Xbox has slowly been catching up with Sony when it comes to exclusives that can hold their own. Not all games can be Halo and Gears of War. They do however have some smaller, more niche games like the Ori series, Sea of Thieves, Forza, and The Ascent. All are amazing games that stand on their own. In comes the next exclusive title The Gunk, by Image & Form Games / Thunderful Development AB.
The first time I saw a trailer for it, I will admit, I was unimpressed and laughed a bit at its title decision. It looked like a dark, dystopian world of Luigi’s Mansion. They showed minimal story and lots, and lots of vacuuming. To be fair, there is a lot of that happening in The Gunk, but surprisingly there was a lot more than that. There are also other aspects that would leave players wanting.
Players take on the role of Rani. She’s a half-glass-full kind of woman who seems curious and adventurous no matter the challenge. Becks is her pilot and of course at times a complete opposite of her. Yet she is caring where it matters most, her friend. Then there is the robot C.U.R.T., who only says “You’ve got served”. I guess it’s left to interpretation kind of like Groot. They are scavengers, flying from planet to planet finding what they can and selling their scores. Barely holding on to the bit of gas they have left, they land on a dark, “gunky” planet and find an energy source that they can sell. A very rare energy source obstructed and suppressed by what they call The Gunk.
So, Rani, with her trusted Robo-arm full of gadgets, goes out and explores the land and vacuums the gunk to clear the way. Every time the gunk is disposed of in each area, it reveals what the land truly looks like. A beautiful, living area that’s full of plant and animal life. Where were the animals before? I have no clue. The art and colors are bright and stylish. There are very disproportional character models kind of like Psychonauts, but it works very well, allowing it its own identity. The voice acting can be a bit childish in dialogue and enthusiasm, but it still fits the tone of the game. This is especially clear when Rani and Becks are in awe of what they are discovering.
While exploring, Rani can scan objects, flora, and fauna to gain points and unlock new upgrades for her arm. There is a lot to scan and plenty of upgrades to choose from but resources from plants and metal are needed to make them. There are lots of small, beaten paths that entice exploration to find more resources. These upgrades, however, aren’t very important and aren’t really a “game-changer”. I recommend exploring simply just for the beautiful art and environment. What I found most useful is faster vacuum speed since what you mostly do in this game is vacuum the gunk everywhere. Everything else aside from the mandatory gun upgrade to shoot switches to open doors isn’t needed at all. They all felt like very useless weapons such as:
- Decoy: Used to distract enemies within a small radius.
- Decoy upgrade: Wider range of radius.
- Movement speed: Move faster when vacuuming gunk. Sadly, only works for a very short time and only while vacuuming.
- Gun upgrade: Used to stun enemies.
- Health and healing upgrades
I should mention, the reasoning for my gripes with enemy combat upgrades is because The Gunk is not a very difficult game and has a laughable combat system. In fact, it leans more towards being a game aimed at children and teenagers. This does not mean it is a bad game. Players should just not expect much of a challenge. Enemies are far and few between, they aren’t smart, and they don’t do much damage. Even bosses are easy to deal with in an insanely simple manner. The gunk itself does not attack per se; it’s mainly an obstacle to figure out while it slows you down. It’s even more so just a nuisance when enemies are on the board. There are no difficult puzzles or platforming and no other mechanics that stand out aside from Rani’s vacuum.
Once more, this is not a terrible game. I honestly enjoyed my playthrough. What stood out to me the most was the environmental exploration and story. There is a mystery to be solved as to what is the gunk, what became of the civilization before and after its time, and the mysterious gardener. It is a very slow burn I quite enjoyed and was a very nice change of speed from the fast-paced action games that are always more popular.
What I suggest is to rein in your expectations a bit about what this game is and how it presented itself in trailers. It’s a great story, has amazing voice talent, and the graphics are stunning, colorful, and vibrant. The Gunk is a straightforward platformer that I would recommend to anyone that is into a nice steady story with simple mechanics and gentle atmospheric music. It will be even more so worth it when it is released on Game Pass on December 16th. The regular retail price is just as enticing at $24.99.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of The Gunk for Xbox Series X provided by Image & Form and Thunderful Publishing.