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Gunbrella - Review


Man there’s not a lot of western games out there. Scratch that. There’s a lot of western games out there I have not played and if so I thought they were alright. Red Dead Redemption 2 is the most significant when it comes to western games and gaming in general. Not only considered one of the best video games of all time by many, but also containing one of the most immersive settings in gaming. With hyper realistic graphics, the world reacts in a naturalistic way, and being able to see every pore in a person’s face. Despite my criticisms with the game I can say it nails the style and feel of the west amazingly. Outside of that not much else. There are games with the western feel though. Steamworld Dig 2 and Weird West take place in western-esque settings, but I would not go as far to say they are western games. Steamworld Dig is a Dig-Dug inspired game with a decent focus on metroidvania progression. Weird West is an isometric immersive-sim with weird paranormal sights and mysteries similar to that of Dishonored which I can tell it’s trying to carry on. There’s Fallout: New Vegas, but as much as I love that game it’s a loose call for a western as it’s a post apocalyptic RPG with mutants, robots, and a full recreation of the Roman army.


So yeah there’s not a lot of fully traditional western games out there. However, I’d rather take the unique spins on western rather than fully traditional. It’s nice seeing where the genre can go and how artists can evolve it. That’s how we end up with cool shows such as Trigun and the first two seasons of The Mandalorian until Disney decided to drive it to sh*t. Western are quite cool and today we have ourselves another fun twist on the setting. Gunbrella, a 2D platforming action adventure developed by indie studio Doinksoft and published by Devolver Digital. Seemed right up Devolver’s ally seeing how they love to publish weird stuff. Especially stuff with guns like Enter The Gungeon, Wizard With A Gun, Hotline Miami, and previously mentioned Weird West. I really like Devolver Digital and the games they help put out. They are like the A24 of the video game industry. Not afraid to help fund small projects and get their names out there. Inscryption, The Messenger, Death’s Door, Katana Zero, The Talos Principle, and Return to Monkey Island. Can’t get enough of these guys and I’m always excited for what they have in store next. They’ve helped Doinksoft publish all their games and this is their third major project to date. 


Doinksoft have previously made Gato Roboto and Demon Throttle, and while I have not played the latter I have played their first game. Gato Roboto, a nice short metroidvania starring a cute cat controlling a mech and charmingly written humor. It didn’t blow my mind away like a lot of other metroidvanias, but I was impressed by the game. It didn’t go on longer than it should and it was really well made. Enough for me to give it a soft recommendation. Here we are with their latest side-scrolling Gunbrella which I’ve been anticipating quite a bit. How far have they gotten since their last pixelated joyride? Turns out quite a bit. At first I thought Gunbrella would be an alright game seeing the review scores for it are decent at most. I actually ended up really liking the game. It’s probably because I’ve played a lot of roguelikes lately, but it’s nice to be reminded that once in a while all you need is a short linearly designed game with a few unique ideas that are executed wonderfully. The game is flawed in a few aspects, but trust me when I tell you that it’s truly underrated and I beg you to play it. So today we’ll be talking about why I love Gunbrella and why it deserves your attention. 


Story


The story follows a woodsman who lives in a cozy cabin with his wife and newborn child. The family is quite happy together. The woodsman sets out each day to fetch supplies for the cabin, and the wife does the best she can to take care of their child. Their child is their sacred treasure and they’ll make sure nothing ever takes her from them. Sadly, that is what happens. One day the woodsman is out picking mushrooms to cook stew with, and when he returns home to the cabin he finds it ablaze. The fire hasn’t spread too much, but when he goes inside he finds his love on the floor. Bleeding out from gunshot wounds. The murder weapon, a gun with an umbrella at the end, was left behind and the child which he bare was taken. He weeps over the loss of his love and when he attempts to get authorities to help they don’t. With his life now in shambles he has to take matters into his own hands. He arms himself with the murder weapon and journeys to the place where the murderer could have gone. From there he can find the man who made the gun, who wielded the gun, and where the man took his child. You’ll run into crazy cults, flying flesh monsters, corrupt law officials, and many more. All that matters is you find the girl and bring her back to safety. Do whatever it takes, even if you have to get your hands red and dirty. 


