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A glowing woman floats above a massive green skull Dodge Roll, SingleCore Games/Devolver Digital via Polygon

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Exit the Gungeon is fantastic, but bring a controller

Gungeons and finger dragons

Exit the Gungeon is a spin-off off Enter the Gungeon, a chaotic, fast-paced action game that begs to be played over and over again. While the series packs packs plenty of excitement, the random elements of the franchise’s design means that no two playthroughs of the game will feel the same.

But I wasn’t sure if a touch-enabled device could deliver the same sort of fun mayhem the series has been known for on the PC and consoles. I had nothing to fear, it turns out, but that’s due to a technological, not design, update. The latest version of iOS on iPhone and iPad allows the use of Bluetooth controllers, including the ones you probably already own if have an Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

Thanks to my Xbox One controller and iPad, Exit the Gungeon is currently my favorite mobile game, especially since it plays like no other mobile game.

Swiper rifles

Exit the Gungeon carries most of the original’s DNA. The basic structure of the game involves entering a series of randomly generated levels and trying to stay alive long enough to get to the end.

It will take a lot of failed runs to get there, however, but each failed run isn’t a waste of time or energy. As you beat bosses, you gather currency which you can use back at the game’s starting area to unlock stronger weapons. Those guns then have a chance to randomly appear in future runs. So much about the Gungeon series is ruled by chance; you never know what enemies you’ll encounter and what weapons you might unlock or be granted to use to defend yourself.

The hope is that I build enough familiarity with the weapons, enemies, and bosses over time to continually improve my runs. That way, as long as I get access to the right weapons at the right time, and use them with skill against bosses I’ve mastered in the past, I can beat the game. This is pretty standard stuff for the genre.

But Exit the Gungeon shakes up the formula. I don’t stockpile all those random weapons I find as I explore, unlike the original. Instead, the game will randomly swap out my weapon for a new one, mid-combat, from the pool of guns I’ve already unlocked. If I take out enemies quickly, a counter at the top of my screen tallies up that score. The higher the number when my gun randomly swaps out for a new one, the better my chances of getting a more powerful weapon.

A big metal skull shoots red bullets out of its head Dodge Roll, SingleCore Games/Devolver Digital via Polygon

Sometimes I’ll get a powerful gun that makes a boss fight a breeze, and sometimes I’ll get a dud that can totally ruin my plans. That’s the gungeon for you! But I do have to put in the time to unlock the weapons in order to have a chance to use them at all.

Another big change of pace for fans of the franchise is the game’s presentation, and how that affects the controls. Exit the Gungeon is a 2D, side-scrolling game, ditching the top-down view of the original. Instead of having the freedom to move and dodge wherever I want, I have to rely on my platforming skills to stay alive.

There’s also the choice between the touchscreen controls and connecting a controller, and the game plays radically differently depending on which you use.

Finger guns

With touch controls enabled, movement becomes the main way I interact with the game. If I want to run left or right, I have to hold that direction down and my character will waddle off in that direction. Of course, running to and fro is a horrible way to make it through a screen full of bullets. Thankfully, I can also dodge.

Lateral dodging can be done by swiping left or right. But since Exit the Gungeon is a sidescroller with platforms, I need to jump up and down as well. To do that, I have to press down on my screen and drag my finger to where I want to go. An on-screen indicator will show me the trajectory of my jump and time slows down to accommodate precise movement.

This is a fantastic addition to the game, especially when I’m trying to frantically dodge bullets on a mobile device. The option can be turned off for faster paced gameplay, but when playing with touch controls, it’s helpful having the ability to perfectly aim where I want to jump so I can soar through a hail of bullets with precision.

The biggest change with touch controls is shooting … because I don’t have to lift a finger to fire. All of my shooting happens automatically when touch controls are enabled. Since everything is so chaotic in Exit the Gungeon, my fingers are guiding my character around running and dodging most of the time. It would be impossible to aim and shoot at the same time without totally obscuring the screen by adding buttons, which would also cause my fingers to get in the way of seeing what’s going on. It’s not a perfect solution since it cuts out half the fun of playing the game.

Which is why I was so excited about how easily I can connect an Xbox One controller to my iOS devices.

The game instantly recognized my controller and I immediately felt like I was back in the gungeon, the way I remembered it. Everything works like you would expect it to on a standard console or Nintendo Switch. I move, dodge, jump, aim, and shoot with analog sticks and buttons. It’s glorious.

A ghost man is yelling at a soldier in a blue outfit
The humor of the original stays in tact
Dodge Roll, SingleCore Games/Devolver Digital via Polygon

Exit the Gungeon is the game that sold me on Apple Arcade, and it definitely shows me the value of the ability to connect a standard controller. Yes, Android players have had this feature forever, but that doesn’t make its debut on iOS any less welcome. iOS devices, as a whole, suddenly became a lot more capable when it comes to games with this one “small” addition.

When played with a controller, Exit the Gungeon feels like one of the few games on the new service that proves that an iOS device can bridge the gap between experiences on a mobile device and the ones I regularly enjoy on my PC and Switch. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend.

Exit the Gungeon is now available on Apple Arcade. The game was reviewed using a personal Apple Arcade account. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.