I'm ending a week packed with Steam Next Fest demos on a high note with Gatekeeper, a top-down bullet hell roguelike clearly inspired by Risk of Rain. Pick a character, drop into a medley of environments, and shoot dudes while hoovering up items until the number stops getting bigger. It's a familiar formula with a new perspective, and while there are some mechanical and artistic similarities to Risk of Rain and its sequel, Gatekeeper feels like it's found its own identity.
I went with the default character for the demo, partly because they have a built-in second life (which I haven't lost yet, thank you very much), and partly because the vanilla character is always the best way to gauge a new roguelike. My kit also includes a standard aim-and-shoot full auto gun, a fireball AoE, a ricochet shot, and a basic teleport-style dodge. Imagine if Risk of Rain's Commando and Huntress trained up a bullet hell protagonist and you're most of the way there.
There's enough bullet magnetism to make abilities intuitive to land, but not so much that you can blindly chuck attacks into the crowd. Enemies range from slow-moving golems and sentient obelisks to homing droids, and kiting enemies around while picking off priority targets is key. I'll gun down stragglers while saving my big abilities for juicy crowds, triggering all the items I've amassed as I go. My favorites so far mirror some of my favorites in Risk of Rain: enemies dropping explosives on death, seeker projectiles triggered by attacking, applying burn to enemies, and so on.
One thing I appreciate in Gatekeeper is that leveling up by collecting XP is also a really big deal. There's a bit of Vampire Survivors in the way you draft boosts to your HP, damage, regen, movement speed, and cooldown reduction, and these stats can in turn affect what items you prefer. You also upgrade your abilities as you go, increasing their AoE, adding effects like burn damage, and so on. You really get a sense that your whole kit is evolving outside the items you're stacking on. I've been dumping everything into my fireball so far and have zero regrets.
There's a good variety of objectives, too. In the time I've beaten one miniboss, I've defended charging totems from incoming waves of enemies while dancing around fiery hazards, collected and deposited ancient keys, and endured horde modes with set kill counts. The levels are a bit flat, but the design suits the flow of the game and keeps the important stuff – namely items and enemies – clearly visible.
Perhaps most importantly, Gatekeeper has a rather lovely soundtrack. I don't think anyone can match composer Chris Christodoulou's synth-heavy lullabies, but there's a nice set of of drum 'n bass thumping in my ears even as I write this with the demo paused in the background, waiting for me to dip back in and inevitably die. Gatekeeper isn't the most original roguelike I've ever played, but it's handling a fun combination of cool ideas pretty darn well. It's definitely earned a spot on my wishlist ahead of its Q1 2024 launch. (You can also try the free prologue version, which has nearly 3,800 "very positive" reviews on Steam and seems to be the same experience.)
The co-op roguelike from indie powerhouse and Don't Starve dev Klei Entertainment is even better than I'd hoped, and a must-play Steam Next Fest demo.