Ever since the idea of combining a gun with an umbrella came to the Penguin’s mind, it was only inevitable for a game to incorporate that into its entire premise. In comes Gunbrella, a 2D-action side-scroller that celebrates the art of this contraption that lets you live your Mary Poppin fantasy if Mary Poppins was a revenge-fuelled gun-wielding badass. In my Gunbrella review, I’ll talk about one of the most fun titles I’ve played of the year in my Gunbrella review.
Game Name: Gunbrella Platform(s): PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch Publisher(s): Devolver Digital
Release Date: September 13, 2023
Story and Characters
The premise of Gunbrella is no stranger to the video game genre. You, a gruff woodsman, come home only to find your wife in a pool of her own blood and your daughter missing. You’re out for revenge, and the only thing in your hand is a weapon that’ll keep you from getting wet as it blasts your foes into smithereens. It’s Max Payne in the story, but Samurai Jack in tone. The writing is largely comedic, and the majority of characters you meet are often quite funny.
There’s a bunch of self-aware humor sprinkled throughout the world to ease you into the mechanics, and most of the merchants and NPCs are willing to facilitate you for a favor in return. I found the writing to be enjoyable, and it takes quite the effort to tell a pretty serious story in the way it does. Even if some of the quests result in tragedy, the game handles it in an overall light manner.
The Titular Gunbrella
Your Gunbrella serves a lot of mechanical purposes, and it’s carefully integrated into the gameplay. You can shoot through it, and it can fire any type of ammo you find or purchase, including grenades, somehow. It lets you dash, block, glide, and repel incoming attacks without any stamina bar to slow you down. None of this feels unnatural, thanks to the excellent animation work done on this singular weapon.
It won’t take you long before you become basically untouchable with the Gunbrella, and that’s kind of an issue too. The “Normal” difficulty feels a bit too easy, in my opinion. The regular enemies of each area go down with a single close shot, while the stronger ones take two shots. You can parry/repel their projectiles, so if you’re comfortable with the gun, most of the enemies don’t pose a threat, and I don’t recall dying to regular enemies apart from a handful of instances.
Bosses, on the other hand, can prove challenging with pretty massive health bars and multiple attacks. It mostly comes down to how well you aim with the right stick or the mouse. I actually switched between both inputs and would use a mouse during boss fights for higher accuracy and the controller while exploring levels and fighting goons.
There’s also some light platforming and a few rewards hidden behind these challenges, but again, none of that ever felt too difficult, which makes some of the games’ exploration feel a bit less rewarding from a mechanical point of view.
Rewards and Upgrades
As you progress through its short campaign, you’ll receive tons of items, most of which you can sell to buy healing pills or consumables that provide you with extra health or a timed bonus. The game definitely over-rewards you, and I had tons of spare cash at all times, which came in handy, especially close to a difficult boss battle. I have a gripe with how these are presented, though, because it’s not always obvious if an item is pickable until you randomly see the Y prompt above it. These could be highlighted better and often blend with the viscera of the fallen enemies.
You can also collect parts to upgrade the Gunbrella and improve its attack power and reload speed. It’s a simple system that’s effective and doesn’t bore you with tons of stats or numbers. I particularly like how you’re rewarded with extra health capacity by doing good deeds for the different NPCs you meet. It makes the process of upgrading your character feel personal and well-earned.
While the game might give some the impression that it’s a Metrodivania, it’s certainly not, but it has some light backtracking. Levels are never huge or confusing and have multiple checkpoints throughout to ensure you don’t have to travel much after a potential death. There is always a checkpoint before a boss, which is excellent, and restarting a boss fight never felt exhausting because of this small consideration.
I think Gunbrella is a gorgeous game, and the pixel art is fantastic. The muted colors serve the tone and story well, and the use of rich browns paints a moody and often oppressive mechanical world rebelling against the backdrop of a thick mountainous forest. The woodsman’s design is stellar, and his hat leaves his head when he jumps around. It’s a small detail that I find so endearing, and you’ll find tons of this with other NPCs, enemies, and animals.
The merchants you can interact with have detailed portraits that reflect their profession, backstory, and current location. Every part of the menu has small sounds that make the act of browning your journal and inventory feel personal, and these small details add up to create an immersive experience that’s easy to ignore, especially when it’s executed so well.
There’s no voice acting, but the jazzy music to accompany conversations keeps things lively, and the shift to combat music gets the blood pumping without it ever feeling abrupt. Guns are punchy and sound great, while the bosses are all sorts of ugly with their massive eldritch bodies with protruding tentacles and numerous eyes. Overall, Gunbrella knocks it out of the park with its stellar pixel art and memorable sound design.
Gunbrella is available on the PC (Steam) and the Nintendo Switch.
Review Disclosure Statement: A copy of Umbrella was provided to us for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Gunbrella is a beautifully animated, focused, and satisfying 2D-action title that delivers on its premise in spades. Gliding around with your Gunbrella as you blast away enemies never gets old, and while the game does suffer from a lack of challenge and minor readability issues, it’s one of the most memorable and often funny titles of the year.
The Gunbrella is a versatile weapon that aids in combat, mobility, defense, and platforming
The game looks and sounds fantastic, with tons of variety in its environments, and characters
Despite a grim premise, the comedic tone serves to instill hope in a revenge-focused story
Some readability/visibility issues with item pickups