Gunbrick Reloaded feels like the full potential of everything that a browser game from the late 2000s could possibly be. Created by Nitrome, masters of the now-lost art of browser flash games, Gunbrick is a puzzle platformer that incorporates all the guiding principles of flash and mobile game development and polishes them in this shiny modern repackaging.
For some personal background, I grew up playing Nitrome’s browser games. I spent many an afternoon exploring their website and experiencing the diverse wealth of free games on offer there. I was enamored with their intuitive design back then, and as I played through Gunbrick Reloaded, their latest release following 2018’s Bomb Chicken, I was immediately brought back to those simpler times.
“Gunbrick Reloaded really doesn’t feel like a 2020 console game…and that’s far from a bad thing”
The entire game is built around a single core concept–you’re a brick with a gun–but every one of its 40+ stages pushes that concept to its limit. Gunbrick is Nitrome at its best, packed with brain-teasing puzzles and designed with charming simplicity.
You can glean everything you need to know about Gunbrick’s gameplay from its title alone. You play as the pilot of a militarized brick that has an indestructible shield on one side and a gun on the other. You move by rolling from side to side, firing your gun to push off of surfaces, attack enemies, and fly through the air. Given this control scheme, the primary puzzle that you’ll face in Gunbrick is simply the question of how to get from point A to B.
For example, if you have to get to the platform above you, you’ll have to perform a “rocket jump” by shooting the ground below you to push your brick up through the air. Similarly, if there’s a giant laser blocking your path, you’ll have to make sure you roll so as to position your shield above you to block it as you roll underneath. Since there’s no way to independently position either your shield or your gun without rolling your brick forward or backward, most puzzles challenge you to think through every move and make sure you move your brick with the appropriate sides facing up.
What is most impressive about Gunbrick Reloaded is how immaculate the level design is. Nearly every stage introduces new gameplay ideas and develops them fully, constantly challenging the player yet never feeling too obtuse. For example, one world introduces sticky surfaces that allow you to roll up walls or across ceilings; meanwhile, another stage features switch tiles that move you in the opposite direction as soon as you land on them. Nitrome experiments with these ideas and develops them ingeniously from level to level, such that the game constantly feels varied and its puzzles stay engaging.
As its name would suggest, Gunbrick Reloaded is an upgraded version of a 2015 mobile game, which was in turn a vastly expanded take on a basic browser flash game. This reloaded release makes a few notable additions for the game’s first appearance on console (Switch) and PC. The most significant of these are all-new hidden bonus levels, which take Gunbrick to the third dimension for the first time. These bonus levels are designed from an isometric 3D perspective, and this new point of view allows for new opportunities to challenge your every move. The original concept of Gunbrick wasn’t designed for 3D, so these new levels can sometimes feel a bit confusing compared to the tightly designed originally game–the camera in particular is a bit finicky, as is often the case for games in isometric perspectives–but they still freshen up the game and provide unique ways of experiencing this blocky world. Another minor yet much appreciated addition is the inclusion of HD rumble in the Switch version, which goes a long way towards fleshing out the game and making every blast from your gunbrick feel that much more significant.
“Although the game takes place in a box-centered world, its personality is anything but square.”
Gunbrick isn’t the lengthiest game around. It took me only a few hours to work through its three main worlds and twelve bonus levels, but this isn’t so much of a problem considering how perfectly paced these levels feel. Each one is a natural extension of what came before it. It is a shame that there isn’t much incentive to revisit each level, though; aside from going back and trying to find hidden levels you missed the first time around, there isn’t much more to do. That said, you’d be hard pressed to find another game that’s as compact and endearing as Gunbrick. The question is whether you’d be willing to shell out the cash for a game that only takes a few hours to beat.
Anyone who’s played previous Nitrome titles will know exactly what to expect from the game visually. Gunbrick has the distinctly chunky (dare I say boxy) pixelated graphics that the developers have become known for, and although the game takes place in a box-centered world, its personality is anything but square. With quirky little civilians to squash in each level, oddball little TV shows to watch from the level select screen, and the delightful comic book-style cutscenes, Gunbrick is packed with a distinctly wacky attitude. The funky Sega Genesis-inspired soundtrack only helps lay on the charm even thicker.
Gunbrick Reloaded really doesn’t feel like a 2020 console game. Its design is rooted in the down-to-the-essentials philosophy of flash and mobile games–and that’s far from a bad thing. Rather, it gives Gunbrick a sense of focus and clarity that isn’t often seen in games nowadays. Its levels are compelling, filled with puzzles that are just difficult enough to tease your brain but intuitive enough to keep you from ever getting discouraged. It is over very quickly, though, even with all the bonus content added in. That said, it’s elegant and engaging from beginning to end, which is far more than can be said for many games twice its length. Maybe it feels like it’s over too soon, but this weaponized brick nonetheless lays a solid foundation for an excellent puzzling experience.