STAFF REVIEW of Gunborg: Dark Matters (Xbox One)

Tuesday, April 26, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Gunborg: Dark Matters Box art I truly love twin-stick shooters, the ones where you move your character with the Left Stick and aim with the Right, allowing you to move and shoot independently regardless of your direction of movement. Developed by solo developer Rickard Paulsson, Gunborg: Dark Matters is a challenging twin-stick shooter with plenty of action and some interesting gameplay mechanics, albeit a short experience.

With a game that only lasts a handful of hours, there’s not much narrative to Gunborg: Dark Matters, opening with you leaping from your ship in space, crashing into an alien spaceship to try and defeat enemies, aliens and robots as you battle against some massive bosses. You begin with simply an energy sword, jetpack and a shield to fight your way through the alien ship but kill some aliens that are shooting at you and you can pick up and wield their arms back against them.

Choose from different difficulty modes, but be prepared to be challenged, even on the easiest setting. Even on Easy, the last handful of levels even frustrated me and took dozens of deaths and retries before being able to passed. Levels begin out easy enough, having you trying to get from point A to B in a series of individual rooms that make up the dozen chapters. Each chapter has a half dozen or so rooms to complete before moving onto the next chapter, with each fourth culminating in an interesting boss fight that will test your reflexes. Rooms are filled with enemies and traps, eventually trying to overwhelm you with sheer numbers against you all at once, but even eventually massive lasers that you need to outrun as you kill all enemies for the doors to open and let you pass.

The control scheme is interesting but takes some getting used to. You move with the Left Stick and aim with the Right, swinging your sword or shooting any picked up weapon with the Right Trigger. Right Bumper is how you extend and hold out your energy shield and Left Trigger is how you jump. It’s somewhat intuitive and makes sense, but jumping mapped to the trigger takes some getting used to, as does switching between Right Trigger and Bumper while also aiming in the specific direction you’re trying to while simultaneous moving in a different direction.

You can aim in 360 degrees around you at any time, so you’ll need to be aware of the enemies firing at you from any direction. Your shield can block and deflect enemy bullets, be used to ram into enemies and knock them back, and even used somewhat like a sled to cross gaps with spikes and hazards along the floor. Your jetpack will allow you to double and triple jump, so you’ll need to be cautious of tricky platforming sections as well as fighting against aliens and robots along the way.

Combat is very skill based, as you need to be aiming in the correct direction for attacking and blocking, something that becomes challenging when you’re surrounded and need to also maneuver in quick succession. While you simply start with a large energy sword, it can do a decent amount of damage, but the real fun comes in when you kill some aliens and they drop their guns. Any enemy’s gun can be picked up and used back against them, but they have limited ammo, basically one clip, so you’ll constantly be dropping and picking up new guns along the way. Run out of guns and ammo and you’ll always have your trust energy sword to fight back with.

With a handful of different guns, they all have different strengths and weaknesses, from shotguns, lasers, grenade launchers and more. Can’t get close, use your shield to deflect their bullets right back at them, but you need to make sure you’ve got it angled at the correct direction you want to send them back to. The shield has a limited use and durability though, so you have to let it recharge for a short while after prolonged use.

Kill enemies quick enough and get your combo chain up to a certain amount and you can go into a special Dark Energy mode, making your attacks more powerful, even changing some of the properties of weapons. It’s worthwhile to get your combo up quickly to get into this mode, as you’ll defeat enemies much quicker, almost needed in the later sections that are somewhat timed.

Combat becomes quite hectic in the later levels, some sections forcing you to fight waves of enemies before being able to move on. With just a few this isn’t too hard to manage, but when you got well over a dozen shooting at you and a moving laser getting closer by the second, combat becomes quite chaotic and challenging. While deaths cause an instant respawn without any wait, you begin at the start of that stage, so if you keep dying on the third or fourth part of said stage, you need to redo the first couple sections to get back to where you initially died. This checkpoint system was quite frustrating when you die in the last portion of a level but have to fight all the way back through a handful of rooms to try again and ultimately die all over.

If you want some extra challenge on top of the difficult later half, there’s also a handful of collectable robots to find in specific rooms, unlocking special post-game rooms and a harder difficulty. I was trying to gather all these along my way, but when you’re trying to outrun a death beam, taking a 10 second detour is not easy by any means.

Visuals are colorful yet brooding, completely fitting for a spaceship taken over by rogue aliens. Gunborg: Dark Matters has a retro vibe to match a Tron-like aesthetic that plays smoothly without any hitches. The neon pink spikes that surround many areas of the ships will kill you if touched, but pop against the darker color palette and gives Gunborg some character. The audio for each weapon is distinct, but the real standout is the 80’s synthwave soundtrack that plays in the background during your adventure is a joy to listen to and never grew tiresome.

Gunborg: Dark Matters is impressive when you realize it came from a single developer, and while it may be short, clocking in at just a couple hours, I’d definitely recommend when it’s on a decent sale. The later stages spike drastically in difficulty, but those that enjoy challenges and want to hunt collectables should enjoy themselves, even if it’s just for a few days at best.

**Gunborg: Dark Matters was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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