A huge spaceship is floating somewhere in space, filled with jagged surfaces, lasers, and trigger-happy enemies. A small warrior faces the entire defense system of this ship and it turns out that I am that warrior. Armed with a blunt lightsaber, a lightning shield, and a backpack that allows me to triple jump, I embark on an attempt to wed Super Meat Boy to Hollow Knight, with lots of sci-fi, synths, and an unmistakable arcade spirit. Gunborg: Dark Matters wants to be many things, but He finds it difficult to live up to his own ambitions.
Gunborg’s concept is simple and has been tried many times across the broad subgenre of similar side-scrolling platformers. It consists of jumping, fighting and shooting through a small plethora of levels. The walkthroughs available are mostly quite simple and can be completed in a matter of minutes, making Gunborg an ideal game if you want to entertain yourself for a while as it quickly becomes monotonous during long gaming sessions. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a challenge throughout the game, as the levels are largely confined to a few rooms where you have to maneuver around spiked surfaces or lasers. There are also occasional enemies located at strategic points, so progression is a bit more complicated.
The problem with this is that the difficulty rarely gets high enough for Gunborg to be truly rewarding. The changes to the challenge are minimal and no new mechanics or abilities are ever introduced, instead you’ll have to make do with the triple jump you have from the start. This is only noticeable in the final levels a pinnacle of difficulty, but it’s an occasional thing that doesn’t match the previous progression curve at all. Sure, it was fun to finally push the game to its limits, but with such an impressive increase comes frustration, because nobody prepared you for something like that. As you get used to these more difficult parts, the game suddenly ends. After 12 levels. Insane.
When Gunborg reaches the crest of the wave, it turns out quite entertaining. In addition to the sword, as I said before, you can wield a shield that reflects anything thrown at it. Being able to move between a group of enemies while stabbing and ricocheting their shots is a very comfortable feeling. The defeated aliens also drop their laser weapons for you to pick up and use until they run out of ammo, and they certainly add some excitement to the heat of battle, although they can be quite unwieldy at times. If you manage to kill a certain number of enemies in a streak without taking any damage, you can switch to Dark Matter mode, in which the properties of weapons are boosted, making you even more dangerous until you get rid of getting hit by them This mechanic improves the experience, but the shortness of the levels means you rarely get to use this mode in depth, the fun wears off pretty quickly.
Gunborg’s controls are fairly simple, and the control scheme is well thought out in almost every way. I say “almost” because apparently during development someone thought it was a good idea to put the jump button on “L2” (on PS5), which drastically reduces the accuracy of harder jump challenges. It takes too long to pull the trigger all the way down to effectively traverse passages full of lasers. Luckily, you can change the controls, and after swapping “L2” for “X” things improve a lot. Still, I would have liked to have had some “dash” style moves, that could have made the battles more interesting and the design of the platforms would have added more variety, as the lack of innovation takes its toll.
Stylistically, Gunborg: Dark Matters has a certain charm, and I like the way Rickard Paulsson, its developer, built it a simple but interesting animated world, full of neon colors and designs. The retro-futuristic soundtrack, complete with synthesizers, is oddly nostalgically reminiscent of ’80s arcades and, together with well-integrated sound effects, creates an intriguing soundscape that greatly enhances the experience. On the PlayStation 5, the DualSense does an excellent job once again, transferring everything that’s happening on screen to the palms of your hands and managing it, whether it’s with the feel of a swipe or the resistance of the laser gun’s trigger, to get you fully into the situation bring. It works wonders for the dive.
While the basic concept is there, Gunborg: Dark Matters leaves a lot to be desired in terms of difficulty, length, and variety. with 12 miserable levels, along with 3 extra, everything goes so fast that it is difficult to develop its aroma. However, if the battles have enough space, the reflective shield can be a lot of fun. If it was up to me, it would have included a lot more enemies and more boss fights. If each level had its own boss, the game might have been more challenging and given the levels more of their own identity. However, the visual style and music create a worthwhile atmosphere that I’d like to see more of in other games but can’t highlight Gunborg: Dark Matters.