Following the 2017 release of SteamWorld Dig 2, the team behind Image & Form were hoping to expand their horizons with their next project. A game prototype was eventually tested that resulted in players vacuuming up black gunk allowing for plants to grow that the team deemed "ridiculously gratifying," and thus The Gunk became Image & Form's next game.
Releasing Dec. 16, The Gunk is a third-person action-adventure title that tells the story of Rani and Becks, best friends and partners who scavenge the galaxy in a ragtag spaceship affectionately known as Dust Bunny. Becks is a skilled and resourceful mechanic who manages to keep the Bunny going despite the pair's tough times. Rani, the playable character, has a heart of gold but often lets their adventurous nature guide them.
Having lost their arm in a mining incident prior to The Gunk's events, Rani is equipped with a large, orange, mechanical prosthetic arm the duo refer to as Pumpkin. Pumpkin serves as a scanner so that players can learn identifying information about items in the world, as well as a vacuum for sucking up crafting materials and gunk.
Bottom line: The Gunk is a satisfying puzzle-adventure game where two down-on-their-luck space scrappers must help save an alien planet from a destructive black goo. The combat in The Gunk does feel frustratingly underbaked, but solid story pacing and excellent puzzle challenges help overshadow the struggle.
- Beautiful environment
- Puzzles are enjoyable
- Writing and voice acting is well done
- Combat is underbaked
- Limited accessibility options
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Thunderful Games. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
The Gunk: What you'll like
For most of its roughly eight-hour playtime, The Gunk excels at being a story-driven puzzle-adventure where players explore a visually stunning planet that is slowly being devoured by a mysterious black goo. Rani scrambles through tiny and dark crawl spaces in caves into giant open meadows with streams and unusual flora bursting with colors, giving players a sense of an expansive world full of potential despite the game mainly sticking to linear pathing. The Gunk's environmental storytelling is above the board, as Rani explores and interacts with the remnants of an ancient alien civilization. The more Rani uncovers, the deeper the mystery of the planet becomes.
|Developer||Image & Form|
|Xbox version||Xbox Series X|
|Play time||7-8 hours|
|Xbox Game Pass||Yes|
The gunk itself in the game is an all-encompassing corruption. Areas that are covered in the gunk are dark and lifeless, but players can use Pumpkin to vacuum up the gunk and effectively clean each area. Once all of the gunk is removed, a green bubble swells up around Rani, bursting color and plant life around them.
Clearing out the gunk often requires a bit of puzzle solving, however, as Rani's vacuum skill has limited range. Players will need to engage with the environment by growing mushrooms or throwing explosive plant heads to clear obstacles in their path to overcome the alien planet's terrain.
These puzzles are well planned out, and its typically fairly easy to come up with the solutions for them adding to the casual exploratory nature of the first half of the game. Generally, objects that players can interact with feature a gold sparkle to help them stand out. This can make it easier to find and collect crafting materials that are needed to create upgrades for Pumpkin. However, there is no map so if you do happen to miss collecting something, you may find yourself at the end of the game running back and forth through previous areas trying desperately to find more crafting materials. Thankfully, there is a fast travel beacon located at the entrance to each segment.
The Gunk: What you won't like
There's a surprising lack of wildlife on the alien planet we visit during our time with The Gunk. In one particular chapter we encounter an unusual animal that we help to save from the dreaded Gunk Critters, but following the conclusion of the chapter we never see another one of these animals ever again. Seeing a little more wildlife could have helped cement the story note that this is a planet that needs you to save it. The lack of wildlife diversity also spills over into the handful of enemies that you'll encounter in The Gunk.
In fact, I'd dare say the combat as a whole is the one glaring weak spot in the entire game. There are only three enemy types that the player will encounter in The Gunk, and the only means Rani has for tackling them is with Pumpkin's vacuum suction. This leaves players having to get Rani up close to the enemies to engage them. However, Rani doesn't have any moves available to dodge incoming attacks and their overall movement is a bit slow even when running. In a game that otherwise felt like a relaxing and satisfying adventure, the combat was an unnecessary struggle. Solving the puzzles and clearing the gunk were sufficient antagonists in their own right.
The Gunk: Should you play it?
The short answer to whether or not somebody should pick up The Gunk is a resounding "Yes, absolutely." While I did find the combat lacking, I was so enamored with the rest of the world that had been laid out before me that I didn't mind shuffling my way through the annoying Gunk Critters just so I could see what Rani was going to uncover next.
The narrative is a wonderful allegory for the importance of taking care of your home planet, but there's enough humor and puzzles and exploration laid at your feet that you feel like you're taking something genuine away from the experience. The Gunk is the kind of indie game that I would easily recommend to someone who thinks they don't like indie games. The game's inclusion in Xbox Game Pass on release means there's even more reasons to give it a try.
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