Doinksoft’s Gunbrella was inspired by Kirby and Batman

From these unique inspirations, the grim and gritty world of Gunbrella was formed.
gunbrella doinksoft

The idea for Doinksoft’s 2D action platformer Gunbrella germinated nearly four years ago, before the studio began formal work on its most prominent titles – Gato Roboto, and Devolver Bootleg. While the idea for a gritty noir adventure game spotlighting a ‘gun umbrella’ was strong, birthing the game proved difficult, and its ambitions meant it fell by the wayside.

‘It was something that [designer] Cullen [Dwyer] talked about a long time ago,’ Britt Brady, creative director on Gunbrella told GamesHub of the title’s initial creation. ‘Cullen originally brought up [the gunbrella], kind of inspired by Kirby – and we just started talking about all the different things you could do if you had an umbrella. It was seemingly endless.’

While a prototype for Gunbrella was created – at the time, with ambitions for it to be a cute adventure game – a large scope and visions for a sweeping noir meant it was briefly pushed back in favour of ‘rapidly’ developed games, like Gato Roboto, which had a clearer focus and simpler mechanics.

Gunbrella comes to life

The turning point was when publisher Devolver Digital took a keen interest in Doinksoft, and its retro adventure specialty. Doinksoft first worked with Devolver on Devolver Bootleg, a mini-game collection parodying multiple Devolver games. Then, Devolver officially acquired Doinksoft in early 2023.

While Doinksoft told GamesHub that nothing much has changed since the acquisition, the support of the publisher has allowed the team to pursue Gunbrella in a way that stays true to its original vision.

gunbrella game doinksoft
Image: Doinksoft

‘We knew that we wanted to do something bigger, and keep working with Devolver – and I think Devolver wanted us to do something bigger,’ Brady said. ‘In doing Gunbrella, it was kind of like wrangling back into “let’s do what we’re good at, but bigger and better.”‘

‘Devolver trusts what we do as developers, and wants us to be developers, and do what we do.’

According to Brady, Bourgeois, and Dwyer, Devolver’s role has been largely of support, with the reduction of administrative responsibility allowing the team to focus on the development of Gunbrella, and providing a much-needed layer of stability.

Per comments by Bourgeois, the Doinksoft team has ‘struggled for years’ in reaching for their creative vision, with very little assistance. While the team ‘made it work’, they were ‘scraping by’ to make ends meet. The success of previous games, and their acquisition by Devolver, has evolved the team’s circumstances, and allowed them to significantly expand their work.

Image: Sunsoft

In revisiting the creation of Gunbrella, Doinksoft looked to its past inspirations: Kirby, and the dark noir detective world of Batman – specifically, Batman: The Video Game for NES, which rocks a mute colour palette and climbing mechanics, rather like Gunbrella.

In its shades of brown, purple, red, and grey, you can see much of the world of Gunbrella, which spotlights the journey of a lone hero wandering a hostile world of eldritch horrors and gun-toting villains.

‘We were looking at [NES Batman] and [Joseph Bourgeois, Gunbrella designer and programmer] was showing me some of that – and that even almost inspired the synergies, with Batman, and the umbrella. Not so much the time setting, but the dark vigilante revenge / avenging mood [of the game].’

Cloudy inspirations

Batman wound up being one of the core touchpoints for development on the game, although Gunbrella‘s origin point and mechanics owe a lot more to the Kirby franchise, which features its own floaty umbrella mechanic. From appreciation for this design, the Doinksoft team began working on their own interpretation, with a goal to create a fluid and fast movement mechanic that utilised an umbrella in dual fashion: for rapid gunplay, and for smooth traversal.

In an early preview for Gunbrella, we remarked on this specific feature. The umbrella is almost a character in itself in Gunbrella, and allows for players to fully explore their environment, utilising slick commands to cross battlefields and survive the onslaught of strange creatures.

Read: Gunbrella preview – A rain-soaked gothic Western to die for

‘The controls for the actual movement of the Gunbrella was one of the first things that got done in the prototype,’ Bourgeois explained. ‘The wall jumping, floating, bouncing on it, striking enemies with it – all the stuff was the first thing we did … The core was there from the beginning. We went along to improve the feel of it, the fluidity of it.’

‘It was actually kind of a challenge in that way, because it felt so good. And you could do so much movement, so fast … when you can already jump and then dash and glide almost the length or the height of the entire screen and move really quickly, it makes for kind of difficult design decisions.’

In adapting the world of Gunbrella to their ideas, Doinksoft created a cloistered world filled with ledges and traversal challenges, where players must think on their toes, and work towards uncovering mysteries with patience, and well-timed platforming. You can breeze through stages, but you may miss hidden gems, or the solution to one of the game’s many puzzles, hiding in a dark corner that requires a neat skip-hop-twist to access. All the while, strange forces ooze into your world, preventing your progress as intriguing mysterious coalesce.

Muted horror

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Image: Doinksoft

Combining the aesthetics of the Old West with a run-and-gun adventure game featuring a semi-magical umbrella would be a unique enough premise – but Gunbrella is a game that takes this several leaps further, as its detective story is infused with dark creatures, body horror, and seemingly endless buckets of blood.

Initially, while looking at inspirations for the game, Doinksoft considered Resident Evil, in its approach to survival horror and enemy implementation. While ideas shifted, Gunbrella still shares much in common with this horror journey, particularly in the design of its fleshy, strange beasts.

‘I think [the monsters] came a little bit from the original concept of it being a little bit more of a horror and survival type of game,’ Dwyer said. ‘We wanted to have human interactions with various kind of factions, and then also times where things would get dark and there would be these abominations, these creatures. Both of those concepts stayed in … And as far as the design of monsters in the game, they are essentially ghosts inhabiting flesh of some sort, or organic material.’

‘So, it’s like what if a bunch of meatballs all came together? That’s kind of how we went with it.’

gunbrella game adventure
Screenshot: GamesHub / Doinksoft

According to Bourgeois, these monsters double as a horrifying interpretation of the real-life energy crisis, with these ghosts feeding off a polluted energy source, and becoming strange and decayed as a result. They haunt the world of Gunbrella, spreading their tendrils throughout its world, creating an uncanny, hostile landscape where the endless rain and a gun that’s also an umbrella are barely remarkable oddities.

When players visit this world, they’ll have the opportunity to experience these strange beings, and ward off their influence with their trusty gun-umbrella by their sides. In the weeks ahead, Doinksoft’s mission appears similar – fighting bugs, polishing tools, and ensuring Gunbrella is ready for launch.

‘It’s been round after round of QA. We’re QA-ing the game in general, doing QA on the localisation, implementing ten different languages in the game,’ Bourgeois said. ‘There’s all different steps to that – there’s a lot of semi-mundane but rewarding stuff.’

‘You’re looking at it in this blob form for so long,’ Dwyer said. ‘But putting in that frame of “pause menu, save files, different languages, that kind of stuff” is like, “oh, yeah”. This is a real game. You can imagine what the experience might be like.’

Four long years after Gunbrella was conceived, the game is on the cusp of a well-earned delivery.

Gunbrella launches for PC and Nintendo Switch in 2023.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.