Editor's Note: As described in the text below, a glitch in an endgame battle prevented us from completing the Switch review build of Gunbrella 100%.
We're told that a launch patch is imminent following certification from Nintendo. While irritating, the bug didn't affect our enjoyment up to that late-game point, so we're publishing this review on the basis that most players will likely never encounter this issue in the retail version. We'll update the review text should the update not fix this glitch.
Gunbrella opens, as so many noirs do, with a murder. Our protagonist, who goes unnamed until the second act of the game, sees his house aflame while he’s on his way back from gathering mushrooms. He rushes home to a gruesome, albeit pixelated, scene: his wife dead in a shock of blood. From there, we jump right into our hero’s journey, where he has only the mysterious weapon that was left at the scene of the crime to help him track down his wife’s murderer.
The overall aesthetic of Gunbrella is one of its best qualities. The relatively small game world changes often in response to in-game events, but maintains a dark beauty in its grittiness throughout. The deeply saturated hues create an almost romantic backdrop for the comically-depicted gore of combat and life in Gunbrella’s bleak world.
Gunbrella’s primary game mechanics are laid out right in its name. Using a gun that doubles as an umbrella is as fun as it sounds. Beyond being enjoyably ridiculous, we can’t help but respect the action economy and the clean gameplay loop that the Gunbrella makes possible. Whether we were gliding over environmental hazards, repelling projectiles back at enemies, or blasting foes point-blank, we were always having a good time. New ammo types are made available as the game progresses and offer up interesting approaches to combat and problem-solving without muddling the Gunbrella’s core functions.
While avoiding major spoilers, we will say that there’s a sequence of events surrounding a jailbreak where the level design really shines, thanks to the temporary loss of two major key items. The main player actions of wall-jumping, shooting, blocking, and dashing are made possible by climbing boots and the Gunbrella. We got so used to having these items on us that it was delightfully challenging to navigate without them. The same space was made new after reclaiming just the climbing boots and new again after retrieving our Gunbrella. We also got a minecart experience that harkens back to Donkey Kong Country. Gunbrella’s version requires less practiced precision but is still an enjoyable and nostalgic gameplay moment.
An action-adventure platformer wouldn’t be complete without boss battles, and Gunbrella delivers. Some boss behaviors were much easier to exploit in favor of a fast win than others, but there are many battles that require careful study and quick hands to be victorious. Gunbrella melds the gross with the charming throughout its semi-apocalyptic setting, but the bosses in particular showcase that even pixel art can be horrifyingly grotesque. Gunbrella did a good job of varying the tops of bosses we might face. Not every major encounter was against some hellish monster. We also faced off against other people, run-of-the-mill beasts, and some that were a little in between.
Our pre-launch experience with Gunbrella was not without its bugs, and unfortunately we hit a game-ending one after defeating a late-stage boss battle. We were hopeful that it was a save file error, but playing back through to the same point in the game resulted in the same frozen animation and inability to progress forward. The game up until that point wasn't terribly long, maybe seven to eight hours, but it was still a bit of time to invest just to be disappointed twice. Outside of that, there were also a couple moments of lag where everything moved in slow motion briefly and a few instances where the game froze up and needed to be restarted. Many of these bugs will likely be worked out post-launch, and we look forward to seeing the end of the game when they do!
Gunbrella’s punk-noir theme does a good job of creating the atmosphere, but the story itself is lackluster. There are some truly charming NPC interactions, witty bits of dialogue, and shocking occurrences that are as funny as they are unexpected, but the overall throughline of the plot leaves something to be desired. Since we weren’t able to complete the game, it’s hard to say whether the story elements would have involved a twist or additional element that could have cast everything else in a new light. Going just off of what we were able to experience—the story of a man trying to avenge his dead wife and reclaim something else rather precious that was taken from him—the story felt expected at points and a little boring at others. We found ourselves driven by the next creepy creature we might encounter more than by the tragedy-steeped quest of our trench-coated protagonist.
While Gunbrella has its issues, it’s still a really fun, gorgeous-looking experience that’s definitely worth a play for any fans of the genre. You shouldn’t expect anything groundbreaking in terms of story, but can look forward to a few laughs and endearing characters. Even just messing around with the mechanics made possible by a gun that is also an umbrella should bring anyone hours of enjoyment.