Skip to main content

Gunbrella continues to be a great Mary-Poppins-with-a-shotgun simulator

When the sun shines, we'll shine together.

Standing outside Bill's Pills, a shop in Gunbrella
Image credit: Doinksoft/Valve

Gunbrella is one of those action games enlivened by a little bit of recurrent magic that never really fades. The magic lies with the Gunbrella itself. This is a 2D platformer and blaster, with a focus on exploration and a bit of light RPG stuff in the quests. But at the heart of it all is the Gunbrella your character wields, both gun and - yes - umbrella, and an absolute delight in every way.

At its simplest it's a shotgun that has a shield mode. Pull up the umbrella and you can deflect shots. Get the timing right and you can direct them back where they came from. Very handy against turrets. But there's more to it too. Traversal! Jump and open the umbrella and you get a sort of double-jump effect. You catch the wind and are lofted higher. You can also use the umbrella for dashing forwards and backwards, and for hitching to clotheslines so you can ride the rails.

Lots of clotheslines here, here being a sort of steampunk western landscape where you're out for revenge of some sort. Everything's patchwork and delivered in lovely pixel art: houses will have missing tiles or busted shutters. Trains will whip past at double speed when you arrive at a station. Baddies are spectacularly villainous, with skeleton faces and natty toppers. Everyone's hunched and caped and heavily shouldered. We're all moths in this world.

Gunbrella.Watch on YouTube

I played Gunbrella's demo a year back, I think, and now I've had a bigger chunk of the game it's lovely to get a sense of how it plays out. It's not quite a Metroidvania, because I think you're always moving forwards, but it's not a straight-up action game either. Enemies are paced out amongst traversal and dungeony stuff and the odd puzzle, and the whole thing is linked together by the quests - main and side- - that you take on regularly.

And while on the surface it's nothing like a Souls game, wow, it does kind of remind me of a Souls game at times. That is a very easy, possibly lazy thing to say in 2023, but I think it comes down to two things: combat and the way the levels fit together.

Levels first. Most dungeons form these neat little nested oxbow loops. You venture out - or down, the first one is basically a sewer - and you make progress that has a habit of looping around and dropping you back near the start, where you can then progress in a different direction and arrive back again, a few victories later, with yet another new sense of where to head next. There's lovely intricacy here, both in the ways the levels fit together and in the way you come to trust the designers to fit them together. It's Souls at its most Zelda-ish, I think, filled with doors you can't open yet and ladders you can see but can't yet reach. Lovely.

Combat meanwhile is Souls if Souls had a shotgun, I guess? In that it's all about making sure you deal damage without leaving an opening. Early enemies can be swarmed, and the Gunbrella encourages you to swoop out of nowhere and blast them to pieces as you glide past. But later enemies need a bit more strategy, and you need to balance offence with defence. You need to use the shotgun and the umbrella. (And any other weapons you pick up.)

Jumping and getting a boost from the Gunbrella
Fighting a boss made of blood and gore in Gunbrella
Gunbrella. | Image credit: Doinksoft/Valve

Combat, as with Souls games, is often over very quickly if you're doing it right. I'm reminded of those ninja types you meet about an hour in in Dark Souls - give them an inch and they'll whittle you down, but if you know what you're doing you can breeze through without slowing. This made me wonder, when I learned that the chunk of Gunbrella I was getting contained bosses. How does a boss fit into a world where most fights are over in seconds?

The first boss, at any rate, presents itself as a series of lunges. It fits into the rush-and-then-recover pace of the rest of the game by attacking and then retreating, a huge oddly sweet-looking blood-and-goop eyeball horror who hangs from the ceiling one minute and advances like a house cat the next. It took me an age to learn that the rhythm to defeat him was a rhythm I already knew. Attack, regroup, with my shotgun blasts not just doing damage but arresting the boss's forward movement. I got a chunk of their health and I also got a chunk of tempo. It's a really ingenious battle, I think.

What excites me most about seeing more of Gunbrella is seeing more of the world. Early on they spoiled me with a dungeon built out of a trick library, complete with pixel book spines and sliding shelves. What's next? And what comes after that? No, what excites me the most is probably learning to truly master the Gunbrella - to use it as a blaster one moment and a sort of kite the next, dealing death from below, and then sweeping on upwards to surprise whoever is lurking above.

Read this next