I don’t know why, but the idea of cleaning up some gooey substance on an alien world really appeals to me. That’s exactly what you do in The Gunk, the brilliantly titled new release from developer Thunderful Development (previously Image & Form… you know, the Steamworld team) that sees players… well… cleaning up gunk. Ok, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the core mechanic to this bizarre escapade, and you know what? It makes for a fun gameplay experience, even if it can get a little bit repetitive down the line.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
The Gunk puts players in the role of Rani, who, along with her bestie Becks, travels between planets in order to salvage their resources. It’s a decent enough gig that’s slowly helping them pay off their debts, albeit one that brings with it some risks seeing as they’re not always sure what exactly they’re going to find on each planet. In this case, they’ve found one full of a strange gooey substance that seems to be draining it of its life, whilst a mysterious signal leads them to even more peculiar occurrences on the planet. It’s up to Rani to help clear the titular gunk and try to find out what the heck is actually going on.
Let’s get one of the game’s core mechanics out of the way immediately: the gunk. Rani comes equipped with a special glove device, which can do a bunch of neat little tricks to help her get around, but more importantly can suck up the gunk. Clearing up the gunk helps return each area of the planet to its previous glorious self, giving players a satisfying sense of awe and discovery as luscious new sights come into view.
This was one of my favourite things about the whole game. I’m the kind of person who’s happy to sit and play PowerWash Simulator for hours on end, so finding the infectious gunk and cleaning it up kept a smile on my face. The beauty of the restorative effects of its cleansing is great to witness in-game, but it’s also satisfying to know that you’ve full cleared an area; it’s a hard satisfaction to describe, but if you get it, you GET it.
“I’m the kind of person who’s happy to sit and play PowerWash Simulator for hours on end, so finding the infectious gunk and cleaning it up kept a smile on my face.”
Of course, there’s more to The Gunk than just cleaning up goo, with plenty of platforming to be found as you traverse across the world, some baddies to beat up along the way, as well as a few little puzzles that’ll leave you scratching your head momentarily. Admittedly, there’s nothing too original to be found in these aspects of the game’s design that you wouldn’t have seen before, though using an assortment of special seeds with different powers to help solve puzzles or open up new pathways was kinda cool. Everything was just a little bit TOO simple to really help make The Gunk stand out when compared to similar adventure titles.
At least exploring the world remains a treat though, with plenty of weird and wonderful things to uncover as you clear up the gunk. Rani is pretty nimble too, making the platforming segments feel tight and satisfying in design. Whether you’re running, jumping, climbing, or hovering your way around, traversal in The Gunk feels good. Add to that a world that’s fairly expansive in scale but still easy to find your way around, and you’ll quickly find that exploration in the game never falls short of being a lot of fun.
There really is a lot to discover too, with Rani able to scan her surroundings to uncover new plant life, creatures, and so forth, whilst resources can also be collected and spent to unlock new upgrades. Whilst some of the upgrades are compulsory to progress such as the Pulse Cannon, things like the Energy Lure to goad creatures near to you, the Hydraulic Braces to let you sprint, or the Momentum Oscillator to suck up gunk faster can really help you out in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, The Gunk isn’t a difficult game so you won’t need to soup Rani up too much to reach the ending, but it felt good to know that she was well prepared for the job at hand.
“The beauty of the restorative effects of its cleansing is great to witness in-game, but it’s also satisfying to know that you’ve full cleared an area; it’s a hard satisfaction to describe, but if you get it, you GET it.”
I had a lot of fun playing The Gunk and loved sucking up the gunk and uncovering more of its gorgeous world. However, when it came to platforming and puzzle-solving, I found that it run out of ideas fast, with a sense of repetition kicking in towards the back end of the game. Don’t get me wrong, nothing was bad at all, but I did find that I was doing a lot of the same things over and over again, with little in the way of imaginative design to spice up the experience. I was never bored (though it does help that the game’s seven-hour length means that it doesn’t outstay its welcome), but I’ve played better third-person adventures that kept me more enthralled until the final moments.
Still, there’s SOMETHING about The Gunk that makes it easy to recommend. Maybe it’s the intriguing plot and likable characters, maybe it’s the beautiful world, maybe it’s because sucking up gunk is so damn satisfying, or maybe it’s the fact that it’s available on Xbox Game Pass?
The Gunk Review
The Gunk isn’t perfect, but the gorgeous alien world, fun narrative, and satisfying act of sucking up gunk certainly make it worth playing. Whilst the puzzling and platforming might not keep players too excited until the very end, discovering more of the peculiar world will. Earning upgrades along the way is a treat too, even if the game’s easy difficulty does mean that you’re unlikely to struggle without them.
Despite its shortcomings, there’s a lot more good than bad in this charming adventure, ensuring The Gunk is a worthwhile addition to the Xbox Game Pass catalogue that subscribers should certainly take a look at.
Developer: Thunderful Development
Platform(s): Xbox Series X|S (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC