Written by Steve Heller
I love a game that can succinctly sum up the concept of its gameplay hook in the title. Gunbrella is exactly what is sounds like, an umbrella which acts as a gun. Such perfection in a name should be criminal, but immediately from the title screen the sophomore release from Doinksoft had me completely hooked on its premise.
A world collapsed
Gunbrella is more than just its titular parasol-based weapon. It is a noir-soaked revenge story of a voiceless protagonist who is tracking down the person that murdered his wife and kidnapped his child. The only clue at the scene of the grizzly murder was a Gunbrella; a weapon used exclusively by the corrupt police force that keeps the downtrodden in check. Corrupt police are just the tip of the iceberg because the world of Gunbrella is an incredibly harsh one, a land devoid of natural resources. The handful of towns are all scrabbling for survival and there is a devilish cult in the shadows that is trying to raise some nefarious monsters.
The narrative conceit is actually really engrossing. Traveling between the scattered towns on the makeshift train and conversing with the locals really made me feel like this world was lived in. Rather than large exposition dumps about how the world ended up the way it is, more often than not the characters are simply trying to get by and to try and find some joy amongst the dirt. I really liked that aspect which makes the weird and wonderful characters you find later really stand out as giant characters in an otherwise bleak setting. Despite really enjoying the setup and tale however, the writing just didn’t really hit the mark for me. I was more in love with what the characters weren’t saying, and what I could infer, rather than the dialogue itself. It’s not horrible, but this isn’t going to really hook you on narrative alone.
Float like like a double-barrel shotgun
Which is totally fine because Gunbrella feels incredible to play. The flow of this action platformer really shines because of movement options that the umbrella opens up for you. When you dash and jump the Umbrella gives you a lofty angle, allowing you to reach high ledges. Utilizing wind from fans sends you soaring into the sky, and using ropes allows you to zipline across the world with frightening speed. Chaining all of these moves together, only to slowly float down to safety creates such a satisfying connection to the character.
The flow of movement also plays heavily into the combat encounters. Not only is your umbrella a shotgun, but it also has bulletproof panels which allows you to block incoming attacks. If you time that block/dash just right, you will ricochet attacks right back to your enemies, which creates an interesting flow state. Jump and float towards an enemy, dash block an incoming attack into their face, land behind them, and pull the trigger to send them to their grave. For most of the game the action is pretty easy to handle, but on the later areas mastering these quick movements is key and when you manage to pull them off flawlessly, well, it’s a nice feeling.
Sting like a tennis ball
The combat isn’t all smooth parries and amazing combos. While the Gunbrella starts off as a shotgun, you soon unlock various other ammo types such as machine gun, grenade, sticky bomb, and a few others that I won’t mention. Personally, I found little use for these other weapons as the shotgun not only felt the most satisfying, but it also handled nearly every enemy .
The only time I ever really used the other ammo types was during the boss fights, which were also a low point for me. These fights were typically really easy, especially when you just load them up with sticky bombs and hit the boom button. That was a little sad because the actual designs of these usually grotesque creatures, or big baddies were really great and helped sell this weird mixture of eldritch horror, and corpo-greed theme that Gunbrella gets into towards the end.
The final hour of Gunbrella really does wrap things up with the story nicely, but unfortunately the most interesting aspects of this world are only ever mentioned in these final moments. I won’t spoil it, but I wanted to know more about the corrupt parasol police, the murderer’s motivations, and the class divide between those in the ivory towers and those toiling away in the desolate wastes. Despite my wanting for more of these things however, I was eternally grateful that Gunbrella is an action platformer with a start, middle, and end. An action platformer that skipped out on being a roguelike, promising endlessly replayable levels, and instead focused on delivering a complete narrative experience, even if I thought it was lacking.
Gunbrella is a fun action platformer that had incredible movement, and some unique combat ideas. It’s world is filled with interesting concepts, exploring themes of revenge, survival, corporate greed, and class divides. But it never dives too deeply into those themes, and the lackluster boss fights make this a fun adventure, but not a great one. The movement options available to you however, make this an easy game to recommend for action platforming fans.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch