Gunborg: Dark Matters Review

Indie platformers have become a sort of home comfort for me in the past few years. Throughout the Xbox One’s life cycle the interest ramped up thanks to fantastic adventures such as Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, Ori & the Blind Forest, and Hollow Knight, and I very much hope that continues more throughout this generation with the Xbox Series consoles. The reason for these games becoming such a go-to for me is mostly down to the simplicity I find in traversing a 2D world. Sure, a 3D environment can be fantastical and deep, and when done correctly it can keep you involved for days, weeks, or even months at a time, but there is just something retro feeling about a 2D platformer that holds the magic to keep me wanting more. Fortunately, Gunborg: Dark Matters has recently arrived on Xbox, and with many hours now under my belt, this is another game that I am adding to my list of home comforts.

The game takes place within the confines of a spaceship which our protagonist boards early on in a dramatic fashion, before focussing the fight through the ship and onto the onboard security and multiple enemies that are occupied within. Gameplay presents as an arcade 2D platform shooter experience with twin-stick elements, and it has to be said it handles as smooth as you like.

As far as any real story goes, Gunborg is rather light on its feet with very little to go on in terms of narrative, but whilst story experiences are often important, it’s not the be-all and end-all of a game that comes up short in the storytelling department provided the gameplay can get things right, and Gunborg: Dark Matters gets things very right.

The gameplay is very fast, frantic and at times, furious. Think John Wick, equipped with a jetpack in a neon-lit 80’s inspired 2D world and you’ll quickly have a mental image that likely has everything wanting to kill you, whilst a protagonist performs slick wall jumping, shooting at all angles and countless bullets being fired whilst the environment shines off every surface. That image isn’t far from what you’re facing here and to help you deal with it all, you’ll need to make the most of the weapons and equipment available to you. Early on this equates to neon-lit sword and shield, however as you progress and drop the various enemies that cross your path, you’ll soon find a potential armory of harrowing weaponry to choose from that can then be unleashed against its wielders, for as long as the ammo remaining in each weapon lasts of course.

What’s more is combat gets better the more enemies you dispatch with dark energy to be collected with each enemy defeated, which is then used to change the ways in which your equipment and weapons work, with weapons becoming more powerful and things like your jetpack that is used for traversal getting a little extra oomph too, ensuring you can go that little further when trying to reach new areas.

The key to reaching the end however is by far making the most of your shield, as this thing makes even Captain America’s seem mediocre in comparison. Transitioning to your shield is incredibly smooth in Gunborg and given it can be used to avoid fire from incoming shots, as well as deflect enemy bullets back in the direction they came, it’s of vital importance that we face no delay when using it. The feature to note however is that it can also be used to cross hazards should you place it under you, and whilst it won’t be infinitely available thanks to only certain durability, it still makes the typical gaming shield look particularly average.

Something to note, however, is that whilst Gunborg is an incredibly satisfying game to play whilst you’re making progress, and some of that can be done by clever platforming and dodging certain enemies, it doesn’t take too long for things to ramp up and become rather challenging which can potentially halt the progress if you don’t quite match the skill required. For me, that simply adds to the experience but for many, there will be times that prove infuriating after you have died for the umpteenth time thanks to either a boss – which will happen a lot, thanks to the need to master movement and accuracy, or from things such as well-placed hazards such as lasers or spikes, etc, or simply multiple mistakes as you learn each area. You’ll know when you are getting close to this stage too as after the mechanics have been taught, the handholding is forgotten, and you will be thrown in to fend for yourself.

Of course, at this point, you have everything to progress through treacherous environments and deadly enemies, but it doesn’t take much for you to meet your demise and should you rush in, that will be something that you find happening more than you would ever expect from any modern platformer.

There is also an added bonus for players who regularly master the hardest titles out there as throughout the game, players can also actively collect infobots on their travels. These collectibles are usually found hidden amongst hazards and near-instant death for anyone looking to find them, but should you manage to do what it takes to grab them all, not only will you be smiling in the face of a brutally tough completion, but you’ll also unlock a mode that most won’t fathom mastering, a hardcore difficulty, as well as some bonus levels.

Away from the gameplay and we have to speak of the visuals and audio. Although I’ve already mentioned that the game takes on an 80‘s inspired vibe, it must be said that it looks absolutely incredible with it, in fact, both the audio and visuals are impressive here and go together seamlessly to bring a synth/neon/retro look and feel to things whilst the game still provides modern, smooth and fluid controls which keep things from feeling outdated. The music does a fantastic job of pushing you onwards with its pulsating rhythm, whilst even weapons look and sound the part as no one area has gone unpolished.

There is in fact very little I could argue is negative with Gunborg: Dark Matters besides perhaps the story possibly benefiting from a little more narrative, but even that had me reign myself in a little after finding out all of this comes from the creative genius of solo developer Rickard Paulsson, rather than an entire team of developers, and it has to be said that if you like a punishing yet fair platform shooting experience, then this is a splash of genius you must definitely play through rather than anything warranting any real criticism.


Overall, if you are after a moody, vibrant, and focussed action platformer that can hold your attention throughout, then Gunborg: Dark Matters is definitely one you should be playing, be it in 2022 or beyond. It may be incredibly challenging, it may in essence be basic platforming, but it also brings together well-crafted mechanics, smooth controls, and some fantastic gameplay to create a memorable and enjoyable title well worth your time and money.

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This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox Series S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.

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  • Visuals and audio are a masterclass
  • Challenging but fair
  • Gameplay is polished and enjoyable
  • Story could be a little more involved
Written by
After many years of dabbling and failing in Dark Souls and many other equally brutal gaming adventures, I can now be found in a state of relaxation, merely hunting for a little extra gamerscore or frightening myself with the latest Resident Evil - Sometimes I write about it too!

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