From an uneducated point of view, Gunbrella may seem like a one-trick pony; the kind of game developed around a gimmick that sounded fun on paper. Usually, this kind of strategy doesn’t work but luckily, Devolver Digital’s latest is more than that, succeeding in delivering a noir-punk retro platformer with a distinct identity and an interesting mobility and combat hybrid. Part homage, part its own thing, Gunbrella deserves a shot or two, even if you may find a few holes in this intricate fashion accessory.
Shooting in the Rain
This is a revenge story best described as John Wick turned into gruff woodsman. Murray, as he is called, returns home to find his wife dead and his daughter taken – no dog in sight though. The only thing he finds in this forsaken place of endless rain is a strange device, the titular Gunbrella. This odd mix of bulletproof umbrella and firearm is the trigger that gets your investigation going, in a bleak world that has a lot of subtexts hinting at corporate greed, climate change, authoritarianism, and rebellion.
Face it or ignore it, there’s food for thought in a game that is more than a straightforward 2D side-scrolling platformer with cartoon violence and challenging sections, and there’s a story and some compelling characters to make you both feel welcome and threatened. Humor isn’t out of the equation either, with some peculiar moments such as one involving a Russian roulette that ends on a surprising note.
Gunbrella is akin to the best platformers of the NES era, or if you want to journey even further back, the Rick Dangerous series wouldn’t be out of place as comparison material. The mix of action and tricky segments contribute to a tried-and-tested gameplay loop that mandates perfect mastery of the newly acquired gadget, your first step in this tale of vengeance.
The Gunbrella has several functions that will come in handy at different points throughout the adventure, with your first playthrough sitting somewhere between six to eight hours. Designed as a shield of sorts, this gadget protects you and deflects projectiles if you time it just right, giving your enemies a taste of their own medicine.
Even more important is the maneuverability that it bestows upon you. The movement boost is way beyond a mere dash, propelling you to the sides or upwards, given the perfect timing, making reaching those higher places a reality and allowing you to get closer to an enemy that was out of reach. You can also use it to slowly and safely descend, avoiding abrupt falls and making for tighter maneuvers in areas where pinpoint accuracy makes the difference between life and death. The occasional zipline can be used to slide along with the Gunbrella, often serving as a small shortcut or to reach an inconspicuous place that may harbor a loot chest.
Last but not least, the more straightforward function of the Gunbrella is the shotgun. Just blast everything that gets within short range, effectively dispatching most enemies with a few shots. You can aim freely using either gamepad or mouse and keyboard control schemes, with the latter offering advanced accuracy for shooting with a visible aiming reticule. However, the edge this brings may not be enough to forsake the former’s comfort, as you can still use the right thumbstick to freely choose where to aim as well.
Throughout your journey you will find a place to upgrade the attack damage and reload speed by exchanging some mechanical parts you have collected, and that brings me to one of the issues with this game: the lack of worth and diversity in the arsenal.
The Gunbrella may be the highlight of the game and even gets title honors, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some appealing alternatives in terms of firepower. It’s not like there isn’t anything to pick from; we get some rifle and spinning blade add-ons, among others, but these come with limited ammo and don’t really feel like they’re worth the asking price. When you have a powerful close-quarters shotgun complete with infinite ammo, the choice comes out naturally after a few hours of playtime.
Using the environment to your advantage is something you must learn from the very beginning. Lamps and barrels are right there, some more obvious than the others, but a well-placed shot will create a nice wall of fire that is going to burn some enemies – and even you – to a crisp. The Gunbrella can also be used for a smooth nudge that throws a foe into the water or a wall of spikes, so there are some resourceful ways to get rid of the opposition.
Under My Umbrella
Murray explores the distinct regions in the world by train, whenever he gets allowed to, at least. Moving from one station to another in search of clues and critical characters expands on the intrigue and the ongoing conflicts between factions, some of these with a grim purpose and otherworldly fiends that can only be destroyed with a special type of weapon.
The areas you go through include large sewer systems, mines, junkyards, snowy peaks, industrial cities, and the like. The scope of each one isn’t huge, but first traversals are always a thing of discovery, getting to learn the layout and important locations, the characters who act as quest givers – with some optional quests popping up – and the intricate designs of the platforming sections. Nonetheless, there’s more than enough here to make you lose your way, especially since there’s no map to ease your life. Ultimately, it requires a lot of backtracking as you try to find your bearings and discover where that cursed NPC is standing right now.
Boss fights are a bullet point in every Metroidvania, and this one is no exception. From regular-sized humans with a bad attitude to abominations out of the wildest nightmares such as giant toxic rats or gruesome tentacular meat scarabs, these provide the occasional change of pace and challenging pattern unraveling. Some bosses aren’t as resourceful as expected and a few even fail to provide the bare minimum in terms of challenge (playing in Normal mode), such as the Beast, which I pushed into a corner with my shotgun blasts and quickly turned it into a bloody pulp before you can say “exploit.” The elevator shaft boss battle seemed to be unfinished or bugged in our review build, as Murray jumps around at the bottom of the screen, instead of dropping to his doom, with the two elevators likely being the only solid ground that you should have in this fight.
On the upside, it’s refreshing to see that every hit the boss takes provides clear and immediate visual feedback, with a slight knockback effect that gives you some respite and indication that it counted. Some games fail in this regard, making bosses an amalgamation of bullet sponge and bullet hell that is neither fair nor visually satisfying.
Controlling Murray and the titular Gunbrella becomes extremely intuitive in no time, and moving around the maps is easy and often fun. The little character animations are nice, with the limping when he’s on his last heart – or leg – and the way the scarf physics react to all the wall-jumping and umbrella use, Mary Poppins be proud. Blood splatters will stain the ground, the train carriages, and everywhere a shotgun blast hits home, oddly bringing some welcome color to this grim and desperate world.
For reasons surely tied to design and layout, Gunbrella doesn’t always feature a fully scrolling map, being instead divided into some small sections where you must reach the edge of the screen to move to the next area, and segments where the screen smoothly moves along according to your character, such as one very hectic train ride. The latter makes for the best experience of all and makes me wish that the whole adventure would focus wholeheartedly on this approach. If we’re nitpicking, it’s also annoying that when a conversation topic starts, we can’t exit it and are forced to click our way out of this repeat dialogue until it ends.
The sporadic jazz tunes add to this noir flavor and may not be to everyone’s taste, but there are other frenzied tracks coming into play with boss fights and varied key moments, so it evens out in the end.
- The Gunbrellla is the rare kind of gimmick that works
- Controls are intuitive and fun, both for shooting and exploration
- A world with underlying subtext, if you want to dive into it
- Cute pixel graphics
- Some boss battles with weird design choices or bugs
- Secondary arsenal is disappointingly shallow
- Some backtracking required
Gunbrella review code was provided by the publisher. You can read MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.