Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition Review

Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is a unique game, some might even call it one of a kind; although it shares many mechanics with other games it does other things completely differently. Discovering the mechanics and figuring out how to do things is a common trait for the roguelite genre, but Nongunz takes it to the extreme. The Doppelganger Edition is an updated version of the game that was originally released on Steam in 2017. The original publisher closed up shop in an unorthodox manner so Brainwash Gang, the developer, needed to find a new publisher so they could re-release the game. The developers made a few adjustments, added an arena mode and local co-op to the game and slapped on an interesting subtitle, and Digerati stepped in to publish Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition

Nongunz’s distinct pixel art style filled with morbid imagery that, as well as its familiar-looking platforming run-and-gun roguelite gameplay, helped it gain attention, and the people that played the original seemed to either love or hate it. The main reason some people disliked it is the fact that the game has almost zero explanations for how much of the game works besides the basic mechanics (which are explained in this version with a short intro level); everything else the player must figure out on their own. There is a notebook that explains in general how the game works, but at first glance it makes zero sense.

However, when I look at it now it actually does a decent job of explaining things in simple, crude pixel art without any words. I kind of liked the idea of going into the game blind and discovering how everything works, I normally get bored to death during tutorials. I like to get right into the action, sometimes skipping over things, which occasionally comes back to bite me in the rear. Here was my chance to do it all on my own! I had fun initially but after a certain amount of deaths, I felt like I was hitting a wall. I caved and hopped online for some clarity. Fortunately, since the previous version had been out for a few years (although it’s no longer available for purchase) there is a decent amount of information explaining the different mechanics of the game. Once I learned how everything worked my enjoyment of the game greatly increased and I could focus on getting better at the game.

The basic action platformer move set includes jumping, rolling (which gives you some invincibility frames), a slide, and a button to use your currently equipped weapon. The gunplay might feel a bit restrictive at first given the fact that it appears as if you can only fire to the left and right. Initially, I was a little confused with the button layout, the weapon use button is RB and I didn’t understand why there was a slide and a roll. After playing the game a bit I realized that mapping the weapon to RB was the best choice because it’s probably the easiest button to press very quickly in rapid succession – most of the guns fire as quickly as you press the button. I also realized that the layout was designed so you could easily combine the moves together. If you shoot your gun while sliding you’ll shoot upwards, and if you jump while sliding you’ll do a higher jump. You can also jump out of a roll which is useful for jumping across larger gaps. Pressing the roll button in the air causes the character to do a spin which gives you a second of invulnerability. 

I’m going to go ahead and place a SPOILER WARNING while I describe and explain a lot of the mechanics since the game is intended to be played with no prior knowledge. Obviously, you can have fun, either way, I’d just like to give anyone reading this the opportunity to choose how they want to approach the game.

There are thirteen weapons in Nongunz that can be obtained and equipped. They are all representations of real-world weapons, eleven of which are projectile and the other two melee (katana and fire axe). The projectile weapons include a bow and arrow, pistols, a machine gun, assault rifles, shotguns, a sniper rifle, an RPG, and a grenade launcher. The big thing you’ll notice your basic character is missing once you start playing is the ability to shoot down. This really frustrated me when I was first playing, because there are almost always a bunch of enemies below you. After playing for a bit I realized there were options in your arsenal to address this issue. The first one I discovered was the grenade launcher which fires in an arc and bounces off the wall exploding after a few seconds or once it touches an enemy. The other option is using one of the animal skulls that can be equipped in the game – there are nine and each one has its own ability or boost tied to it which is usually activated by pressing LB. They are all useful, some more than others. A few of them are combat-related such as the bear skull which lets you perform a ground pound move with shockwaves when activated in the air (this is the oneI found helpful for enemies below). The monkey head creates a stationary turret that fires in a 360-degree field towards the nearest enemy.  

