There is something peaceful about cleaning. Watching a dirty or messy area slowly transform back into something usable, livable, and beautiful. This is the key idea of The Gunk, the newest game by developer Image & Form and Thunderful Publishing. Image & Form has moved on from 2-D stories about robots to the 3-D action-adventure realm full of monsters, gunk, and gorgeous scenery transformations.
Taking place on an isolated alien planet, you play as Rani (voiced by Fiona Nova). Rani and her partner in crime, Beck, land on a planet just wanting to survive before having to head home. Upon landing, Rani finds a bleak landscape full of a poisonous pollution-filled glob she names gunk. Rani quickly discovers that with the use of her power glove, she is able to vacuum up the gunk and reveal underneath it all flourishing life. A life that couldn’t survive after whatever was there borderline killing the planet. Rani immediately takes it upon herself to find the source of the gunk and save the planet.
The best way to describe the gameplay of The Gunk is to imagine if Luigi’s Mansion 3 didn’t have tank controls, mixed in some Metroid Prime scanning, and was from the over-the-shoulder perspective. Thing is, the controls do feel clunky. Rani isn’t the greatest to control especially when you mix in all the platforming you have to do. Add in vacuuming up which makes Rani move slowly, and the game can feel tedious. Which is why I say this game isn’t for everyone. I really enjoyed it in the end. There is magic in seeing this planet slowly come to life and finding the mystery of what happened. But all the climbing and all the forced slow movement when actually cleaning can sour anyone’s experience.
The Gunk has found a great way to add variety to what could be a monotonous game. And that is with the level variety. This corrupted world hides many secrets. From a beautiful forest to ancient advanced ruins, each hold its own mystery that adds to the overarching story. Each is filled with its own life that feels fitting too. For instance, in a cave, I found several plants that grew metal. In the lush jungle, I found more plants that gave me organic materials. Both were needed to build upgrades that provided much-needed quality of life changes (like being able to run!). The key thing is each area isn’t some straight and narrow path that feels samey. There is so much to explore with many, many, nooks and crannies filled with plants that carry materials for upgrades.
Plus, there aren’t just upgrade materials that the game wants to be found. If you’ve played Metroid Prime, you’re probably familiar with scanning the environment and getting fun little lore tidbits. I found the scan feature in this game to be just as engaging while also carrying more weight. There is a lot to scan, and finding a certain amount of objects, plant life, or even gunk creatures awards you with upgrades. This is how you get all the upgrades that eventually make the endgame trivial. For example, you can get a sprint ability, a gadget that attracts enemies in combat, and even a stronger vacuum to speed up gunk cleanup. As I mentioned before though, the game doesn’t just hand out upgrades like candy. You need those resources from harvesting to build them. It was a nice balance that encouraged me to explore way more than I would originally have, as well as encouraged me to fall in love with this planet’s history.
Surprisingly, there is combat as well. The gunk comes to life, and with it spawns gunk creatures that attack you like a defense mechanism. What could create a very interesting scenario, what with these gunk monsters coming to life, has no complexity to it. There are 3 types of enemies that you fight throughout the game. The most common form is a little gunk creature that lunges at you. There’s also a turret that you need to get close to to uproot it and a boar-like form that acts as a mini-boss. I wish there was more variety because shortly after the first encounter, any fight becomes trivial. Even later on, the point of the combat section becomes almost meaningless once you unlock the lethal upgrade for an optional blaster that instantly takes out the smaller monsters and stuns the larger ones. Without going into spoilers, I wish there was an actual boss that was almost a larger-than-life gunk creature for the sole reason that this corruption coming to life is such an interesting idea. If only it was fleshed out more.
The last point I want to touch on is the voice acting. One of the major marking points was former Achievement Hunter, current G4-er Fiona Nova is the voice of the lead, Rani. She and her co-star and voice of Becks, Abigail Turner, sell the struggle these two have gone through and continue to go through for one another. Plus. they do a fantastic job selling that this isn’t their first rodeo. Both characters have history and history with each other. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without a well-written script, but the duo’s voice acting really puts the icing on top.
While not perfect, The Gunk is a fun game that carries a great and important message. We need to save our environment. With a compelling story, relaxing yet sometimes boring gameplay, and stunning visuals, I recommend checking out this game. Let The Gunk slowly take you in, because it will be worth it in the end. Especially if you have Game Pass.
The Gunk is available now on Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
While not perfect, The Gunk is a fun game that carries a great and important message. We need to save our environment. A compelling story, relaxing yet sometimes boring gameplay, and stunning visuals.