The Overstuffed and Unfocused Gunbrella Fizzles Out

Games Reviews Gunbrella
The Overstuffed and Unfocused Gunbrella Fizzles Out

The title Gunbrella conjures a specific image and tone, making it all the more surprising how little the game ever veers into either. A gunbrella is a preposterous proposition, an everyday item turned into more of a weapon than it is naturally capable of being. When I think of the notion of bearing one, I laugh to myself. And yet Gunbrella itself is devoid of too many laughs, injecting light humor in certain interactions and all the while depicting one man’s crusade against the institution that killed his wife and ripped his child away from him. While there are certainly quirky characters to meet and gun-toting fun to be had, Gunbrella is much more somber than I expected, especially as you explore the back half of the relatively short game. And yet it is also a free-flowing platformer about a world teetering on the edge of ruin and the small communities holding on as best they can. Though its action is top notch, I do wish either part of the game were in better communication with one another; if they were combined into a deeper whole it would make this a game I could fully appreciate and love.

In my earlier preview of Gunbrella, I likened its gameplay to some sort of hybrid of Celeste and Katana Zero, two similar platformers of the last few years. And while I stand by this assessment, I also think the ways in which those games succeed point to places where Gunbrella could’ve felt stronger. The gunbrella is powerful, perhaps even being one of the strongest tools a game has ever trusted me with right out of the gate. It’s got multiple ammo types, for example, that are rendered useless almost immediately in the face of movement tech with the gunbrella, which is about all you really need to succeed in the game. Once you internalize that your dash can block anything and everything at the same time that it propels you through the air, it cracks the game wide open in a manner that is immediately gratifying but disappointing in the long run.

To go back to one of the games that I compared it to, it feels like if Madeline from Celeste got an infinite amount of dashes right off the bat. Playing through those games felt satisfying because the scenarios deepened as time went on, forcing me to test the limits of what I could do, formulate new strategies, and on occasion adapt to entirely new mechanics. Those mechanics, and how they grew over the course of the game parallel to your character, told some kind of story. The like doesn’t exist in Gunbrella and it feels stunted for this. Your ammo types expand, and you can upgrade the gunbrella in minor ways (tied to reload speed and attack power alone), but both these routes feel like short-sighted and superfluous distractions more than expansions. From the moment you are handed control of the player character, you have everything you’re really ever going to need whether you know it at the time or not. Zipping through levels and every single one of Gunbrella‘s one-note boss fights can feel empowering until you come to the end of a sequence that should challenge you but doesn’t. One of my chief reservations from my preview—that the game wouldn’t ever really rise to meet and challenge players—turns out to be unfortunately true.


As I flew through Gunbrella, I also got the chance to drink in its dystopian noir overtones. There is no sun in Gunbrella, because it’s been blotted out of the sky by endless smog. Mining operations unearth a material called crude that unleashes unspeakable evils on the working class forced to rip it out of the earth. Death cults and sun-promising religious groups spring up in the chaos, seizing the opportunity to sell promises to people desperate for any kind of guidance or salvation. These abstract details stuck with me far more than the closeups I got, if only because it felt Gunbrella had little light to shed on them and few real characters through which to explore and expound on them. The game decries industry, and the prioritization of scientific advancement over the people it should service. It satirizes religion, the high esteem in which certain cultures hold weapons, and more, but I wish it tackled any of this beyond surface-level observations and analogs. Its view of the corrupt role of policing in a society, for example, is—like countless other positions the game takes—as affirming as it is boilerplate. The game is graciously short, clocking in at about eight hours, but it also means that the barebones cast has little time to evolve beyond caricature. The villains of the story are underutilized and barely present, and the main character rarely jumps off the page. The most consequential steps he takes aren’t even his.

At a few points in Gunbrella, the player can affect certain outcomes in the larger world, be it sparing a character you could kill or handing over an item to one person rather than another. These instances, sometimes tied to sidequests and other times a part of the critical path, occasionally surprised me in how they rippled outwards, but more often than not they felt like flimsy attempts at the morality systems of blockbuster RPGs shoehorned into a game that never quite makes the case for them. It’s incredible to fathom how much is thematically and mechanically stuffed into Gunbrella and how little of a difference it seems to make on the end product. 

Gunbrella ultimately fizzles out, playing its strongest card upfront and stumbling as it attempts to follow it up with something meaningful. For what it’s worth, playing with the eponymous central mechanic is never anything but a joy, but the rest of the game around it, however, never flies quite as high as you do. While the world it builds is a compelling and stylish parallel to our own present and future anxieties, it does little else but reflect them. A great sense of style and killer accessory can’t carry all the ambitions of Gunbrella, a game that certainly wants to tackle a great deal of subject matter and design ideas, but should’ve probably settled for fewer than it did.

Gunbrella was developed by Doinksoft and published by Devolver Digital. Our review is based on the PC version. It is also available on Nintendo Switch.

Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin