Gunbrella is a tricky and beguiling game, but not in the obvious ways players might think. It tricks users into thinking it’s a simple rescue adventure story before turning into something much more terrifying. It tricks players by giving them a nifty movement system with the Gunbrella itself, but most will use it to simply traverse towns and other empty spaces more quickly rather than using it in combat. And finally, it tricks everyone into wanting more of that combat even though it never seems to thoroughly challenge the player.
Developer doinksoft and publisher Devolver Digital did succeed in creating an interesting world and story to match, but there just might not be enough of it to satisfy a hungry side-scrolling pixel adventure fan.
The story pulls at the heart from the start, with the bloody death of someone close to our bearded and gruff protagonist. It may be a well-trod upon trope, but it plays well with the colorful graphics and gives the hero a reason to begin traveling. There is no additional backstory given, but that doesn’t really hold the hero back. Instead, it seems to add to the mystery surrounding the protagonist as there isn’t any way to know how he’ll react. He plays the lone gunman in a semi-noir setting almost perfectly.
There are also a few unforeseen and surprising situations that spring up throughout the entire game, but there just isn’t enough of these moments. It’s not a bad thing to crave more surprises, of course, but there is a kind of weird touch of disappointment when they don’t manifest during some story beats. The game feels awfully short too, though it obviously will depend on players and their skill levels to determine just how fast they complete Gunbrella. The game’s save system is very generous in its save locations, and most will probably enjoy not having to replay huge sections of levels if they perish, but this also makes the game feel shorter by restarting closer to a player’s death location.
Combat and quick-movement mechanics are whereGunbrella really shines. The Gunbrella, a unique tool capable of both offense and defense, is also the primary tool used to climb obstacles and grab onto various environmental pieces while traversing the various areas. There is a limited range to the Gunbrella’s bullets, but there is less of an issue with the ease that players can close the distance between themselves and enemies using the Gunbrella. It is easy (a single mouse click on PC) to dash while jumping, which allows users to burst very quickly in the direction their cursor is facing.
Players will find themselves using that dash constantly, be it while fighting or exploring. But even with these mechanics there just doesn’t feel like there is enough there to contest users. There are zip-lines strewn throughout some of the levels to use, and later in the game there are hooks to attach to swing the protagonist around areas, but it never successfully challenges players with any sort of difficult movement puzzles. This is a shame because the dash and subsequent moves all flow very smoothly into and out of each other and can create a quick-paced but manageable experience. It feels amazing to dash and fire the standard shotgun blast into the face of enemies.
The Gunbrella is also the game’s main defensive mechanic, as the protagonist can open it to block shots and even knock back some enemies. If timed right, players can even deflect projectiles back, damaging their opponent with their own weapon. This adds to the ease of the game’s combat and might be a sore point with players in regard to just how easy that combat is. There is rarely a feeling of being threatened by enemies, and part of this is the lack of enemy density in the various areas. This might be expected in the game’s early stages, as the developers want a player to become comfortable with controls, but the enemy placements remain sparse throughout the whole game. This may feel odd considering that most games in the same genre are pushing to make things more difficult. As a result, those looking for more of a challenge right off the bat might feel more comfortable starting in the ‘Hard’ difficulty level than the ‘Normal’ one.
Character designs are neatly done in a noir pixel style, but a special shout-out needs to go to the enemy boss designs. Talking in great depth about them would spoil the surprise that most of them end up being, but needless to say, their designs are top-notch in terms of both horror and fantastical design. The normal enemies aren’t as memorable. The regular henchmen that players will be blasting through are pretty standard bad-guy designs. From simple gunmen to giant hornets and hybrid lizard dogs, these enemies don’t stand out when compared to other games of the side-scrolling pixel genre. That isn’t to say they’re poorly designed, but there are no variants or changes to enemy NPCs throughout the game.
Gunbrella isn’t shy about showing the visceral side of combat, as blood seeps over the edges of traversable walkways and body parts shatter and scatter upon an enemy’s death. It is almost comedic sometimes, and it’s hard to say if that was the intention or not. The rest of the game is a pretty standard pixel world. The backgrounds blend nicely with the foreground graphics, and the building blocks for the pixel world are satisfactory and don’t pull attention away from the protagonist throughout the entire game.
There are a smattering of side quests throughout the game, as well as a few quests that can change certain parts of the game based on a player’s choice to kill or not. Though these choices don’t affect the overall experience, there are a few that will need to be completed multiple times to satisfy achievement requirements. The side quests are hit or miss as well, with some being mere repeatable fetch quests while others tell the stories of the various side characters users encounter during their travels. These are a welcome break from the main story, as only focusing on it will cause it to be over much, much too quickly, though some of these do require backtracking through previously explored areas.
The main reason to do these side missions is for money to buy items, and for gears that are used to upgrade the Gunbrella. There isn’t much depth to the upgrade system, and with the enemy density set the way it is, faster reload upgrades can be ignored almost completely unless a player must be running and gunning. The health and item system feels pretty bare-bones as well, with a spread of things that return health or add specific bonuses, such as a pill that raises the player’s luck. Some food items are able to increase the character’s total health instead of just healing it, and these become the most valuable to save before engaging bosses. The random secondary ammo types players can pick up and carry are also only really valuable against bosses too, as most standard enemies die in one or two shots even from a non-upgraded Gunbrella. These grenades, triple rifle shots, and flamethrower canisters (as well as a few others), can make boss fights trivial and actually feel more difficult to use against normal enemies.
Gunbrella has a lot of potential, both in its storytelling and combat. Unfortunately there never feels like there is enough of either that will or could catapult the game into the upper echelons of pixilated side-scrollers. It is very close to being something special, even when it is embracing some familiar adventure tropes. Hopefully, the world of Gunbrella will be expanded on and grow, because it deserves more of the things that make it great.
Developed by doinksoft and published by Devolver Digital, Gunbrella is a pixilated side-scrolling noir adventure where players will battle various henchmen, large creatures, and unspeakable horrors in a bloody quest to find something very special that was taken.
Gunbrella will be released on PC and Switch on September 13. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.