Gunbrella review – A cinematic noir with dazzling flow

Gunbrella is a cinematic noir story of revenge, elevated by sleek platforming mechanics and a gorgeous world.
Gunbrella Review

Gunbrella begins, as many works of noir fiction do, with a tragedy. You, a gnarled woodsman with a mysterious past behind you, stumble across a terrible scene: your wife, dead in your own home, and only a strange gun-umbrella left behind as a clue. It would be easy to break down in these circumstances, to give in, to curl up and accept defeat; but not for you.

The gunbrella, object of sinister deeds and terrifying intent, instead becomes your companion as you traipse through a hostile world, searching for answers to its origins, and for why your life has been overturned. What you find along the way is skin-crawling: a strange cult, odd disappearances, towns ruled by fear, and a world on the brink of collapse, thanks to capitalist-minded fracking, and the birth of strange monsters.

Between a fleshy eyeball named Baby and a parade of other oozy, grimy beasts, your path to tracking down your wife’s killer, the destroyer of worlds, is one riddled with pounds of blood and guts. Gunbrella is relentless in its onslaught of trauma, with the woodsman thrown through the ringer at every occasion. Yet there is beauty in his trying journey, in Gunbrella‘s devotion to its noir aesthetic, and cinematic stylings that elevate the high drama of its many turns.

Read: Doinksoft’s Gunbrella was inspired by Kirby and Batman

gunbrella review
Image: GamesHub

Gunbrella‘s world unfolds in muted shades, with beiges, browns, and reds giving the entire tale a grimy, dirty feel – again, a hallmark of noir cinema. As the woodsman attempts to reclaim his life, travelling from isolated town to town, dispatching beasts and restoring peace where he can, the environment elevates Gunbrella‘s grim mythology.

Towns are built up and ramshackle, suggesting poverty and strife. The local gang operates out of a trash heap grown from unsustainable materials and discarded technologies, swept by the wayside as “Crude” became the new, exploitable currency of the world. And in snaking holes filled with marks of the bourgeoisie – leather books, carpets, gilded halls – a growing cult attempts to bring about a new world via human experimentation and growing monsters.

It’s a rich backdrop to tell the woodsman’s story of revenge; a dazzling palette that makes every completed quest feel more righteous. And as this story evolves in parallel to the deformation of Gunbrella‘s towns, it becomes clear that the adventure is inspired by very real world issues: pollution, and an incoming environmental disaster.

The woodsman’s story is king, but Gunbrella‘s subtle rumination on dying worlds where natural resources are diminishing, thanks to the whims of a powerful few, certainly rings true as a commentary on our own lives, too. At the very least, we don’t have to contend with giant, malformed rats in our quest for a brighter future.

gunbrella boss fight rat
Screenshot: GamesHub

For the woodsman, at least, there is protection in the form of the titular Gunbrella. The object which has been infused with trauma becomes a guiding light in this adventure, transformed by its wielder. It’s a multi-modal tool that guides you onwards, allowing you to shoot bullets in short range, or glide across great distances with a rhythmic jump-dash-float-leap.

There is flow in these movements, and this flow injects Gunbrella with a livelier beat. While exploring townships and exposing sad stories lends a real sense of gloom, this is balanced by tight, joyous platforming that requires you to swoop, shoot and duck through corridors and across great chasms, as cult members and monsters stand in the way of your quest.

Traversal becomes a balancing act as you tap into this flow, growing more complex as you visit each town, uncovering new plots, and venturing further into the underground hideouts of cults and beyond. Lose yourself in the flow, and you might lack the finesse needed to jump through those caverns, and leap above acid baths.

But when you tap into Gunbrella‘s smooth sense of movement, you’ll find the adventure falls into a satisfying groove, buoyed by tightly-designed mechanics that balance a floaty sense of falling with sharp controls, and precise gunplay.

gunbrella obstacles
Image: GamesHub

These challenges sweep past at a great clip, as your quest advances, and your world unravels, as terrors grow longer in the tooth (sometimes literally), and a mid-game twist advances a grim timeline. Where this sense of pacing dips is in the game’s closing stanza, which is somewhat held back by a sense of time stretching.

As the woodsman, your quest is clearly defined from the outset: it’s simple revenge, for the death of your wife, and the injustice suffered. But as you head towards your ultimate goal, challenges grow complex in a way that feels like filler – as tasks create more tasks, and your goal seems to get further into the distance. It begins to feel like an impossible staircase, as drama builds to a crescendo, then peters out to reveal more corridors, more obstacles, more monsters. Then the drama builds again.

In some ways, this leeches a portion of satisfaction from the ending, in that the thumping pace established in Gunbrella‘s opening stanzas isn’t quite held up in the close – but with such strongly memorable beats along the way, it’s hard to fault the game for its own reluctance to end.

Between its major beats, and the classical adventure of the protagonist, brought to life in such beautiful noir shades, Gunbrella is an adventure with a real sense of vigour. Its narrative remains gripping, even in its weaker beats, and paints an evocative picture of a dark world that isn’t so different from our own.

And in mirroring the woodsman’s dogged quest for peace against a backdrop of fantasy-infused environmental decline, it ties together strong concepts of human will, and our own struggle to save a world of scarcity and injustice.

4 Stars: ★★★★

PC, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Doinksoft
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: 13 September 2023

A copy of Gunbrella on PC was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are scored on a 5-point rating scale. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.

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.