Gameplay


In Gunbrella you navigate through a barrage of difficult obstacle courses, fight any enemies that stand in your way, get to where you need to be, finish quests, and find the whereabouts of your daughter. Despite hub areas leading to different zones the game is fairly linear. There’s a logbook to keep track of tasks and the world is fairly easy to navigate. As the game suggests you have the titular Gunbrella at your disposal. This is more than just a projectile based weapon used to fight off enemies. It’s also quite useful for traversing the world. You can boost yourself into the air and reach areas you normally wouldn’t be able to with your current athletic abilities. You can use it to gain immense momentum and dodge away from attacks. Reflect projectiles back at foes, use it to shield yourself, or slowly float towards the ground. The Gunbrella is a great tool, but only if you know how to use it and how to zip around your foes. This can be a really fast paced game at times and it’s not afraid to punish players who play safely.


Enemies can dish out damage easily, you don’t have a lot of health at the beginning of the game, you limp when you have a single health point left, checkpoints are quite far from each other, and finding time to heal can be tricky. That isn’t to say you can’t heal. There’s a good array of items to use and some will give you extra health points although temporary. Consumables can be found in chests throughout the world, but they can also be bought from merchants using gold you pick up from destroyed boxes and downed foes. The amount of gold you collect at first is not much, but you can also sell items to make more cash quickly. The Gunbrella’s main method of attack is much like a shotgun. The projectiles deal a lot of damage but only if you get up close. If not the projectile spreads and they won’t deal as much damage. You can unlock different ammo types, and these will change your method of attack and the amount of damage you can dish out. There’s grenades which can hit multiple foes bunched together and deal heavy damage. Rifle round to attack from afar and fire away quickly. Flamethrower fuel to send out a burning stream, and the holy rounds which you unlock late into the game and are used to deal with the red abominations made by the crazy cult. However, most of these ammo types besides holy rounds are limited. It’s either they are sparse or cost a lot at merchants, so use them during tough fights.


There’s side quests to be found throughout your adventure, and while some of them will require you to backtrack they aren’t too hard to follow. Plus some of them will help you out in the long run whether that’s NPCs appearing later on or them giving you heart fragments. Collecting two will increase your maximum health by one hit point, which is great seeing how crazy later bosses become. Finally there’s upgrading your Gunbrella. This is done by collecting scrap metal and bringing it to a very specific NPC. You can choose between upgrading its rate of fire and how much damage it deals. Not much, but simple to follow and easy to follow. Besides that there is not much else for me to say. Hopefully you can find your daughter and uncover the truth as to why she was kidnapped. Why target you, a woodsman, of all things? It’s all so mysterious…


Thoughts


Gunbrella is a thrilling side-scrolling action adventure that managed to keep me engaged all the way up until I rolled credits. It surprised me in a couple of areas, and just when I was feeling a bit frustrated it pulled me right back in and kept me going. Part of the reason why I stuck with it was due to its movement. This is some of the most satisfying movement I’ve felt in a platformer in quite some time. You’re not pushed to the extreme, but there’s a lot of room for mastery. You can zoom towards a wall, jump off of it, zip into the air, blast whatever is below you, zip towards the ground below you, and keep chaining these moves together to get to where you need. There’s a lot of zipping around and knowing where to position yourself and I like. Bosses I think are true highlights for this game. They get you to use your movement abilities the most, and while the difficulty can spike at times with one boss near the end having the same skills as you but cranked up to eleven I do think they are really fun and above all fair. Progression isn’t too bad either. I thought it was gonna be really complex, but I like how they nailed it down to just a few health upgrades and two major categories for the Gunbrella. The game starts off pretty hard at first, but depending on your skill level and how you pick things up I say it’s paced out quite well.