The other skulls aid in your movements, such as the gator skull which lets you do a horizontal dash, and the hawk skull which gives you an extra jump while in the air. A few of them give you different teleportation powers, like the gecko skull which lets you fire a shot that bounces around and when you press LB again you’ll teleport to the shot’s location. Perhaps the most useful skull beside the bear and the hawk is the rat, which lets you teleport a short distance in whichever direction you are moving, including through walls. This makes some of the rooms trivial when the exit door is on the other side of a thin wall right next to where you start. The guns and the skulls are represented in your inventory as cards, and both have limited uses and are displayed on the card as well as your HUD when equipped. The more powerful ones have less uses like the bear and hawk, but the rat skull is an exception – it seems like you can use it over a hundred times before it disappears/breaks. There were a few times where it seemed like my skull broke and was lost after taking a large amount of damage such as from an explosive source, so be careful with your favorite skull. (While playing earlier I noticed that some flying enemies can steal your skull, but will drop it when killed.)

One aspect of the skulls and guns that really bothered me was the HUD design. Some of the skulls and guns are hard to tell apart and while each one you currently have equipped is represented in the character art there is also a scrolling menu that comes up at the bottom right of the screen that shows you which one you have equipped when you press the RT to switch guns or LT to switch skulls. This HUD element only remains on the screen for a second, and if you’re in the middle of a fight there’s no way you can look down there. You can hold down either trigger to slow down time and bring up the scrolling bar for each type of item during this you can go back and forth between the items by pressing the directional buttons. If they just kept the picture of the items you were currently using on the screen all the time it would be much better in my opinion. Also, the enemies act strangely when you enter slow motion, sometimes walking off ledges (which can actually be used to your advantage).

The entire arsenal – skulls and weapons – is displayed on a rather large wall relief sculpture that takes up a decent portion of the hub area. This is probably the most iconic image in the game and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there’s a crypt for the worshippers you rescue directly below the relief making it look like they are praying to the gun gods and the mystical animal skulls. There isn’t any type of story in the game but it’s design choices like this that makes me think the developers wanted to impart some sort of meaning into the game. The game revolves around death and guns, the hub area is a cemetery, and the gameplay takes place inside a church that also looks part hospital and part industrial factory. Some of the enemies are hideously deformed body parts, such as the gigantic slug-like fingers that crawl around leaving a temporary trail of hazardous blood, or the jumping severed legs that hop around endlessly until you gun them down, and don’t forget about the flying hands that can shoot fingernails straight at you. A few of the enemies are horrific-looking mutations made up of mostly eyes while others are just strange creatures, some of which look completely alien in nature. The first enemies you encounter are all orange in color, but there are stronger versions of every type: blue is the second form, and green indicates the strongest type.

You play as a headless skeleton who starts out with a basic pistol with infinite ammo. Each time you fire your gun you’ll notice the orange number at the bottom of the screen increases by one. This is your currency, and there are two other common ways to increase it. The first is by killing enemies – the harder enemies reward a higher score. In addition to increasing your score each time you kill an enemy a combo counter on the left side of the screen increases by one allowing you to earn more points for your kills. It will disappear rather quickly but refills each time you score a hit on an enemy but again, only increases with a kill.

The second way makes use of one of the few permanent progression mechanics in the game. There is one worshipper imprisoned in each of the four levels every time you play, and once freed, they immediately return to the hub area and begin worshipping in an underground crypt area. Each worshipper has a point value from one to four depending on which of the four levels of the game they were imprisoned.  Every second the game is running you get points for each of your worshippers, so  after a few runs you’ll be getting a decent amount of score just by standing around and you can leave your game idling if you want to rack up a large amount (I did this pretty frequently, but make sure to check your idle settings for your Xbox).

