How do you make the well-worn platform shooter genre feel fresh and exciting? Our answer wouldn't necessarily be to mash together equally well-worn zombie and gangster tropes, but that's what the developer of Guns, Gore & Cannoli has come up with.
The game casts you as Vinnie Cannoli, a prohibition-era mob enforcer who's equal parts James Cagney, Silvio Dante and Fat Tony D'Amico. In other words, he's a walking Mafioso cliché. Faced with the kind of alcohol-induced zombie apocalypse you only usually see in provincial English towns on a Friday night, Vinnie sets off to do what he does best - shoot lots of stuff. There is more to the plot, but to be honest we've already forgotten what it is.
All that matters is that you understand the concept of running right, clambering over obstacles, and blasting anything that moves. It's a formula that will be familiar to anyone who's ever played a Metal Slug game. Your initial target is the undead, who come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are zombie cops who unleash random shots from their sidearms, burly gridiron players who steamroll right through you, and whip-wielding exotic dancers who, well, wield whips.
After a few levels you'll start to face human opposition, who are a little smarter and thus more interesting to face. These goons take cover, shoot back, lob grenades and generally force you to fight more cautiously. The game's guns pack quite a punch. You'll steadily amass an armoury of weapons, including pistols, shotguns, machine guns and flamethrowers. Firing these is bound to ZR, with R set to reloading. Over on the LR and L buttons you have your grenades and Molotov cocktails, which become essential when flushing out cowering mobsters and soldiers.
In Guns, Gore & Cannoli's favour, it constantly forces you to switch between weapons on the fly - whether due to an empty clip (reloads take a while) or the nature of the threat in front of you. The twin-barrelled shotgun has great stopping power, for example, but won't be of much use when the clapper-board zombie shuffles along. You're better off switching to a pistol and going for a headshot.
For all its visceral attributes, it's odd that the combat starts to feel so samey so quickly. Running right and blasting stuff simply becomes a bit of a chore before too long, and we found that we play the game in brief bursts as a result. Perhaps it's down to the crudeness of the combat. While there's a certain satisfaction to popping zombie heads, encounters all tend to smoosh together with a similar tone and pace.
Fights take place on a single plane and at the same time close to medium distance. You can aim left and right, but not up and down or diagonally. You'll often need to physically stand higher than your target (on a staircase or a box, say) to score a reliable headshot. On the plus side, the graphics are sharp and expressive, with a cartoony art style that does its best to sell the whole 'gangster zombie' premise. It all looks really slick and stylish, even on Switch's compact display.
It's a shame the same can't be said for game's writing and characterisation, which is universally shallow and frequently unpleasant. We find ourselves wishing to mute Vinnie's repetitive, casually psychotic chuntering from a very early point in the game. It's neither witty nor funny. Perhaps the best way to play the game is with the volume turned down or off, and with four players contributing their own boisterous soundtrack.
If you've got the control pads to spare, Guns, Gore & Cannoli is just the kind of brainless, instantly gratifying nonsense that could well spice up a multiplayer gaming session - in between extended bouts of something more substantial. Guns, Gore & Cannoli is a solid shooter with slick graphics and crunchy combat, but it's a little too crass and one note for its own good. Like the titular pastry, it really needs to be consumed in moderation.
Guns, Gore & Cannoli is a reasonably proficient side-scrolling shooter that grows somewhat tiresome through repetitive combat and unpleasantly clichéd character design. It's an enjoyably brainless diversion - especially in multiplayer - but it's one that only really works in small doses.