Following the formerly-exclusive (and really rather good) Bomb Chicken, developer Nitrome has returned with a whole new puzzle-platformer in Gunbrick: Reloaded. Well, we say “new”, but that “Reloaded” in the title should really cue you in that we’re dealing with the redux of an existing game, here – and if it didn’t, one look at the very mobile game-esque graphics will. That’s not to criticise Gunbrick: Reloaded simply for originally being on mobile platforms – that would be ignorant. There are lots of good mobile ports on Switch already (Knights of Pen & Paper, Goblin Sword, et al) and the system can only benefit from more games so long as they eschew any predatory microtransaction nonsense, which Gunbrick: Reloaded thankfully does.
With a confusing story of sorts told in a series of attractive but baffling interstitial screens, Gunbrick’s presentation is difficult to fault. It’s colourful, beautifully-stylised and generally attractive to look at. The stage selection menu is a little confusing at first – “worlds” are represented by esoteric icons – but you’ll quickly learn how to dive back into the game. Unfortunately, you may not be entirely keen to do so.
Platform puzzlers like Gunbrick: Reloaded tend to revolve around a central gimmick. Nitrome’s own Bomb Chicken was built around the bomb-laying mechanic, which allowed for both traversal and puzzle-solving. Ditto BoxBoy! + BoxGirl!, which is based around making and throwing boxes. Gunbrick’s “thing” is your player character’s taking refuge in the titular Gunbrick, a cubic fortress that can only flip over square-by-square to its four sides, “rolling” clockwise or counterclockwise. On one side of the Gunbrick is a cannon that can both destroy enemies and obstacles and be used as a propellant to launch into the air or slide along the ground without flipping over. The opposite side features a reinforced shield, which you’ll need to keep pointed at any projectiles coming your way, and make sure it’s blocking dangerous elements such as jets of flame. The problem is, in practice, this is fundamentally finicky and unenjoyable.
Making traversal a puzzle in itself isn’t a bad idea; the execution here, though, is lacking. The most basic manoeuvres become a chore, requiring precise positioning. To ascend, for examples, means you’ve got to ensure that the propellant side of the Gunbrick is facing the ground. This usually means you’ll have to micro-adjust by flipping in another direction and blasting yourself sideways so that when you make your next movement, you’ll end up in the right place. Crucially, this isn’t fun. It just ends up feeling like work when you’ve got to think as hard as you do about simply getting around.
We found it was rare that the gameplay ever felt any less than aggravating; solving an actual puzzle of sorts involving manipulating the shield-end of the Gunbrick could have felt rewarding, but after that, we’d always find some busywork, some set of steps to climb. If getting from A to B isn’t intrinsically supposed to be a puzzle, but is irritating enough to bring down the experience, why structure the game this way? More bite-sized levels focused on proper puzzling would have been preferable, rather than these ordeals that go for tiresome stretches with nothing to do but wrestle with the aggravating controls getting to the next vaguely interesting puzzle.
Collecting special green items in the levels will allow you to access bonus stages, which take on a totally different look – an isometric 3D experience much like Mobigame’s Edge Extended. This doesn’t do much to improve the proceedings and, if anything, it’s even more frustrating rolling the Gunbrick around with another dimension to consider. There’s no “ah-ha!” moment when you figure out how to get the right side of the Brick facing the correct direction; it’s just a resigned “finally”.
As with the rest of the game, it looks the part. Gunbrick Reloaded is graphically very appealing – the pixel art is intricate and you’re never unsure exactly what you’re looking at, which helps a lot when you’re being asked to be so precise. There’s a pleasant feeling of causing carnage where-ever you go, as you slam recklessly through and over civilians, squishing them into the ground humorously. The aesthetics are so appealingly chaotic that it just makes it even more of a shame that the moment-to-moment gameplay is so frequently tedious.
If you can tolerate the punctilious demands of the basic movement, you may wring some joy out of Gunbrick: Reloaded. There’s definitely a clever idea here, and the later levels offer some trickier puzzling to get your teeth into which mitigates the problem a tiny bit – but getting to that point may be a bridge too far given the resolutely irritating early stages. It’s a shame, because a lot of effort has clearly gone into its presentation, but Gunbrick: Reloaded just isn’t want we’re looking for from a puzzle-platformer.