It’s no secret that the fuzzy faced wonders at TBG are fans of Xbox Game Pass, and why wouldn’t we be? Over 100 titles available at any given time from blockbuster hits to indie sleepers and everything in between all for a wallet-friendly subscription price? Yes please! So, when it was announced that a little indie gem called The Gunk would be coming to Game Pass on day 1, I was eager to have it pre-installed and ready to go as a quirky alternative to Halo Infinite. So was I served up a slice of delight or did this one suck the life out of me? Let’s take a look
Originally announced in July 2020, The Gunk comes to us from developer Image & Form who are best known for their popular SteamWorld series, however, The Gunk is their first step into the world of 3D graphics for which they utilised the Unreal 4 engine. After discovering an energy signal from a strange planet, space scavengers Rani and Becks head down in search of resources. The game puts you in control of Rani, an optimistic and inquisitive explorer who sets out to investigate the planet surface only to find that the area may not be as lifeless as it first appears.
Fear not, there are no leathery objects containing face-hugging parasites here, but there is a lot of black splooging liquid that becomes known as, you guessed it, The Gunk! Dun-Dun-DUUUUUUN! Using a device that is affectionately called “Pumpkin” Rani is able to suck up the gunk (though I never quite figured out where it all goes) and reveal the vegetation beneath. Doing so is the core mechanic of the gameplay, suck up gunk, watch foliage come back to life which opens up new pathways and areas to explore all while uncovering the mysteries of the planet and its long-lost civilisation.
Down to Earth
Throughout the 4-5 hour campaign, the story unfolds at a steady pace and although it never does anything truly drastic, it does deliver an engaging narrative that is as much about the state of the planet Rani is exploring as well as throwing a few nods at the state of our own planet. The gameplay loop is pretty basic and although some enemies and puzzle elements are introduced to mix things up, they never detract from the narrative which is played out with some solid voice acting between Rani and Becks.
Each section of the planet is its own little hub which you can explore to find various resources and scan foliage (the achievements are fairly straightforward in this one) resources allow you to upgrade Pumpkin and also give yourself a helping hand by increasing resilience or unlocking sprint. Enemies take various forms, but most are simple to overcome making this a relaxing experience while being accessible to younger gamers. A few environmental hazards/puzzles might get you scratching your head for five minutes, but the experience never becomes overwhelming.
Platforming is the name of the game in between sucking up the gunk and I am pleased to say (as someone who sucks at platforming) it all works really smoothly. Navigating moving platforms, avoiding hazards and pulling levers are all used to a balanced degree though don’t expect anything groundbreaking like the third coming of Mario. One of the most satisfying elements and something that is an indicator of your progress within an area is the visuals. The planet in its gunky state is dark and bleak but once you have cleared all the gunk out the foliage springs to life before your eyes as plants, tree’s and grass all unfold in glorious fashion. It’s a really nice visual that never failed to impress, coupled with the stylish art design and fantastic music score the world was a pleasure to explore.
Though set in the future, The Gunk doesn’t overdo it with complexities, the graphics are really nice though nothing that will blow you away from a technical standpoint on the Series X, the controls are intuitive with only a few basic functions to worry about, pumpkin is used with the right bumper while jumping is performed by pressing A with general character and camera controls being assigned to the left and right sticks accordingly. Additional functions all take place with face buttons making the experience feel familiar to anyone who has dabbled in a 3D platformer before.
The Gunk may not be the most ‘exciting’ adventure game I have ever played, certainly not in the same way that Ratchet and Clank is and I couldn’t help but feel like some of the mechanics never quite reached their full potential, but there was definitely something engaging about how everything was put together and I found myself really drawn into the world that Image & Form have created.
The Gunk is a fun and relaxing platforming adventure with plenty of heart and soul to its world and story. Great visuals, engaging dialogue and a great music score make this a great addition to Game Pass. I hope we get to see the ideas and concepts expanded on in future entries but even if this is a one and done title, Image & Form have done a great job!
Format: Xbox, PC
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle, Platformer
Developer: Image & Form Games
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Download link: Microsoft Store