Could Gunborg: Dark Matters be the next twin-stick indie action sensation? Probably not. It is as standard as they come, but don’t let that dissuade anyone who is an enjoyer of tightly paced 2D action.
After the superficial story scenes involving a bounty huntress wash over you like water on teflon, Gunborg: Dark Matters will waste no time at throwing platforming challenges and alien threats. It is almost as if the game is embarrassed by the fact it has to bother with a story at all.
Getting into the action and accustoming to the controls won’t take long, as the layout is very simple. The bounty hunter lady’s actions are entirely mapped to the shoulder buttons/triggers. The face buttons serve no function outside of the pause button; a tell tale sign of a game optimized for keyboard and mouse.
Gunborg: Dark Matters
Developer: Ricpau Studios
Publisher: Red Art Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: March 4, 2022
Price: $14.99 USD
Playing Gunborg: Dark Matters with a controller does prove to be effective despite the interface being intended for PC gaming. Triple jumping, wall-jumping and shield are a majority of the core actions and gradually will be seared into muscle memory through much trial and error.
Attacking is usually done with a massive glowing laser sword and does come with a slight cool-down after swinging it. This means players will have to be more considerate when going in with a head-on assault because the protagonist can’t swing her weapon as fast as players can mash R2.
Through out the levels, there may be a disposable gun to pick up or acquired from savagely murdered aliens. These weapons all have distinct firing patterns and have physics applied to their bullets that give each gun their unique feel. Battles usually are so fast paced and frantic, most players will end up picking up whatever is nearest and not realize what kind of sidearm they picked up.
When engaging with the aliens, effective players will know when to quickly reflect bullets back with the shield and when to attack or air-jump to safety. Things can happen very fast and it can be a lot to process at any moment, especially when there are multiple bogeys in an arena and there is an unstoppable advancing laser wall of death encroaching.
Sadly, there is no way to use both melee and ranged attacks together. With only one attack button and the left bumper for picking up guns; players have to make a tactical decision on what to use. Thankfully, getting a high enough combo multiplier activates a dark matter mode where weapons do more damage.
Since there are moments where there are about a dozen enemies (some of which can be equipped with shields), expected to be cut down in seconds without getting a chance to think. Temporary invincibility is extremely brief and trying to find the player-character amidst a deluge of enemy sprites guarantees a swift respawn.
Boss battles are a highlight in Gunborg: Dark Matters. These moments use the game’s mechanics to their fullest; demanding mastery of both platforming and weapon accuracy.
In regular stages, it is possible to cheese or bypass none mandatory encounters through cheeky platforming. When going sword against giant laser beam, there is no way to weasel a way out of a fight.
There are a few battles with an energy core that relies on waves of enemies defending a target and those are always the most hectic and unfair battles in Gunborg: Dark Matters. These are the low-points of the game and will make the player as stressed as a red-headed actress in Hollywood.
Just when you’ll be getting to grips with Gunborg: Dark Matters‘ hard as nails gauntlets and harrowing platform hell, it comes to an end. Other twin-stick action games like Hotline Miami and its sequel were stuffed with replay value. There were alternate endings, alternate masks that tweak the gameplay and had a complex mystery of of a story.
Gunborg: Dark Matters has none of this. All it has is a much harder difficulty mode which will make hair go white. The only quality that Gunborg: Dark Matters shares with its twin-stick shooter brethren is its incredible soundtrack.
The music is very intense synthwave that sounds really angry during bosses and also shifts to a soothing tone. It is 80s inspired, but in no way is authentic to the decade. It is a very serviceable soundtrack that fulfills its role at emphasizing the sleek, metallic setting and the neon overload.
Gunborg: Dark Matters‘ visuals are a mixed bag. It is not an offensive looking game; the protagonist’s sprites are well drawn and have enough range of animation to get the point across. However, the artist’s commit the cardinal sin of mixing HD graphics with chunky pixel art.
The effect is jarring and unappealing. Mixing these styles makes the presentation appear to be sloppy and amateurish. All the environments are done in a very slick and sharp, clean-edged manner. Characters and their portraits are drawn in a more traditional pixel art style that looks like something out of Axiom Verge.
Certain assets don’t get the same attention as the characters. Elements like bullets or the shielding effects for the enemies have no style or personality- like Gunborg: Dark Matters is still using some programmer graphics.
For its price, Gunborg: Dark Matters runs a bit steep when looking at the competition. At its best, this is a cheap thrill that won’t last very long. There is no intriguing story to get absorbed in or rewarding unlockable content to work towards.
Mere hours after beating the game for the Gunborg: Dark Matters review, most of it went in one ear and out the other. In the grand ocean of brutally difficult indie action games, there is not a lot to distinguish this one from its contemporaries.
Gunborg: Dark Matters was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Red Art Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Gunborg: Dark Matters is now available for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.