Gunbrella keeps the grindhouse era alive in video game form

It only takes a few minutes for me to figure out exactly what I’m in for upon starting Gunbrella — though its title alone should have been a dead giveaway. The pixelated action game opens on a grim scene as I find my dear wife gunned down in our home. When I flash-forward to the present day and find myself blowing through enemies with a deadly umbrella, it becomes clear: I’m in a B-movie.

It’s a cinematic tradition I’m very familiar with. When I was a kid, my friends and I would often rent the lowest-budget action movie we could find at Blockbuster and revel in its schlock. Oftentimes, we were treated to unpredictable experiences that threw every rule of filmmaking out the window in favor of cheeseball entertainment. They were absolute messes, but that was the charm; we craved that idiotic jolt of entertainment. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the inarguably bad Chupacabra Terror, but I still haven’t forgotten the experience of watching it.

Gunbrella joins an ever-growing stable of Devolver Digital-published action games that bottle up that grindhouse energy. It’s a rambunctious shooter built around a confidently goofy combat-traversal gimmick that’s immediately pleasurable. Though like so many of the exploitation flicks I’ve watched in my life, I don’t expect to remember much outside of its memeable title.

B-movie action

Gunbrella is the latest title from Doinksoft, the team behind 2019’s Gato Roboto. That title was a bite-sized Metroidvania that streamlined the genre and focused on its charming cat-mech gameplay hook. Despite the fact that Gunbrella might look different, much of that DNA is carried over here. It’s another sleek genre piece that’s mostly head down in paying off its absurd title. It’s like Sharknado or Hobo With a Shotgun.

A character dives into a junkyard in Gunbrella.
Devolver Digital

Doinksoft and Devolver haven’t been shy about that in the game’s marketing. Its original reveal trailer famously featured a low voice growling out the game’s title, a throwback to exploitation film trailers. There’s also a grainy filter over its pixel art, further drawing connections to old-school cinema and the charming imperfections in low-budget films.

Though Gunbrella may look the part of a “so bad, it’s good” movie, it’s only acting the part. It’s actually a well-constructed 2D game with a strong action hook. My character wields the titular Gunbrella, a multipurpose gun that doubles as a traversal tool. By hitting my right bumper, I can open it up and quickly zip into the air like Mary Poppins. It’s funny, fun, and functional all in one. That tool means that I can clear rooms full of enemies in an instant, dashing around the screen and blasting away everything in my path.

It’s the same fast-paced, schtick-based thrill that I’ve gotten from other Devolver-published titles like Hotline Miami, Katana Zero, My Friend Pedro, Ape Out, Boomerang X … the list goes on. And it’ll continue to go on. Look at Devolver’s upcoming release list and it’s very clear that the publisher has a type, even if it’s taking in games from totally different studios. You can probably guess what next year’s Anger Foot is all about from the title alone, just as you don’t need to read a synopsis of the 1986 film Chopping Mall to guess where that goes. Devolver is keeping the grindhouse era alive in video game form.

The main character of Gunbrella faces off with a dinosaur boss.
Devolver Digital

It’s a commendable task, though one that can have diminishing returns with modest releases like Gunbrella. While its central action hook is a jolt of short-term fun built for speedrunners, the package around it doesn’t stand out much. Its central revenge tale quickly sidetracks into a schlocky steampunk story about evil cultists and grotesque flesh monsters. Its tone drops into pure irreverence with a barrage of hokey jokes that undercut any potential drama. Even its level design can be sparse, calling to mind low-budget movie sets. It can all feel like a hollow framing that’s secondary to its central gag.

As I barreled through the forgettable story, I flashed back to those days picking random movies off the shelf at Blockbuster. What happens in Chupacabra Terror? Search me. I zoned out for most of it, only tuning in to hoot and holler every time its goofy monster crawled back on screen. That’s how I felt as I sped through dialogue so I could get back to gleefully taking down bandits, cultists, and dinosaurs. Ask me what Gunbrella is about in 10 years and I won’t have a clue. But you can be damn sure I’ll be able to replicate that iconic “Gunbrellaaaa” growl without a second thought.

Gunbrella is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.

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