Gunbrella (NS)

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By usawebstories

Evan Norris
, posted 1 day ago / 945 Views

No matter what you think of the game, it’s hard to dislike the title Gunbrella. It’s such a wonderfully demented portmanteau; it sounds like something Oswald Cobblepot would carry around, or the name of Bayonetta’s long-lost cousin. In this case, though, it’s the title of the latest game from Doinksoft, which gave the world the darling Gato Roboto, a solid action-platformer in the Metroidvania tradition. Gunbrella shares some elements in common with that game, but also experiments with different gameplay scenarios and narrative themes — leading to results both good and bad.

Gunbrella takes place in a dystopian society with an insurmountable gap between the haves and the have-nots. In this world of inequality, a horrible crime takes place. While foraging in the forest, a woodsman sees his house engulfed in flames. Upon returning to the homestead he finds his wife slain and a single piece of evidence: a gun shaped like an umbrella. Soon, the tortured woodsman is off on a deadly quest for revenge, which brings him face to face with cultists, fascists, and even eldritch horrors.

Be warned: the story in Gunbrella is bleak, often oppressively so. Doinksoft used the game as a prism through which to focus on many real-world issues — environmental collapse, economic inequality, corporate greed, fascism — which is topical and important, but also quite depressing. When paired with the ongoing suffering of our woodsman anti-hero, it all becomes inescapably harsh. The developer is able to introduce some levity via humorous dialogue and a handful of folksy supporting characters, but the feeling of hopelessness endures.

Even if it is, at times, overly bleak, Doinksoft deserves credit for such an immersive atmosphere. Thanks to its gritty, rainy aesthetic and its jazzy noir soundtrack, the game convincingly transports its players into a world in the process of consuming itself.

It also deserves credit for its central conceit: the gunbrella. Part gun, part shield, and part vehicle, it’s an amazing little item that opens up many mechanical possibilities. Players can use it to fire shotgun shells into enemies; aim it in all directions to deflect incoming bullets; or deploy it to cover ground horizontally and vertically, and slow their descent. It’s satisfying to bounce projectiles back toward the enemy, and incredibly fun to glide, dash, and slice through the air; the movement is buttery smooth.

The problem is that Gunbrella doesn’t find enough opportunities to use its titular device in inventive, gratifying ways. Combat doesn’t evolve significantly over the course of the game. Even though new secondary ammo types appear, they’re not very useful. The basic shotgun and shield combo works best, at least on the normal difficulty setting. Boss battles don’t develop either; in truth, they tend to get less interesting and demanding as they go. The first two fights are among the best.

Platforming remains mostly static as well, which is baffling. The gunbrella is made for a challenging platformer in the vein of Celeste, yet the platforming trials never really come. There is a late-game stretch in a factory that leverages conveyor belts and pulleys to create a few problematic situations, but it’s the exception to the rule. Not enough is made of the device’s acrobatic maneuverability, nor of its ability to de-accelerate falls. In fact, in the game’s 6+ hours, there’s only a single segment where you must steer the woodsman as he falls slowly between spiked walls. This is such a basic platforming set piece, and yet it’s included only once. Overall, the gunbrella isn’t used to its full potential.

Indeed, Gunbrella the game never quite unlocks its full potential. In part, that’s due to the game’s relatively short running time. You can finish the adventure in about six hours, or eight if you seek out all the optional content. It’s not sufficient, though. It needs more side quests, more backtracking, and more to discover. The core mechanics are so strong, and the atmosphere so thick, that you want to wring as much out of the game as possible. Ultimately, Gunbrella leaves you wanting.

Now, there are a couple of reasons to replay the game and thereby extend the length of Gunbrella. For one, there are three difficulty settings. For another, there are multiple moral decisions to make throughout the campaign, which change how people react to you and affect potential rewards. If you want to see all the possible ramifications of your actions, you’ll need to play the game more than once. This collection of ethical crossroads is one of the highlights of Gunbrella, and helps feed into its enveloping atmosphere.

Gunbrella is a great name, but not a great game. It never realizes its full potential as an action-platformer, even as it succeeds in controls, atmosphere, and moral decision-making. In order to do so, it needs more: more platforming set pieces, more side quests, more to see and explore. Hopefully, Doinksoft can accomplish that in a sequel. The grimdark, allegorical setting and gunbrella mechanics deserve a second chance to shine.

This review is based on a digital copy of Gunbrella for the NS, provided by the publisher.

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