Review - Gunborg: Dark Matters
By: Roberto Nieves
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, Steam
Publisher: Orbmit Productions, Red Deer Games
Gunborg: Dark Matters, the newest game from developer Rickard Paulsson and Swedish publisher Orbmit Productions, the same house that made the local multiplayer hit, Plummet. Gunborg: Dark Matters is a very different game from Plummet, focusing on speed, action, and violence, both up-close and afar. With sublime momentum, Gunborg: Dark Matters cranks out a tremendous balance of action and platforming suspense, all to the tunes of a solid soundtrack and impressive visuals reminiscent of our favorite 80s cartoons.
Gunborg: Dark Matters is a side-scrolling action game where players navigate platforming obstacles and attack enemies with their neon-colored sword or the assortment of cutting-edge weapons. On Val’s mission, players are sent to intercept a rogue ship containing several high-value targets and hundreds of smaller enemies. The goal of each of the game’s twelve levels is to eliminate all enemies and survive the game’s perilous obstacles. As Val, players utilize several mechanics to their advantage. Val is equipped with a jet pack that can give three bursts before needing to recharge. Any time players land on a hard surface, the jetpack recharges, an important element to remember for wall jumping in the game’s frenzied final act. Players are automatically equipped with a special energy shield. A push of a button deploys the shield and can protect Val from incoming fire, as well as deflect enemy bullets back towards the attacker if timed right. Granted, it isn’t invincible, and enough hits will deplete the shield. For offensive abilities, Val can attack using either an energy sword or an assortment of firearms. The weapons are dropped from the variety of enemies Val faces, including armed robot sentries, enemy soldiers, and hostile combat mechs. Each weapon is unique and distinct, from the standard laser rifle to the charged plasma cannon and bomb launcher. There is no reloading in Gunborg: Dark Matters, and when a weapon runs out of ammunition, the weapon is depleted. Using weapons skillfully allows for the activation of Dark Matter, a special power that unlocks within Val, turning her weapons neon purple, making them stronger. Destroying enemies, finding hard-to-reach gold robots, and staying alive all contribute to the score and ranking of each level. In Dark Matter Mode, the score greatly increases and multiplies.
Gunborg: Dark Matters gets many things right, and the impressions are felt right from the start. The 80s inspired cosmic imagery is bolstered by music composition from artist Cat Hoeben, who previously worked on the film soundtrack for the documentary film Takaya. The visual component of Gunborg: Dark Matters features thick illustrations and saturated color, all to a cosmic and intergalactic ambiance. Val, in particular, evokes a striking anti-hero look, with her black eyes contrasted with her glowing red pupils. The levels, enemies, and boss fights also contain this strong connection to 80s convention, but it sometimes feels like a living, breathing Saturday morning cartoon. Val's animation is smooth and synchronized, and the various particles effects make Gunborg: Dark Matters quite the game to see. Cato Hoeben's soundtrack invokes a case of intergalactic calamity and mystery while also weaving a smoothness to the synth beats. Playing the game with the thumping soundtrack feels appropriate, especially given the game's emphasis on motion and moving forward. Gunborg: Dark Matters is a nice-looking game and a great-sounding one, but the biggest highlight is its gameplay.
Gunborg: Dark Matters has sharp, explosive gameplay that keeps players on their toes and nails one of the hardest sensations to achieve in games: encouraging players to keep playing one more level. That type of sensation doesn't come easy and is usually the result of a polished experience which I am pleased to say Gunborg: Dark Matters has in abundance. The key to Gunborg: Dark Matters is momentum and kinetic energy. The moment players are in control of Val, and there is a constant sensation to keep moving, obliterate enemies, and navigate whatever obstructions the enemy throws at you. Moving as Val never feels off or uncalibrated, but instead, polished to a remarkable sheen. Val's speed and agility feel incredibly accurate and punctual between the input from the controls to the actions on screen. In a way, Gunborg: Dark Matters is all about speed, but speed is only part of the gameplay formula. Speed has to be met with aggression and violence, and when Val picks up a weapon, it feels great. There is strong feedback in jumping off a wall, grabbing a laser minigun, and going to town on the hapless foes before you, all the while deflecting blaster shots and staying mobile. In this sense, Gunborg: Dark Matters felt reminiscent of games like Contra, Hotline Miami, and Velocity 2X, all of which encouraged quick thinking and mobility, along with shooting and weapons handling.