Combat is really fun. I wouldn’t say it’s great combat as some encounters are either really easy, or give you a bunch of space or just exploit them from afar or around corners. I liked it despite it being all over the place. It’s fun and simple. I like combat that’s fun and easy to follow especially after having previously reviewed a game with obtuse bullet-hell systems. Side quests aren’t all too hard to follow either. I thought they’d be forgettable because they require you to backtrack and some aren’t written in your journal, but if you pay attention they can be done easily. A lot aid you in the long run, help develop the world around you, and give you helpful heart containers as again you will really need those by the end of the game. The sound design is better than I would expect from this sort of game. They really did their best in capturing the feel of this setting and it can feel quite atmospheric at times. The quietness of the world and hearing nothing but the sound of the wind or running water. The thud of your Gunbrella as it nails foes and echoes throughout the room. The aspect that took me by surprise the most has to be the story. It’s a revenge story and these types of tales seem to struggle in recent gaming memory. Whether that be execution or trying to worm in the message that revenge is bad. However, here you get what you want.


You have a tale about a man who just wants to find the murderer, kill him for killing his wife, & save your daughter. Straightforward goal and an understandable one seeing how much suffering the protagonist is going through. Over time the world is fleshed out and it’s interesting to watch where the plot goes next. As you unveil deeper mysteries and what is really going on. A cult that is trying to change themselves into greater beings only to then unleash terrible monsters across the land. Discussion of human evolution and how only the strong shall survive. Seeing people do whatever they can to get out on top and be seen as icons to the public. Rumors of a perfect world and how only the richest and the belonging get to be part of that world. The game is basically a message for the pursuit of perfection and how along the way there comes corruption. How the drive for such things is impossible. There’s interesting plot twists and despite the protagonist not having the most depth in the world I like how they get you to care for him and everyone around him. It’s an easy to follow story with a good moral message, and that’s all I needed.


Pixelaert is great with a lot of vibrant colors, locations, and backgrounds, but that’s expected to see from any pixel art game nowadays seeing how much has improved. I very much enjoyed my time with Gunbrella, but again this game is not perfect. The difficulty can spike rapidly and the skill level it expects of the player is quite a bit. If you don’t match that skill level you will die a lot and this can lead to frustration amongst a lot of players. If you don’t come with enough items or upgrades to a boss fight, and the merchant is far away or you don’t have enough cash you are pretty much done for. However, I was always stocked up on items and a plentiful amount of cash so it may be different for everyone. There tends to be framerate drops when too much action is happening. Nothing that harms the game, but I think it’s noticeable on the Switch version of the game which is the version I played. Level design is alright with the game sometimes rewarding you for checking every cranny for secrets, but I wouldn’t say the exploration is good overall. I had some people recommend this game to me saying it was a metroidvania, and you should all know I love metroidvanias. I wouldn’t say Gunbrella is a good metroidvania. If I were to review it on that basis alone I would’ve said it’s okay. However, with the structure and design Gunbrella is going for I would say going for a linearly designed world is good. It helps keep the player on track and make sure they don’t get lost. Keep the story going and not let it grind to a halt.


Final thing I want to say about Gunbrella is the moral choices you can make. They’re not awful, but this may be the most divisive part of the game. Occasionally throughout the plot you’re given the ability to make plot affecting choices. Whether that’s tattling on an NPC for letting you into a hideout, or determining whether to fully help out in a prison escape. These choices will affect where certain NPCs end up or their stance on you. I always had the belief that good morality has you decide what you personally think, but I’m fine with how it’s like in Gunbrella. It makes each playthrough of the game feel unique, and there’s some impact for some choices as NPCs will stop being nice to you or end up straight dead. You even get those heart fragments like I said, but that’s where the divisive part comes in. Is it good to lock away health upgrades behind moral choices especially when some players may not pay attention? Yes and no. Yes, because it makes the player think and care more about the world. No, because sometimes you are given dialogue choices that feel like important choices but don’t matter which makes these key moments hard to notice. I also don’t like how the endings are determined. There’s a good and bad ending, and I thought the good ending is achieved by doing as many good things as possible. Turns out it is achieved by keeping a missable item from the beginning of the game. An item which you may hand in for a quest, which is dumb seeing how player instinct leads to them handing it in.


Overall I’d say I love Gubrella. It has its faults like I just mentioned, but the core game itself is handled really nicely. Fun movement, fun combat encounters, a nice setting to venture through, and a story that’s easy to follow and grow attached to due to engaging twists and world building. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, replayability is good enough, and for fifteen dollars I strongly recommend this little experience. So in the end I am going to have to give Gunbrella a 9/10 for excellence at best. 



This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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