades, and that combination works. I hope to see more games like this, if only to put up a fight against the flood of gacha titles designed to squeeze you for money. This is a $3 game you can play for months.

I can poke a few holes into Gun Rounds’ design. Blocking requires very accurate timing and the later enemies get brutally fast. Some enemy bullets are just very difficult to respond to, either because they have some randomness (teleporting) or they burst towards you quickly and a bit unpredictably. I wish there were some more guns and more enemy variety, especially in the earlier stages that you’re more likely to replay a lot… but, this is coming from someone who has been playing for six months. I’m just being greedy at this point. Gun Rounds is an amazing game if you like spicy action and go to the bathroom regularly. It’s one of my favorite games from this year.