If nothing else, the brief opportunity granted by the opening of Gunbrella has shown developer Doinksoft remain steely-eyed on picking out those ideal moments to punctuate a neat detail or two. The clunky tapping sound when jumping from one character’s dialogue box to the next. How the gobbledegook mutters of particular characters feel specifically placed into the mix to come across colorful if lazily mumbled by its denizens. How the main, domineering color of brown leans into both a theme of heroic Westerns, off-kilter alienation of conserved small-town life and an aesthetic of being vintage, rather than old or past its best. There’s a bit of the occult here, a bit of internal squabbling. You’re an outsider after all; naturally those small details are going to feel bigger than they should from your perspective and in a way Gunbrella‘s more subtle persuasions in being a similarly exciting follow-up to 2019’s Gato Roboto are in its eccentric touches.
A trait that Doinksoft’s monochrome Metroidvania three years previous, excelled on via its own introduction. I can still picture the abrupt interruption of a feline ‘:3’ face mid-cutscene and thinking not that it ruined the moment, but exemplified it. Or how punchy one’s arm cannon blasts sounded in that game. Gato Roboto may not have ended up the most fleshed-out interpretation of the more throwback flavor of Metroidvania’s, but that same eccentric touch — a joke or a comical interjection from time to time — was still well-received and much beloved. The more comical touches are less affront in Gunbrella, but they still do exist. And in a way, feel more optional than the more scripted chuckles from previous. It’s hard not to see Doinksoft building on those previous strengths here. And at least from the opening, providing a similar, positive reaction.
Another highlight of one’s time spent in Gunbrella: two NPCs going at it, attempting to convince the other they would be a better fit for town mayor. Each of them improvising a speech, the other critically tearing it to pieces. There’s no quest-based relevance or benefit to hearing the entire exchange — you can carry on with your adventure with no consequence — but you can’t help but not ignore such an element and Doinksoft’s effort at brief comical writing again pays off. A suggestion that the world-building and character dialogue is more important in Gunbrella? Who can say, but as noted, for those who appreciated Gato Roboto’s prior interspersing of light-hearted goofiness without beating their players over the head with it may take comfort in the fact that likeable writing trait is back.
That should then be considered a valuable backdrop to a game whose main selling point, you’d assume, is its gameplay. Or at least the thematically-unconventional set-up at having an umbrella that is in fact a gun. The titular Gunbrella being one that houses offensive, defensive and acrobatic capabilities on top. Its prime functionality serving as a shotgun-styled weapon with a reasonable reload time to make those frantic face-off’s against patrolling enemies challenging enough. But whose similarly quick-thinking use as a parrying shield — in deflecting bullets back at a target — a pulley to zipline across cables or simply the means by which you can dash in any direction mid-air. There’s a bit of Super Meat Boy permeating both the controls and general loop of Gunbrella‘s gameplay. Not as precision-based or as deadly sure, but free flowing enough for one to bounce around its environments like a gymnast, while still being perilous enough to instill a reasonable level of challenge. Making sure to time those wall-jumps right or bait that enemy from off its perch at the correct moment.
In short, movement in Gunbrella feels good. Even if the brief platforming segments aren’t the most complex or demanding of precision in its opening segments, the fact it takes little effort to shift from dashing to gliding to merrily blasting enemies to a bloody pulp should not go unnoticed. There are mentions of secondary weapon types to shift between — frag grenades and different ammunition classes — but aside from one momentary puzzle to unlock a door, there’s little reason to shift away from the trustee shotgun shells. Perhaps that mixing up will play a more pivotal role later on in the case of boss battles where here seem to suggest grand encounters are less to do with one’s strength/defense at the time and more to do with figuring out the correct pattern of movement to stay alive.
Aided a great deal by Gunbrella‘s already-established emphasis on quickly moving about a space but tends to suggest encounters are more a case of finding the perfect rhythm above all else. No health bars or on-screen indicator on how much damage one is inflicting, but rather a focus on just staying alive long enough to see it through It helps that when it comes to health, Gunbrella takes a more player-deduced stance in the case of how one even acknowledges let alone deals with such a recovery. For one, there are no health drops from fallen enemies; instead Gunbrella requires you stock up on consumables prior before tackling a dungeon or future challenge. Consumables requiring you wait a brief moment — holding down the desired button — for the healing effect to apply. And given certain enemies can quickly flank you and aren’t the most blatant in providing a “tell,” any lost health to one’s starting four representative hearts feels costly. Especially in the case of those boss battles where one is compelled to constantly be on the move at all times — without any indication on how far/close one is to victory — the question isn’t so much if Doinksoft can balance challenge with opportunity, but rather just how far Gunbrella is pushing that onus on battles feeling like on-the-cusp scenarios. Where the boundary between success and failure is as thin as you can get.
In many ways, the impression one is left with coming away from Gunbrella is near 1:1 with that of the studio’s previous title. A game whose canny details and catchy hook in its gameplay, make a great first impression. But whose immediately-positive introduction inevitably leaves some lingering doubts as to its longevity. More so here; not only in the sense of if this style of precise, frantic, action-oriented platforming will last, but what form of core loop it’s actually building towards. One intending to put its players immediately on the back-foot in terms of challenge or one whose quick rhythm and liberty in movement is something the game is hoping the player indulges in? If nothing else, indulging in such is something players will likely do, thanks to a control scheme and overall loop that is as fun to play around with as it is to shoot for victory on.
But it’s those admirable traits from prior. Focusing in on those finer details, be it written, visual or even audible in some cases, that are the biggest take-away. Doinksoft justified in doubling down on the strengths of their previous work. And with Gunbrella, the team have an even stronger foundation to marry that knack for charming premise with a pleasing gameplay loop. The studio’s committing to those finer, grin-inducing inclusions — be it a petty squabble between characters or the simple pleasure of browsing through those dialogue boxes and hearing that one sound effect play — something that Gunbrella nails. Hopefully building on later down the line in whatever shape its combat eventually takes. A feline-controlled mech in a monochromatic world was persuasive enough a pitch three years ago and I dare say Doinksoft have crafted an even more peculiar yet stronger variation with an opening salvo as enjoyable as this is.