Gunborg: Dark Matters is very much its own unique experience, distinct and unique from others like it. The aforementioned titles, especially Hotline Miami, and Contra, were known for their great difficulties, but Gunborg: Dark Matters goes the extra step in giving players options for those difficulties.
The challenge in Gunborg: Dark Matters is ultimately how one makes it. Players select easy, normal, and hard, with easy offering more health. For my playthrough, I selected normal and was pleasantly surprised with the balance of challenge and fun. Gunborg: Dark Matters combines combat with platforming. During a level, players will come across swarms of enemies, even being locked into a small space to fight and survive before proceeding. Additional moments in the level include jumping and running through precise paths and platforms. Jumping and timing with moving platforms and Val's jetpack are essential for survival. Towards the end of Gunborg: Dark Matters, the game throws in spiked walls, piercing laser beams, and flying enemies, all to hinder progress. On normal, Gunborg: Dark Matters did offer limited health and health packs scattered through the level, giving a chance to overcome challenges that did deliver a quick death or two, but the later stages definitely don't pull any punches, and I felt as if I was playing a cyberpunk version of Super Meatboy. As for the game's few boss fights, they put up a fight, testing players' mastery with the game's mechanics, most especially the final boss.
Fortunately, Gunborg: Dark Matters has instant restart. When a player dies, the game restarts immediately, keeping the momentum going and encouraging players to keep trying, not letting a break interfere with the ebb and flow of the game.
When everything meshes together, Gunborg: Dark Matters is excellent and wildly enjoyable. There is a synergy that works with the momentum, movement, and overall action of the gameplay. Coupled with the vivid visuals and pulsating soundtrack, Gunborg: Dark Matters is certainly an action-platforming experience that checks all the boxes and becomes one title that should be in everyone's libraries. Alas, one significant setback holds Gunborg: Dark Matters back, and that is the length.
Gunborg: Dark Matters is a short game. On easy, determined players can finish the game in one sitting. The higher difficulties require trial and error, as well as mastering the game's mechanics. Each level does have gold robots to locate and a ranking system to achieve, but otherwise, Gunborg: Dark Matters is a short action-packed adventure. Additionally, there isn't much of a story to speak of, other than Val is a human-turned-cyborg working for The Company and is hunting down several villains onboard an interstellar warship. Based on the look of the game and the brief banter between characters, it feels as if there is a significantly larger story to tell in Gunborg: Dark Matters. The characters appear interesting, and the role of being a cybernetic gun-for-hire sounds like an interesting tale to tell, but there isn't much of it in Gunborg: Dark Matters. The big highlight in Gunborg: Dark Matters is in its presentation and gameplay, but regrettably, not much in the way of story. However, despite the short length and limited scope of the story, there is plenty to grow upon with Gunborg: Dark Matters. The visuals and world depicted are intriguing, and Val's role as a cyborg does leave room to create a compelling character with an interesting tale to tell in the depths of space. Val's origins, how she became a cyborg, and even the origins of the Dark Matter would be interesting elements to explore in a follow-up. Gunborg: Dark Matters is short but vibrant and swift action thrilled ride. With an incredibly smooth level of polish, Rickard Paulsson and company have created an enjoyable and challenging side-scrolling action game. It's short, but it's not about the destination but the journey, and in the case of Gunborg: Dark Matters is a solid journey.
Gunborg: Dark Matters was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch OLED thanks to a review key generously supplied to Stack Up by Homerun PR.