What can you do with your currency? There are a few things. The main option concerns the large wall relief in the hub area. By standing on the platform in the centre you can use your currency points as an offering to fill up any of the guns or skulls, once you give up enough points that part of the relief will turn orange and a Y button prompt will appear allowing you to “purchase” that item. You can continue to give more currency until the item turns blue which indicates it’s a level two item; offer even more currency and it will turn green meaning it’s level three and the strongest type. Higher level weapons do more damage and the higher level skulls also have stronger powers, such as the gator skull which lets you dash much further each time. Before heading into the church I would “invest” my extra points into the wall so they would be ready to pick up later if I didn’t have any points to spend. There are four “townsfolk” that you can rescue in each level of the game – they are usually in the first room of the new level, and they offer various goods and services for you to use. One of the more interesting ones is the gravedigger found in the second level. You can pay an increasing sum to dig a row of graves that can be used to store items (cards). In addition, each grave he digs comes halfway filled with increasingly better stat-boosting cards.

These cards have a huge role in terms of affecting the gameplay. There are a whopping sixteen stats that can be passively boosted by possessing different cards. Each card features a picture of a random item. Some are just regular household items like a hammer or a VHS tape, others appear to be body parts. There’s a tongue card, an intestine card, and a few other internal organ cards like a brain and what looks like a kidney. The last category appears to be various pieces of junk and/or trash, such as a broken lightbulb, and a used Q-tip. In addition to the picture each card also has one or two icons indicating which stats they boost. Some of the icons are kind of obvious like the white sword which increases your base damage or the one with a picture of a moving bullet with the fast forward symbol below it which increases your projectile speed. Other icons are more obtuse at first glance but once you realize what they are it makes more sense – I had no idea what the score boost icon meant until I looked it up. A full display of all your (mysterious) stats and their current boosts can be viewed in the pause menu.

The cards also have a number from one to nine on either side and that indicates how much of a stat boost that card gives you. The final piece of information shown on each card is a timer bar that slowly depletes once you enter the church, and once it’s gone then the card is destroyed. There’s no actual time indicated on the card and I’m not really sure if higher value cards deplete at the same rate as lower ones. All the item cards have one additional function (this includes the weapon and skull cards). At any point, you can choose to destroy them from the pause screen and this causes you to regain some health, the amount is dependent on the number value of the card, a one card will only heal a sliver of health whereas an eight card will heal almost your entire bar. It doesn’t matter how much time is left on the card, the healing value always depends solely on the number(s) on the card. Because of this, when I needed to heal I would usually destroy the cards with the least amount of time left. This mechanic makes the game more forgiving, but at the same time you can easily get overwhelmed and die or lose track of how much health you have left. The card timer and combo multiplier mechanics reward you for playing the game quickly, but you can also take it slow when you’re learning the ropes and trying out new guns and skulls without much penalty.

The actual gameplay takes place in the huge church on the right side of the hub. Once inside you need to find your way through four levels and defeat a boss at the end of each one. Each level is made up of a number of randomly arranged rooms connected in a grid pattern. Not all the rooms are connected on each side. To aid you in your goal there’s a small map at the top right of the screen so you can see which room you’re in and where you need to go. The rooms are all different sizes, some are very horizontal in layout whereas others are more square-shaped or vertical. The rooms appear to be designed by hand but their selection and layout in the levels seem to be randomized. Each room has a selection of enemies which also seems to be slightly randomized although I did notice a lot of enemies appearing in the same spots. Their difficulty and variety increase with each level. In addition to the enemies, there’s plenty of platforming elements and environmental hazards such as spikes, dripping blood, and huge needles that shoot projectiles.

Most of the regular rooms also have a treasure chest in them. These chests contain a stat boost card or a part (more on that later), but there’s a downside to opening chests. You lose a percentage of your current health as soon as you open it so if you have a full health bar you’ll lose a good chunk, probably close to a third of your health. To balance that out the game restores a small amount of health for every enemy you kill. There are doors in each room that allow you to switch rooms, and when standing in front of a door the room that it leads to flashes on your map. Also, the door to each room is usually located in the general direction of that room, so the door to the room above on the map will be somewhere at the top of your current room. One feature I really like in the game is how it lets you wait to enter a room. When you go through a door the new room loads and the screen is centered on the door you will come out of; however, instead of just sending you into the fray you decide when you want to open the door by pressing a directional button. This is extremely useful for avoiding enemies or waiting for them to get in the perfect position for you to blast them away.

