Review: Gunbrella

From this point on, Doinksoft can rest a little easier — safe in the knowledge that with the release of their latest title, they will no longer be referred to simply and maybe redundantly as “the Gato Roboto developer.” That was always a matter of when not if and should you feel the need to get truly specific, you could say that last year’s Switch-exclusive, physical-only (though similarly reminiscent of ages gone) Demon Throttle was sufficient evidence to the contrary. And this is without throwing the part-parody, part-intentional release of the Devolver Bootleg in 2019 that Doinksoft are given credit for.

Even so, that Gunbrella feels more or less the quote-unquote “true” and proper follow-up to their 2019 debut; not to throw shade at the other two creations donning the developer’s name here, but now that we no longer have the restriction of platform, release format or even the arguable intent of its release, the big question is what direction exactly you go in? In very much a similar vain to the folks at Sabotage, pondering as they no doubt had done on how to pick up where their own debut ended: is it the way of the sequel or something entirely new?

Who can say if the black-and-white, minimalist redefining of Metroidvania’s purest strengths will see a second bite of the cherry. But if feline antics in a mechanical suit are to be a one-and-only venture, the greatest benefit to this decision is that with Gunbrella, Doinksoft have proven they are a team who can find novelty in the smallest details. To repeat a point raised during one’s early impressions last July, that Gunbrella in many ways feels like an intentional and all-too-aware inverse of Gato’s design. A game whose quirks aren’t those stemming from out its central and obvious presentation, but instead from its multitude of separate, standalone, perhaps insignificant tidbits.

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Tidbits that may well be picked up by a minority of folks — a bit of pixel art or sprite work here, a conversation between two unimportant NPCs that humorously stretches on for some time. A musical theme for a late-game level set in a factory that in one way feels completely out of place yet weirdly finds synergy with the setting and naturally the gameplay mechanics alongside. The writing of Gunbrella especially is where these feelings of fine but admirable detail are felt most of all. Perhaps one of best moments coming, again, close to the end — returning to a previously-visited region to find two characters having a petty squabble over the ramifications of previous in-world events — one adamant of the other’s faults, the other in complete naive denial. Again, these moments serve no real benefit nor purpose other than a spot of minor world-building.

That they’re here to begin with, all of which is wrapped around a blend of slightly-cynical humor, is what’s important. Because to discard this talk about small details for a moment — an aspect that most players may in all likelihood completely miss or ignore — Gunbrella is still at its heart a satisfying action-platformer with just as satisfying (and subsequently addictive) freedom of movement. You could make an argument that simply the act of moving about the game — popping off shotgun shells as you do so like a mad-man — makes this a winning formula. In a game lasting roughly five to six hours, what Gunbrella may lack in radical deviation or reinvention for the sub-genre in the gameplay department, the fact that it doesn’t overstay its welcome is to the betterment of the set-pieces it offers up, as much the characters you meet and greet along the way. In some cases, reuniting with per the nature of the where the narrative leads.

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Offering up a pleasant balance between treacherous platforming segments and combat arenas that coax you to get self-indulgent and trigger-happy, but aren’t afraid to throw up one or two traps along the way, so as to catch you off-guard. Culminating in a series of boss fights that can wind up as much a frantic case of survival — given how punishing the game can be at its most critical moments — as they are attempts to hit back at any opportune moment. In fact, perhaps the most surprising aspect of Gunbrella is how costly mistakes can wind up feeling. Mistakes that seldom, if ever, feel cheap or unavoidable if one is watching what’s happening on-screen. Recovering lost health by way of reaching that next, pivotal checkpoint bench, proving to be a more coveted objective than perhaps initially expected.

But it’s indeed the movement that is Gunbrella‘s greatest strength. A system that may well have your main protagonist leaping, gliding and hopping about like a frog whose guzzled down one too many energy drinks. But the fact that Doinksoft decide against being too precious about the controls winds up being a smartest decision. That you can so freely and quickly move in and out of regions — combining the use of wall-jumps, sporadic zig-zagging and using your parasol-shaped weapon as a means to glide and coast along zip-lines alike in so swift and fluid a motion. Gunbrella acknowledges that there will be those who will want to come and go as they please and so Doinksoft look to have accommodated both camps with more-than-sufficient results.

Not that there’s any other way to approach combat than to be anything but quick on one’s feet. Enemies that vary between firing projectiles, quick ballistic shots, even area-of-denial attacks. If you’re smart about one’s movement, you can parry these attacks, on top of merely blocking incoming fire. A useful tool when it comes to dealing with idle sentry guns littered throughout the game, let alone enemies that bait you into being surrounded by flammable objects. If anything, the abundance of flammable objects — some obvious, others less so — may wind up the biggest pain when it comes to potential dangers, though a pain in the sense it improves the game rather than works against it. But again, Gunbrella presents such threats in a way that requires you to be quick in both movement and mentality.

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Especially when the predicament around one’s health comes to the forefront more times than you would expect. The only means of recovering health outside of checkpoints is by consuming carried inventory on the go. Some items recovering lost health, some even increasing the maximum amount for a temporary period. There’s upgrades too to one’s titular weapon, in both the attack power as well as how quickly you can reload in-between shots, requiring the acquisition of gears which serve as the required upgrade currency. This is done either by scavenging loot as you go, or in some cases completing optional quests.

Sadly, to get into more detail about the variety of optional quests on offer — or lack thereof — would be to highlight the one area Gunbrella maybe doesn’t quite excel on. And that’s any notion that outside of the main path forward, the game doesn’t offer much else to invest in from either a world-building or gameplay standpoint. That’s not to say that Doinksoft’s primarily noir aesthetic doesn’t have its own quirks. Or that one is somehow going to contradict prior statements that leaping around shotgun-styled umbrella in hand isn’t satisfying. Rather, it’s everything else that aims to accompany these elements — an attempt to perhaps bolster their respective bases — that does so little, to the point they’re quickly cast aside. The other types of ammunition you can acquire to use instead of shotgun shells, like rifle rounds and grenades? Barely touched, given how amply-prepared your base weapon already is. And as for the story itself, while not terrible, it’s by no means something players will latch onto. Ample blood splatter and murmurs of a possible environmentalist theme aside. It’s only because everything else (major and minor alike) going on around them is so strong that these weaker elements don’t prove as costly.

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Closing Comments:

Less a case of reinvention for reinventions’ sake, it’s the mix of familiar genre staples with a widened focus on smaller details that ends up with Gunbrella proving to be a brief, yet highly-satisfying entrant for action-platformer fans. In looking towards those minute moments — from NPC dialogue to pixel art and even the music that accompanies your travels — Doinksoft successfully broaden not just the studio’s palette of aesthetics and gameplay mechanics alike, but so too an understanding on how to build out a world to engage with. A pitch that may not be striving to be the most complex or densest of takes, but whose free-flowing approach to combat and presentation alike is well appreciated. A fitting step forward from the black-and-white, feline stylings of previous, Gunbrella‘s ballistic-fueled ballet of fluid movement and subtle details alike marks this down as one more success for the Doinksoft team.

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