by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
A Whale Called Sally
Movement defines platformers. Good platformers feel natural to navigate, with simple mechanics that can be used or exploited to interact with the environment in a number of unique and surprising ways. In GoNNER, those mechanics manifest as switchable heads, loads of unique guns and some of the best movement in an action platformer that I can recall in some time.
Art in Heart’s GoNNER places you in the role of Ikk, who is on a quest to find the right trinket for his friend, a giant land whale by the name of Sally, by running and shooting his way through a series of procedurally generated worlds. It’s a cute premise, one that is backed by a unique artstyle that can best be described as rough lines and blobs made of crayon. Which makes much of the game, including the aforementioned whale, more interesting than it otherwise would have been. For example, the underworld where you choose which equipment to bring with you for each respawn consists of the personification of Death, a tree that grows heads that you can switch around, and a phonograph. Whimsical is the standard for GoNNER, and it’s a marked contrast to the action you soon encounter.
Don’t lose your head
As soon as you jump into the mouth of a waiting worm creature, you will get hit by an enemy very quickly. At which point you will discover that getting hit doesn’t mean that you die immediately - it just means that you have to go grab your head, which has been flung clear from your body. And if you get hit a second time, you are done for good and have to restart the game. What’s interesting is that enemies will only attack you in this state after you move for the first time, meaning that you can wait for the right moment to reach for your discarded head and possessions. This creates tense situations where you have to madly dash for your head while dodging enemy attacks, and it’s a fun mechanic in practice.
Movement in GoNNER is a near-perfect mixture of weight and momentum, with Ikk feeling light and nimble enough to perform some surprising feats if you manage to keep your head in the game. In jumping on enemies heads and dashing about, the game keeps a frenetic pace that never quite settles down and it’s easy to get stuck in a “one more run” mindset upon each death. Thankfully, you can restart upon dying very quickly and the game does not waste any time in pushing you forward.
To keep the game from becoming monotonous, there are a number of heads, guns and backpacks to choose from that range from minor to major alterations of the standard experience. You start with a head that provides a fair number of lives, a rapid fire pistol and a reloadable backup, but those are quickly replaced. One head allows you to take a hit without losing your head, while another somersaults you through the air without much control over where you’ll go. Guns include shotguns, homing missiles and lasers to name a few (the laser combined with the somersault head is particularly fun), while my favorite backpack replaced the standard reload with one that rapidly fires every bullet in your chamber.
I’m a Gonner
Yet whenever I sat down to play GoNNER, I was continually left with the nagging feeling that I wasn’t progressing. As quick as the restarts were upon death, I rarely played more than thirty minutes per sitting because of how punishing it is. You do keep the equipment you unlock in your safe zone, which you can swap out at the start of every new run, but you still must play through the first world each time. Compared to other platformers, GoNNER has a slow learning curve, and you must be patient to learn all the secrets and tricks the game has to offer.
As a result, GoNNER is not a game for everyone. The frequent deaths will turn off many, and it will take a lot of time to properly master the game. But for those who persevere, GoNNER is a rewarding, challenging experience that is a blast to play.
Whimsical art style, great platforming, losing your head is half the fun.
Slow learning curve.