Each level has four special rooms, three of which are displayed on the map. The boss room is indicated by an orange skull. There is one boss for each floor, and they are a lot of fun when you first encounter them providing you with what seems like a real challenge. Each one has specific tactics that work well against them, and the last two have some unique mechanics, but replaying them over and over can get tiring. Fortunately, the first two become somewhat trivial if you bring in some high-powered weaponry, if you include some high-level damage boosting cards in your loadout they can be killed in a few seconds. The white skull on the map represents the vendor, who always has four random stat boost cards for sale. The third room indicated on the map contains a special treasure chest (that doesn’t hurt you!) and always gives you either a weapon or a skull. The fourth room is a challenge room and is not shown on the map, but is accessed by entering a strange piece of industrial-looking machinery (the Y interaction button prompt will appear when you are in front of one). Once inside two icons will appear at the top of the screen indicating a challenge like, “no jumping” or “don’t get hit”. If you complete the challenge you’ll get a weapon or skull. Some of them are very hard to do without certain skulls and that’s what convinced me to start taking a greater skull variety with me on each run.

There are also some challenge rooms that give you a skull at the beginning and you have to reach the exit, usually by making use of the skull you just received. This is a great design decision because it teaches the players how to use the skulls – that’s actually how I learned that you could warp through walls with the rat skull. There’s also one more element in the levels that needs mentioning because it’s extremely useful; there is usually one arched window in most of the rooms that allows you to leave the church and return to the cemetery. This is very useful for collecting items to build up your stocks so you can get fully decked out and make it to the final boss. If you die you lose all the items you are carrying and all your currency points, so sometimes if you have a lot of points and have picked up some good cards then it might be a good idea to jump out the window instead of attempting to fight an unfamiliar boss.

There are a few more features that I found to be helpful once I learned about them. There’s an above ground crypt where you start when you begin the game each time, this contains four coffins that can be used to store items. One of the most interesting mechanics in the game is also located in this crypt: the ability to create your own warrior skeletons that you can send in to the church to search for loot. I mentioned before the “parts” you sometimes find in chests, well, there are seven of these parts you need to acquire (this includes a skull and a weapon) in order to build your own skeleton loot-bot. One very strange aspect of the game is that you are actually playing as a person playing the game. In the pause screen there’s a card that appears to indicate “exit game”, but when you tear the card you appear as a plain orange person in a regular colored room with a monitor in front of him. There are a few things you can interact with here, including a treadmill. The treadmill is actually the most effective way to idle the game to earn points since it speeds up the in-game time. This is indicated by a clock on your wall spinning much faster while you are on the treadmill. You can go back into the game at any point by interacting with the computer. 

END MECHANICS SPOILER WARNINGSKIP TO THE END IF YOU WANT TO GO IN WITHOUT PRIOR KNOWLEGE

The two big additions for the Doppelganger Edition don’t really have much effect on the gameplay. I tried the local co-op with my girlfriend and we had fun playing through the first two levels up to the second boss. The health bar is shared between the two players, and I knew there would be no way we could beat that boss with a shared health bar so we retreated out one of the arched windows. The second player’s character design is pretty neat though, you can give them any of your weapons, and whichever one they have equipped will show up as their head which is where they fire from. The arena mode is accessed from the chapel on the left side of the hub, it’s advertised as a great way to earn points and cards. You get a stat card for every three or so rooms you clear. The rooms are just the size of the screen and vary between platforming challenges and groups of enemies or combinations of the two. I haven’t found a way to exit the arena though, so I either die and lose everything or exit to my room which also causes me to lose everything (normally however you do keep all your inventory items when you exit into your room, just make sure the save skull icon is finished spinning).

