After spending some time in a preview build for Gunbrella, a 2D noir-punk sidescroller by Doinksoft and Devolver Digital, I was hooked on the simple yet engaging premise. There’s a guy that’s come home to a bloodbath with his wife killed and his daughter missing. The only trace of evidence is the titular gunbrella, so our unnamed hero grabs his climbing boots and his daughter’s doll and sets out for answers.
The game’s graphics take me back to gaming in the 90’s with pixelart and bleak yet striking visual backdrops as we travel via train to Allensdale. We are told that the townsfolk there will have clues as to who murdered our wife and took our child. The game’s tutorial teaches us how to traverse these lands where we aim the mouse and hold RMB while jumping to shoot up into the air and continue holding RMB to float back down or across chasms with the gunbrella.
Not just a humble umbrella, it’s a shotgun too with unlimited ammo. We can change ammunition types to rifle ammo or saw blades, but I found the shotgun to be powerful enough for most of the game, even the game’s several bosses. There are sequences near the end that require better ammo, and some enemies also have gunbrellas so that jumped the difficulty up somewhat.
As you progress through the game you can purchase upgrades for the gunbrella with scraps. Enemies we get to face range from hooligans and thugs to frogs that spit air bubbles, that can be blocked with the gunbrella, and other creatures. Most of them explode in a satisfying crunch of blood and bodyparts, some of which you can pick up and sell to vendors for gold coins. Side quests gave you a little break from chasing the main story and involved solving puzzles and gave me little goals to achieve if I wanted a change of pace to the bloodthirsty revenge action.
I tended to horde the gold I found except to stock up on bandages and other health-boosting items. You come across NPCs that will try sell you ammo and food that can buff your health, but with the unlimited shotgun ammo, I didn’t see the need to buy much else. There are other environmental hazards to look out for such as thorny brambles, spikes on walls or boxes of TNT that inconveniently get in the way of my stray shots, leaving a trail of fire for a few seconds. I was thankful for the strategically placed blue benches and beds that would save the game and replenish my health bars.
Some mobs had grenade launchers and there were some lasers that moved across the screen, activating if you crossed the beam. You can use the firing arc of these thugs against them as they’re not too intelligent and happily blow themselves up if you confuse their firing pattern. There were many times where I had a chuckle at the well-written dialogue or in situations where the enemy died in dumb ways. However the story also has some emotional moments as it’s a Dad looking for his wife’s killer and his daughter’s kidnappers, after all.
I did struggle at times with no map to look at, though the levels are small enough that running back through them wasn’t too big an issue. We eventually learn the main character’s name once we progress the story, and we do take on several boss fights in the games 5-6 hour playtime. Compared to similar 2D platformers of late, one would say this game’s bosses are much easier and less of a challenge, however this suited me perfectly as I struggled on difficult games in this genre. Nothing sucks the fun out of a game more than constantly dying to the same boss over and over. It does get more difficult towards the end of the game though.
While I did suffer deaths while I learned each boss’ moves, they were dispatched easy enough with the shotgun and a lot of jumping. They would die much faster if I used rifle ammo, grenades or the saw blades but I was enjoying just running and jumping around with the gunbrella. There is a sequence where you lose access to the gunbrella and your climbing boots and I missed them terribly, but still managed to get through that section relatively unscathed.
Overall, Gunbrella is a fantastic 2D sidescroller with fun gunplay thanks to the gunbrella and an engaging story that kept me interested. I found boss fights to be of a decent and achievable difficulty, though better players may find them too easy. I only wish there was more to the game as I loved exploring this world and meeting the quirky characters.