The art of instantly drawing a player into your game is hard to master. Gunbrella is just one that pulls off that feat from the get-go. You control a lonely, grieving wanderer on a quest for revenge. You’re equipped with, you guessed it, a gun and umbrella hybrid. Across a sprawling noir 2D action adventure drenched in sepia tones, it is an at times Spaghetti Western that meshes industrial vibes. After two hours with Gunbrella, two things are certain: It’ll be one of this year’s best and I need it in my hands right now.
Gunbrella teases a rich and detailed world to explore. Developer Doinksoft is also the team behind other Devolver-published games including Demon Throttle and Gato Robato. The latter is a Metroidvania which takes great advantage of all of its environments, interconnecting and snaking around each other in clever ways. Here, it’s of a similar design. Towns have detailed sewer systems running beneath them that can open up to swamps, junkyards and the like. It’s nearly constantly raining in-game and takes up a good amount of the sound design. It also remains as distant white noise when you’re in a shelter. Add the backing moody soundtrack and it all bubbles into an excellent noir atmosphere thus far.
Complimenting this complex level design is the traversal mechanics. A tap of the right bumper, depending on where you’re facing and oriented, serves as either a vertical or horizontal dash, the umbrella propelling you further than you otherwise would be able to. The umbrella can also be used to shoot you up into the air, lengthen air time and even manipulate and use ziplines. Pretty soon you can smoothly slip and slide around the environment with ease, bouncing between encounters and picking up momentum. One thing in games I value most isn’t narrative but game feel and so far Gunbrella more than delivers.
On that very narrative, the story provided is relatively barebones but does a good job of providing enough to give the player drive on the journey for revenge. Threads for how to continue your investigation for the target the protagonist is found throughout the people of the locations your visit. You’re after an inventor of sorts, the one that crafted that very umbrella you hold in your hands. Bartenders and other merchants, cultists, giant rats and a pulsating mass of meat you’ll face as a boss… these are just some of the pieces of the puzzle to your mystery.
Many of the people I met in my brief time experienced in the game had me off on sidequests. Thanks to a tight, detailed level design that keeps you eager to explore every corner and uncover secrets, these never felt like busy work and just more ample an excuse to exist in the environments. Nothing was without reward and each quest felt worthy, largely also due to the fact that many of the side quest locations are places you’d otherwise pop into incidentally anyway. Already I have a sense of the bustling but gritty world of the game. Whether it’s main plot, side pieces or frantic action, the universe of Gunbrella is constantly on the move. Just like you.
“Gunbrella teases a rich and detailed world to explore.”
I cannot overstate how good Gunbrella feels to play. Part of that is learning and bettering yourself during some of the frenetic 2D gameplay. Though there are healing items that can restore or temporarily add additional hearts, it’s a tough game. Your Gunbrella’s main firing type is essentially a shotgun that packs a punch but must be incredibly close to its targets to do effect. The challenge here is that a lot of enemies will often fire rounds or projectiles at you faster than your firing speed. So, if you’re like me, you’ll slowly poke your way forward, using the umbrella’s parry ability to knock back shots as you edge closer for that one final and satisfying devastating blow.
I found this to be an incredibly efficient strategy so far, but I already have glimpses of how combat encounters will become even more demanding. Bosses in particular are often ten times the size of you, dominating the arenas you’ll find yourself in. With little room to move without getting hit, every step is key. Here, a balance of playing defensive and aggressive is all that saw me getting through these encounters. Soon I was hopping and bouncing off walls, zipping around in all directions around a spot, narrowly missing projectiles or the entire body of the imposing foe thanks to a twitch reaction of me pulling my umbrella at the last second.
Gunbrella doesn’t yet have a release date but on all counts it so far is another Devolver Digital published banger to be on the lookout for. There’s a rich, interesting game world out there that I can’t wait to explore further, getting into many hectic shootouts.
It releases in 2023 on PC and Nintendo Switch in 2023. Check it out.