Date: October 7, 2022
Gunbrella is the newest action-platformer from developer Doinksoft and publisher Devolver Digital. In it, you wield the powerful and mysterious Gunbrella, a firearm that doubles as an umbrella, as you set upon an epic quest that will take you through “a world dependent on a rapidly diminishing natural resource.” The trailer, released last May, showcases flowing movement, reactive gameplay, and vibrant, thematic pixel art. Needless to say, it had me intrigued and excited. When the demo dropped last week, then, I wasted no time to see if the game was as fun to play as the trailer made it look.
And, I’m happy to report, the game feels great. The movement is intuitive and fluid, with none of the “jank” that so many retro platformers have, and it flows excellently into the combat system, which is simple to grasp, but with layers of challenge and complexity that will make true mastery a feat to achieve. In short: the trailer was not exaggerating as it showed the mysterious protagonist flying through the air, blasting foes with a powerful shotgun as he went. And the game, as far as the demo has shown, really does feel like that.
What makes this all work, of course, is the movement system. Not only are the standard movement options precise and easy to grasp, but the Gunbrella itself adds a whole host of movement options that enable you to whizz around obstacles and enemies alike. This is because you can open the umbrella part of your Gunbrella with a push of a button, and it will give you a speed boost in whatever direction it is facing. This allows you to zoom through levels, shoot yourself high above enemies’ heads, or glide down slowly to avoid tricky obstacles (à la Mary Poppins). Even in the short demo, I was using my movement options to their fullest extent, and they reminded me of gems like Super Meat Boy or the best 2D Sonic games, precise and instinctive.
The movement system, naturally, ties right into the combat, as well. After all, the Gunbrella is only half-umbrella — the other half (you might’ve guessed) is a gun. You can cycle through a few firing modes (a shotgun, machine gun, and grenade launcher were available for the demo) and use those to rain bullets down upon your enemies. And, oh boy, does that gun feel great to use. Even the default mode, the shotgun, packs such a punch that it will obliterate most grunt enemies, causing them to explode into bloody chunks. And the sound design, screen shake, and enemy reactions make even missed shots feel like Ash’s Boomstick just went off.
Of course, this all combines with the movement as well, so that you end up pulling off Matrix-esque leaps through the air, firing upon your foes and turning them into giblets before they can even react. And, if you are shot at, your Umbrella also doubles as a reflective shield, able to send enemy bullets careening back at them (also turning them into giblets) with a well-timed umbrella block. There is no question: you will feel cool playing this demo.
All of this caps off in an amazingly executed boss fight against a giant sacrifice-created meat-puppet named “Baby.” Not only did this fight look cool (more on that later), but the fight itself was challenging and engaging, forcing the player to use their full range of movement and combat abilities. I died more times than I have to a first boss in quite a while, and I had a blast while doing it. The fight against Baby was a creative and cool demonstration of the mechanics and difficulty that Gunbrella is trying to offer.
The boss fight was not only excellent mechanically, though, but also aesthetically. In fact, the entire demo was in perfect, pixel-art form. The art, with its limited use of color and commitment to a sort of “Apocalypse Western” style, was awesome. After so many uninspired pixel-art games that feel like they only wanted to be pixel-art because it was the easiest choice, this game’s use of the medium is just perfect, evoking a retro style while still being artistically fresh, new, and gorgeous. Everything from the backgrounds to the sprite designs was clear and evocative, and I hope that the level of quality shown in the demo and trailer is maintained throughout the whole game.
But the best part of the art was not the backgrounds or sprites. No, it was the character portraits and the writing for those associated characters. Merchants all have masterfully done full portraits, and every other character at least gets a more detailed sprite for dialogue. This help set up the characters’ personalities, but what brings it home is the writing. Every character is charming and interesting, and there were several lines of dialog that made me chuckle. In most games like this, I skip dialogue, or just read it for the required info. Here, though? The characters and dialogue were one of the best parts of an already great demo.
Overall, the demo was quirky, fun, and polished. Its high-octane movement and combat were a blast to play, and it is all wrapped in a layer of charm and humor that fits the “Wierd West” tone that it wants to evoke perfectly. While I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Devolver-published game (and of course Devolver Digital is behind this), this demo could not have made me more excited for the full game, which will be releasing in 2023. Until then, however, Gunbrella’s demo is available to play on Steam here. If you are a fan of high-precision action-platformers (or just want to wield a weapon that doubles as a rainproofing accessory), you should check it out.