words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Art in Heart for PC, Mac, Linux, and Switch originally released in 2016.
Gonner, (a.k.a. GoNNER), is a roguelike actioner starring Ikk, a fellow on a journey to cheer up his friend Sally, who happens to be a whale. Ikk isn’t much more than a blob of, well, ick, but he is able to equip skulls, weapons, and backpacks, which collectively transform him into a veritable death machine. As with other genre entries, levels are procedurally generated, and getting killed returns the player to the start of the game. However as the player makes progress, he discovers new skulls, weapons, and backpacks which carry over into future sessions, allowing him to customize his loadout between runs.

At the start of the game, Ikk can run, jump, double jump, and wall jump, as well as jump up walls to climb any vertical surface. Ikk’s stating equipment includes a small skull that grants him five units of health, a basic pea-shooter, and a backpack that allows him to reload his weapon without the need to collect ammo dropped by enemies. When Ikk takes damage, he loses all three of these items and remains temporarily defenseless until he can retrieve them. Without a skull, Ikk has no health meter, and taking damage in this state is an instant game over. So, regardless of your equipment, it’s possible to lose the game quickly if you find yourself overwhelmed by a swarm of foes.

As the player makes progress through the game’s four themed areas, he slowly discovers new skulls, backpacks, and guns that offer different abilities. For instance, a gun-shaped skull causes Ikk to launch two projectiles with each press of the trigger, allowing for concentrated destruction, but only offering a single unit of health. A horned skull gives Ikk the ability to perform a triple jump; however, performing bigger jumps causes Ikk to spin around in the air, turning his aim downward and potentially making it more difficult for him to hit enemies (although expert players may use this quirk to shoot downward and propel Ikk upward).

Perhaps the most useful of the skulls is a large one that prevents Ikk from falling to pieces when he takes damage. Getting hit with this skull simply disables Ikk for a moment, and a quick button press lets him hop back up with his skull, weapon, and backpack still attached, which can help players get out of some tough situations. Still, players can’t afford to take too much damage as health restoratives are very rare, and can be expensive when purchased from shops.

Guns are fairly straightforward, with a machine gun, shotgun, and heavy duty lasers to be had, among others, and these mostly come down to a matter of preference. None of the guns are necessarily better than the others so much as they each offer their own style of shooting. However, since guns generally cannot be swapped within the level – unless a new gun is discovered or the player spends extra cash to swap it – players should find a weapon they are comfortable with using in a variety of situations.

Backpacks offer secondary abilities that can have a significant impact on how the player engages enemies and the environment, and each of these abilities has a cooldown period. A circular backpack allows the player to perform a high jump, making environmental navigation easier and letting the player get the drop on flying enemies. Another backpack acts as a bomb, dropping a ring of explosions around the player. Yet another allows the player to send out a constant barrage of gunfire for a couple of seconds without consuming any ammo, which is one of the best ways to quickly rack up a big combo.

Building up a combo is the key to scoring (scores may be shared via an online leaderboard) and earning currency. For every five enemies killed in a short span, a single unit of currency is dropped in the form of a purple symbol. If you go too long without killing enemies, the combo meter resets. This encourages players to take risks, shoot fast, and dive face-first into danger.

Furthermore, ammo pickups are gained by killing enemies, so players need to be somewhat accurate as well, or they risk depleting their ammo, forcing them to run around bopping enemies on the head in hopes of getting an ammo drop. That said, bopping enemies is a key strategy – especially when dealing with slugs and flying enemies – as it saves on ammo consumption, and players can hop from one enemy to the next, dealing out death and keeping their combo meter counting.

Currency allows players to make purchases in shops that appear before boss battles, and these include a random selection of skull, weapon, and backpack swaps, as well as reloads and health restoratives, and the player can pay the shopkeeper to refresh his stock. Furthermore, with enough currency, the player can restart a level upon death, rather than being sent back to the beginning of the game (with the option to pick up the same equipment or pay for a new random set). This allows the player to retain some progress and re-fight his way through a level – or a tough boss encounter – but purchasing continues gets more expensive as the game goes on.

Between runs, players may visit Death, who offers a collection of items discovered by the player in his travels. Here, the player may ask death to retrieve any previously discovered skull, which are found hanging in a large tree. Following this, the player may pick up a weapon and backpack on his way to the exit.

The game’s procedurally-generated levels are generally boxy, with lots of right angles and some verticality, which supports the player’s ability to wall jump up any vertical surface. However, corridors are sometimes very tight and may be packed with enemies, requiring players to slowly lure one or more flying enemies away in order to open enough space to ascend, which can be a very slow process that opposes the game’s otherwise brisk pace.

Levels are drawn in as the player runs through them, and areas can also be highlighted by enemies. Backgrounds are solid black with foregrounds consisting of sketch-style outlines presented in muted colors, and these take on the color of the things around them, turning red when enemies are nearby, or yellow near ammunition drops. Similarly, Ikk is presented in a light blue hue, with enemies in red, and bullets in yellow, with the occasional currency drop appearing in purple. This helps the player parse important elements during furious bouts of gunfire, but things can still get confusing in densely-populated areas and when there are lots of enemies exploding.

Passing from one level to the next is done by entering the (strangely cute) mouth of a long worm-like creature, and then being excreted into the next level. Players control when they are shat out, offering the opportunity to scan the level before hopping into the fray, and the player’s combo counter is preserved between levels.

Each area adds its own unique environmental challenges and enemies, with things growing increasingly difficult even in the second area, which is populated by flying foes, turrets, exploding enemies, disappearing platforms, and bottomless pits. Bottomless pits are doubly dangerous, as it’s not only possible to be killed instantly by falling into them, but it’s also possible for one or more of your items to tumble into these pits when taking damage. Losing your gun means running through the level bopping enemies on the head – or avoiding them – until another gun can be picked up in a future level, and losing your head means instant death the next time you take damage.

Each area ends in a boss encounter against one or more tough foes with a number of support enemies worked into the mix, and these battles can be pretty tough. As mentioned, a shop appears before each boss, allowing the player to stock up on health and ammo, or possibly switch out his equipment. However, players should also bear in mind the amount of currency remaining in their coffers, as getting killed returns them to the start of the game if they don’t have enough money to buy a continue.

After each level, Ikk visits Sally the whale, who sits on solid ground hulking over him, and offering a cheery smile as he arrives. Sally offers Ikk a full health restore before he heads into the next level, or as a bonus, offers an increase in his ammo capacity if he manages to escape the preceding boss battle with a full health meter. In addition, enterprising players may find that there are a number of hidden items and areas (like bonus challenge rooms with lots of currency), as well as multiple endings.

Gonner was developed by Art in Heart, a studio founded by game designer and artist Mattias Dittrich, a.k.a. Ditto, and based in Sweden. While this was the first commercial release under his Art in Heart label, Mattias previously developed Planeter, and Hets, among other smaller games and prototypes. Sound design was provided by Martin Kvale, and music was composed by Joar Renolen.

The game was published by Raw Fury, which also published Kingdom: New Lands and Kathy Rain.