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Gunbrella review: Bringing a ‘brella to a gunfight

Turning everyday objects into weapons and fusing guns with other objects are not new concepts in video games. Doinksoft, the developers behind Gato Roboto, have sought to elevate the idea of a hybrid weapon to the next level in their latest title, Gunbrella. In this side-scrolling, noir-punk action platformer, players wield a special gun that doubles as a bulletproof umbrella while on a quest for vengeance. What results is an exhilarating adventure that is both approachable and fun, with an engaging narrative to boot.With such a simple gameplay mechanic as its core, it is surprising that a game like this has only come around now.

Dig two graves

Players slip into the boots of a brooding woodsman who embarks on a journey of revenge armed with the weapon that killed his wife, the gunbrella. The silent protagonist must travel by train to learn about his newly acquired weapon, following any leads that may shed light on those responsible for his wife’s murder. Kidnappings and masked cultists plague the town next door, whilst locals suffer from the effects of corporate greed and oppression the city over. As you become acquainted with nearby townsfolk, what unfolds is a compelling narrative that touches on themes of family, justice, and survival.

Treading on air

As the portmanteau implies, the gunbrella is a unique weapon that is part gun, part bulletproof umbrella. Simple yet versatile, the gunbrella functions as a close-range shotgun and is your main line of defense against the threats that await. While you can upgrade its reload speed and attack power, the best way to modify its capabilities is by using different ammunition. With the right ammo, the gunbrella can transform into a grenade launcher, a high-speed rifle, and even a flamethrower. Other ammo types include long-range rifle rounds, saw blades that ricochet off surfaces, and sticky bombs that can be detonated from a distance.

Although the varying ammo types made for more dynamic gunplay, access to the fun stuff doesn’t come until much later. Vendors are scarce, and the quantity of each consumable you can have on hand is limited, meaning you can only stock up on so much of each item. However, you can accumulate a decent supply of ammo and consumables by searching through chests and talking to the right people. Perhaps it was the result of certain choices I made along the way, but by the latter half of the game, I had plenty of cash to spend and not enough ways to spend it, since I had the max quantity of the items I felt I needed.

The umbrella part of the gunbrella grants the ability to ride the wind, allowing you to dash, glide, and float to reach high surfaces. Attaching the gunbrella to ropes and ziplines provides an added mobility boost when needed. The gunbrella also doubles as a reliable means of defense, as it can be deployed to block incoming attacks and can deflect most projectiles. Swapping between its offensive and defensive capabilities is the key to wielding the gunbrella effectively.

There are several ways to manage your health in Gunbrella. The main way to heal is by resting at park benches, which also act as manual save points on top of autosaves. Those who go off the beaten path can also find beds to sleep in, which will both replenish hearts and grant additional health upon waking. Consumables like bandages and pills can also be used to restore health on the fly. Food items such as fruits and grilled animals provide temporary hearts, but do not restore missing health.

Shooting the breeze

Regardless of whether you choose to blast baddies in the face with buckshot or bombs, the gunplay in Gunbrella is simple yet satisfying. With enemies ranging from masked cultists and junkyard gangsters to vicious wraiths and hideous monstrosities, you have to be quick on the draw and light on your feet to make your way out alive. Luckily, the elegantly simple nature of your hybrid weapon makes both possible.

Though the game offers both Easy and Hard difficulty options, I felt that the Normal difficulty setting provided the right amount of challenge without being overly frustrating. Taking down a boss involves responding to their attack pattern with a delicate dance of floating and shooting, along with using their own weapons against them when possible. Although cash for consumables may be scarce early on, benches are readily available, making for a manageable trek that doesn’t do too much hand-holding.

When you aren’t busy fending off foes with your gunbrella, the bulk of your time will be spent chatting up the denizens of Orwell, Allendale and beyond. As you trudge through seedy alleyways, piranha-filled swamps, and underground sewer tunnels, you will get to know an eclectic cast of characters with goals and ambitions of their own. While our hardened protagonist is a man of few words, some situations will require you to provide your two cents on a matter or to otherwise make a choice. The narrative consequences of your actions can lead to some pleasant surprises, making the exploration and side quests worth pursuing.

Here comes the rain

Though I didn’t run into any major technical issues, I do have a few minor gripes pertaining to some of the built-in systems. For example, there is no way to track completed quests, despite having an in-game journal that tracks your active ones. Once you complete a quest, it disappears from your journal. Since backtracking is a key aspect of progression in the game, I expected the journal to act as more of a log of my exploits. It’s also only two pages long, so it’s not for lack of space. To top it off, the journal always opens to the blank page in front rather than the actual quest page, making you perform the unnecessary step of turning the page each time you want to view your active quests.

By the end, I had accumulated every type of ammo available. While I enjoyed having the added firepower at the ready, I found that scrolling through more than half a dozen different types of ammo during the heat of combat to be rather cumbersome. Perhaps a way to select which ammo you want to have on-hand or simply a way to re-order the hotkey list to the most used munitions would make for a more streamlined ammo-swapping process, especially during later boss battles.

Honeycomb can be sold for cash or parts used for upgrades, so it is definitely worth doing. However, rather than selling all of the honeycomb in your inventory at once, you must sell each one individually, making the process needlessly tedious and time-consuming, depending on how much honeycomb you have. It is likely an easy fix, one that would even out the pacing. Though ultimately minor concerns, addressing these quality-of-life features would make an already excellent action-platformer that much more enjoyable.

A man with true grit

Humerous dialogue and banter brings levity to the grim, heavy narrative and bleak setting of Gunbrella. The game turns an elegantly simple concept on its head, resulting in gameplay that is both responsive and rewarding. Gunbrella is an exhilarating romp with an intriguing story that doesn’t shy away from heavier themes. Though there is some room for improvement, Gunbrella’s heart-pumping boss fights and memorable characters will stick with me long after I’ve closed my parasol.

This review was based on a pre-release PC review code provided by the publisher. Gunbrella releases on September 13, 2023 for Nintendo Switch and PC.

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