The art style in Nongunz is one of the main reasons I was attracted to it. It has a mostly 2-bit aesthetic, all the environments are monochrome with black, white, and shades of grey. This fits perfectly with the locations featured in the game. The cemetery hub area looks amazing, with multiple layers of parallax scrolling in the background and one in the foreground as well. The art and the design of the hub area make a normally depressing and sad place feel safe and inviting. The art design of the levels also really stands out, there’s a lot of repeating assets but the low-res pixel artwork is fantastic on all of them. I like how the artist combined the use of the black negative space with sections of bricks and other wall art assets. The levels all have a feeling of dilapidation with a dirty, slimy, grittiness to them. The combination of the hospital and church with an industrial-like setting gives the levels an ominous feel, making me wonder why it looks the way it does while at the same time wanting to see the different elements in the next area. There are a few colors used in the art, three to be exact. Orange is the most common of these three and is used in most stat boost item art. It also indicates level one of the enemies as well as the weapons and skulls. The enemy design is also very detailed and interesting given the restrictions of the low-res aesthetic. Blue is for level two, and green is reserved for level three. When you enter the church with a high-powered loadout the second and third level enemies replace some of the regular orange ones. They take more hits to kill, and they might do more damage as well. One additional thing I like about the art for the game is the sweet animated cartoon-like trailer they made using the same black, white, grays, and orange found in the game.

The sound design is another aspect of the game that really stands out. The music fits perfectly with the setting and gameplay and usually consists of what sounds like a low-tuned guitar or maybe a bass guitar that is sometimes accompanied by melodic female vocals. It has a hauntingly beautiful sound. The only downside to it is that it is frequently drowned out by the nonstop hail of bullets spewing from your guns. All of the guns sound how you’d expect, but what I really like about the sound effects are the other noises – like the sounds your character makes moving around and the ambient sounds in the environment like the creaky noise in your room. Some of the monsters make strange growling noises and sometimes you’ll hear one after you think you killed all the enemies making you believe there might be one hidden somewhere nearby.

Conclusion

Nongunz: Doppelganger Edition is one of those games where you feel yourself getting better the more you play, and I usually enjoy games that give me that experience. Once you get an understanding of the gameplay it’s a very rewarding and fun game although getting to that point can be a bit unconventional. Discovering everything on your own can be a fun endeavour but I also understand why some players might abandon the game because of its obtuse nature. It starts out slow, and you have to build up your arsenal and inventory, but overall the journey is very fun. It can feel somewhat grindy at points, especially the end game, and it would be nice if there were one or two more levels and/or some boss variety. In the end, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is a fan of roguelite platformers, especially if you like shooting tons of Gunz and exploring an exquisitely designed morbid pixel art setting.    

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

  

Summary
The game can feel grindy at points but a unique and macabre roguelite adventure awaits anyone interested in playing a game where you have to unravel its secrets all on your own.
Good
  • Amazingly morbid minimalist pixel art
  • Sound design fits perfectly with the gameplay and setting
  • Very fun gameplay once you know what you're doing
  • Unique spin and approach to the Roguelite genre
Bad
  • HUD fits well with the game, but could use some improvements
  • Can be grindy at points
  • I like the approach, but a little more explanation would go a long way
8.5
Great
Gameplay - 8.5
Graphics - 9
Audio - 8.9
Longevity - 7.4
Written by
I started my gaming odyssey playing 8-bit console and arcade games. My first Xbox was the 360 and I immediately fell in love with achievement hunting and the overall ecosystem. That love was cemented with my purchase of an Xbox One. I play a bit of everything, but I usually end up playing fast paced games that remind me of my days spent in dark, smoky arcades spending quarter after quarter, telling myself "one more try!". Gamertag: Morbid237.

Leave a Reply

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.