Coming from a solo developer by the name of Rickard Paulsson and the publishing team of Red Art Games, is a new arcade action platformer by the name of Gunborg: Dark Matters. Promising a mixture of intense, smooth gameplay and a “slick 80’s synthwave soundtrack”, can Gunborg deliver on its promise, or is it just another also ran in a genre that is not lacking in a title or two?
Normally at this early point in a review I’d wax lyrical about the story and narrative to be found in the game, but it appears this will be a short paragraph, as there isn’t a massive amount of either. As Gunborg opens, our character breaks into a spaceship by the simple method of jumping out of ours and crashing through the hull of the target ship. Now, setting aside all I know about explosive decompression, there must be easier ways to get on board another ship, but here we are, and all we have to do now is survive. And with the security systems that this ship seems to be packing, that is certainly a lot more easily said than done. With the scene set, it’s then time to explore!
The visuals found in Gunborg: Dark Matters are again done in a retro style, with a nice kind of Tron-like neon twist to things. The hazards are certainly eye catching, such as the large areas of spikes that are tinted in a bright pink, while the weapons that the enemies use are also similarly bright. The action is portrayed from a standard side-on viewpoint, with secrets to find in the shape of info-bots dotted about. Collecting these info-bots not only ensures you the warm glow of completion, but also unlocks extra levels – and in case you were feeling super cocky, even a hardcore difficulty setting. For me, Gunborg is plenty hard enough as it is, but the option is there for those willing to go a step or two further.
The soundtrack that accompanies these visuals is excellent, with pumping tunes inspiring you to go that bit further each time you die (and you will, for Gunborg is almost on a par with Elden Ring for the number times it has killed me). The sound effects of the various weapons are all present and correct too, sounding suitable decent in their deliverance. In fact, I’ve been mighty impressed with the presentation of Gunborg: Dark Matters; it is hard to fault, so a good job has been done here.
Now, we get to the meat of the review, and the way Gunborg plays out. You see, you can have the best graphics in the world, but if the game is no fun to play, then you’re wasting your time, right? Well, rest assured that that isn’t the case here.
The action is fast, furious and above all else, slick, with this partly down to a well designed control system that allows you to take full control of your character. The other part of the equation is an arsenal of weapons; something which also receives a big tick. You are armed, as the game starts, with a sword (almost like a light sabre) and an energy shield with which to bring the pain, but as you defeat enemies, they drop their weapons. And what else should you do with dropped weapons but pick them up and unleash them on the enemy hordes. There are multiple types too, but personally I’ve found a kind of homing rocket launcher to be a favourite – it makes clearing enemies out pretty straightforward. Each weapon comes with a certain number of shots, and dropping one that is nearly empty to pick up a newer fuller one, soon becomes second nature.
The shield that you carry has to get a special mention here too, as it is an incredibly versatile bit of kit. Not only can it block enemy shots from hitting you, but if you angle it correctly, it can actually reflect enemy projectiles back the way they came. Yep, you can even defeat foes with their own bullets! The party piece, however, is the way that it can be angled underneath you in order to cross pits filled with spikes. The shield has a certain durability, and learning how many times you can bounce before it disappears is a vital skill to develop.
Defeating enemies quickly gives you dark energy, and when you have collected enough of it, it enables the weapons that you fire to become more powerful, changing the way that they shoot. With this, the shield and a jetpack that can be used to lift you higher into the air, the combat and traversal mechanics are both very well thought out, well implemented. With a plethora of enemies and traps to defeat, and the obligatory bosses to find and face down, Gunborg: Dark Matters is a fun little game to play through, with the difficulty set just the right side of pad biting. It helps that it all does a good job of introducing new mechanics and easing you in gently too – at least until about, oooh, the third level when you are left to your own devices.
If you are looking for a well thought out, challenging action platformer, Gunborg: Dark Matters has got all the ingredients needed to make it a success. It is hard but fair, and this is a balancing act that is tricky to get right. If you like a challenge, then you could do a lot worse than to take this for a spin.
Gunborg: Dark Matters can be downloaded from the Xbox Store