Is there such a thing as good déjà vu? We felt like we had played Mystic Gate dozens of times before. It’s a twin-stick roguelike, which is a double-hander that isn’t exactly new, and it offers no real spin on the formula. But if you’re not going to do something new, then do the old stuff well, and that’s what Mystic Gate attempts to do. 

There’s a no-nonsense setup that we quite like. A portal has plopped down into the world, and beyond it is a series of dangerous trials. That would be enough for most of us to pop a blanket over the top and forget about it. But there are whispers that anyone completing the trial will get a single wish from the gods. So people say ‘fair enough’ and start swan-diving through it. 

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Will you enter the Mystic Gate?

It’s all Mystic Gate needs for a storyline, as it explains the hub around the ‘Mystic Gate’ (the vendors have their heads screwed on, making money from gullible warriors rather than jumping through themselves) and also why you’re churning through trial after trial, dying as you do so. 

There really are no surprises to what you do in Mystic Gate. You start each run by popping to the various vendors and purchasing the odd upgrade. In your last run, you might have earned enough gems to snag yourself a percentage increase to machine guns, or a melee bonus when you’re on low health. It’s that textbook tease of giving you an incremental improvement, making you wonder if you’re suddenly powerful enough to go one trial further. 

Then it’s through the portal you go, which is a sequence of procedurally generated dungeons. This is top-down stuff where you move from room to room, clearing the fog of war on the map. The goal is to gather the three, four or more keys that unlock the final gate in the dungeon, and they’re rarely gained by picking them up from the floor. They’re held by enemies, and that means a spot of killing. 

Step into a room, and there’s a good chance that a horde of monsters will materialise. The doors close too, so you need to kill each of them to move onward. To that end, you have two weapons, cycled through with the d-pad, with a pistol as the starting weapon. Left-stick moves, right-stick aims and RT fires. A blink-dash and a temporary buff on the X button round out the options for your avatar. 

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Shoot and move!

Mystic Gate does what it says on the tin. It’s a slow-paced twin-stick shooter that lacks pyrotechnics, but instead focuses on pattern-memorisation and strategy. You will be a master of the strafe and retreating fire, as enemies fire volleys of missiles and you weave through to find safety. 

Mystic Gate’s opening moments are by far its worst, as it has a big balancing pill to swallow. For you to upgrade over the course of the game, and there are a ridiculous number of upgrades available, you need to start off rather rubbish. Your speed, accuracy, fire rate, DPS and more are all paltry, making it hard to enjoy the opening moments. The pistol in particular is the worst of all worlds, with a terrible fire rate, a long reload and a damage output that’s the equivalent of having your ears flicked by someone in class. Having to start with the pistol on every runthrough is a bugger.

But slowly, via baby steps, you begin to stack on upgrades. A 5% chance of applying poison to an enemy might seem like nothing, until you realise that machine guns fire an awful lot of bullets, and you can both upgrade that 5% and stack it with fire, freeze and more. The obvious counterpoint is that you have to grind to get these upgrades, but we found that we could grab ourselves a couple of upgrades per run, which isn’t all that bad. By spreading the upgrades thin across dozens of categories, Mystic Gate manages to make the end of each run more satisfying. You’re always getting something. 

And that’s how Mystic Gate makes its case. It’s not through innovation or even being particularly fast or OTT (comparing Mystic Gate to Enter the Gungeon, for example, will paint it in a sluggish, unfavourable light). It gets its kicks from extraordinary breadth. There are scores of guns to find in the dungeon, and there’s a happy moment after finding a new one where you test-run its abilities. What does a drone do? Ah, yep, it does what we thought it would. 

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There are a ton of guns in Mystic Gate

It’s not just the guns. It’s the abilities activated on X. It’s the passive perks, which can each be dialed up through individual upgrades. It’s the feats that reward you with gems for pulling off impressive challenges within the run. And it’s the bosses, which might take a run or two to learn, but soon become familiar, only for Mystic Gate to drop in a new one that gets added to your rotation forevermore. There are advancements that you can make, as far as the eye can see, and it’s this constant trickle of advancement that does just enough to pull you through the same levels over and over again. 

Is a fairly by-the-numbers twin-stick roguelike enough to get you parting with your cash? It depends on your love for the genre, really, and whether that love can excuse a lack of anything remotely new. Because if the familiarity sounds like it might be comforting rather than galling, then there’s every chance that you will find a rewarding and deep dungeon-crawler in Mystic Gate.