Blending a dystopian neo-noir setting with a side-scrolling puzzle structure, Gunbrella absorbs you into its gritty world with a mystery at its core. You play as a man with a tragic past on a revenge mission. Your wife murdered and child stolen, the only clue you have to the culprit is the gunbrella (an umbrella crossed with a gun, if the name wasn’t enough a clue) left at the scene. You travel from town to town seeking information, only to be drawn into a deeper plot than you initially anticipate.
The Gunbrella world is dangerous. Weapon-wielding police terrorize ordinary people and do nothing to prevent the destruction of the environment by mining companies or the proliferation of demon-summoning cults. People frequently go missing, and the suspicious lack of children is key to a dark conspiracy you unravel as you progress.
On your journey, you face puzzles to solve to move forward. Some require you to physically manipulate the world around you to clear obstacles, while others take the form of conversations with characters whose help you need. Most dialogue options are fairly straightforward. You pick a topic to discuss, and eventually you’ll have enough information to make headway.
Some of your decisions feel like they have a genuine impact. While the story remains the same, choosing an approach to various subjects informs your relationships with the NPCs. How you treat people in your quest despite your (and perhaps their) trauma doesn’t have a massive impact on the narrative, but it does affect the emotional weight of the game.
Characters you encounter often give you side missions to complete for them. Many end up tying very neatly into the overall storyline, which makes the game feel like a complete and well-constructed world. Others are optional and usually provide you with extra health or resources.
There is one mission where two different people ask you to find the same item, and you get to choose who to give it to. This does impact how those two characters treat you later on, but it is an otherwise subtle change. More of this would have given the game more of an overall sense of freedom.
There are many collectibles to find throughout Gunbrella. Bandages and various food items heal your injuries. Different types of bullets and projectiles can be used to attack enemies. You can take cogs to one man who uses them up to upgrade your weapon. Save points are frequent. Your journal keeps clear notes about your progress without being too obvious about your next steps, so you feel in control of your own adventure.
Boss battles are genuinely interesting. They’re challenging without getting frustrating. Each one strikes the right balance between having a repeating pattern you can master and being fun to figure out. They don’t always feel like they’re increasing in difficulty, but they at least don’t stall the storyline.
Gunbrella is a darkly funny game, with a delightfully grim sense of humor. It is clearly a game for adults, with gruesome (and sometimes hilarious) deaths, seedy locations (including an underground speakeasy) and language not appropriate for small children.
This maturity extends to the missions. Often, you can do everything right and will still fail. The damsel in distress won’t be saved, ultimately because you are just one man and your enemy is made up of a corrupt police force, a brutal slave labor camp, and a murderous cult. Humans, robots, and supernatural minions join forces against you. You cannot win them all when the odds are so massively stacked against you.
For all the cynicism built into its themes, Gunbrella has a wholesome emotional core. Despite the violence required to reach your goals, your motivation is pure and founded on love, and it stays that way regardless of the horrors you encounter on the way.
The whole game is wonderfully constructed with fantastic attention to detail. The plot threads weave together to a climactic finish that feels effortless. The characters have unique backstories and personalities that make the community seem vibrant. The design looks great, complemented by fluid movement and animation. When your health is low, your character limps and leaves a trail of blood behind him. There are a handful of elements that could be further built upon, but they don’t detract at all from the aspects that are beautifully refined.