HomeTrending GamesThe Gunk Review: Slogging Through The Slop

The Gunk Review: Slogging Through The Slop

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It’s likely no accident that The Gunk looks like Super Mario Sunshine meets Luigi’s Mansion. Image & Form Games – now known as Thunderful Development – has a history of co-opting proven mechanics and mashing them up to create something new. But while the SteamWorld series consistently delivered innovative experiences across a wide range of genres, The Gunk only manages to imitate its inspirations without offering anything original. Even its story – which serves as a cautionary tale about over-indulging and the importance of ecological preservation – treads through well-worn (goopy) ground. While its characters are charming and its environments visually stunning, The Gunk doesn’t do anything that other games haven’t already done better.

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In an Alien-esque future where the Earth has been drained of its resources, space haulers Rani and Becks arrive on an uncharted planet hoping to recover some rare metals to make a quick buck. As Rani sets out to scan for resources, she quickly discovers pockets of parasitic gunk infecting the flora and corrupting the fauna. Using her vacuum-like power glove, Rani begins clearing the gunk and healing the planet. Though Becks wants to focus on the mission and forget the gunk, Rani can’t ignore the call to adventure, and sets off into the wild to find the source of the gunk and stop it from destroying the planet.

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The power glove can suck up giant piles of gunk just like Luigi’s Poltergust sucks up ghosts. Every time you clear out an area, lush greenery instantly sprouts from the ground and paints the world in bright colors. It’s the exact same mechanic we’ve seen in games like Super Mario Sunshine, Flower, Okami, and even this year’s Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It’s certainly satisfying, but the novelty of it wears off quickly, especially considering how many times it’s been done before. Some gunk globs can take quite a while to clean up, which I didn’t totally mind because I’m one of those weirdos that likes mopping the floor in home renovation games like House Flipper. There’s a job sim-like gratification that comes from cleaning up globs of goop, but the formula doesn’t evolve at all throughout the game. Sucking up gunk at the beginning is the same process as sucking up gunk at the end, and none of the upgrades you unlock add anything useful.


As you explore the linear environments sucking up gunk and solving puzzles, you’ll find crafting materials like metal and fiber that you can use to purchase upgrades. This includes things like the ability to run, more sucking power for your glove, a wider suction area, and more health. None of the upgrades had any impact at all on my playstyle, nor did they give me a sense of power progression. In fact, aside from two progression-dependent upgrades – one that lets you pick up and and throw objects and one that lets you fire a plasma pulse to interact with distant objects – I could have gotten through the game just as easily without investing in a single upgrade. They feel like an afterthought rather than a meaningful progression system.



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You’ll find the same paper-thin quality with just about every aspect of The Gunk. There are frequent lock-and-key puzzles, but they all utilize the same two mechanics. Either you’re carrying a seed to a plot to grow a plant you can climb, or you’re throwing a bomb at a glob of gunk to destroy it. Occasionally, you’ll need to shoot a plasma pulse at a switch to activate it, but those instances are never challenging enough to be considered puzzles. The environmental puzzles never evolve or get more complex. Once you’ve solved one, you’ve solved them all.

While platforming and puzzle-solving are core to the gameplay, The Gunk puts its biggest emphasis on the story and characters. Unfortunately, there’s not much meat on those bones either. The source of the gunk is predictable if you’ve played any of the aforementioned games or have ever seen a movie with themes about protecting the environment, and it doesn’t offer a perspective that we haven’t already seen from any number of identical white savior stories. Rani succeeds by saving the aliens from themselves – it would be offensive if it wasn’t so cliched.


The one aspect I did find inspiring was the relationship between Rani and Becks. Rani’s adventurous spirit leads her to jump first and consider the consequences later, while the level-headed Becks is overly-cautious and fear-motivated. Their opposing instincts eventually lead to a conflict that’s resolved through empathy and honest communication. I enjoyed watching Rani and Becks overcome obstacles in their relationship and I was moved by how deeply Becks cared for and worried about Rani, particularly at times when Rani ventured into dangerous territory and lost her radio connection to her partner. They’re a wonderfully realized couple, so I find it incredibly disappointing that the game goes to such lengths to obscure the nature of their relationship. Representation is incredibly important and The Gunk had a great opportunity to put forward two strong and complex queer characters. The fact that it’s so deliberately vague about whether or not they’re in a relationship together feels cowardly. Given recent headlines about other studios, my suspicion is that keeping things blurry makes the game more marketable in regions that are less accepting of gay characters. It may be the case that Thunderful Games sees The Gunk as something so progressive that it didn’t need to make their relationship explicit, but it just comes across as overt queerbaiting.



TheGunk_Screenshots_GiantGunk

The Gunk is not a disastrous game. I enjoyed turning my brain off for five hours and exploring this strange and mysterious planet. It’s okay for games to just be empty calories sometimes, and I wouldn’t knock The Gunk for just being a generic popcorn flick. The Gunk aspires to be more than that though, and it falls considerably short. The quality of the SteamWorld games gavethe expectation that this would be a fresh take on the third-person adventure genre, but The Gunk is too shallow for me to recommend – even in the slow December months. If you’re looking for character-driven action-adventure games on Game Pass, Lake and Firewatch were both added earlier this week. Give those a look and leave The Gunk in the gutter.


The Gunk Review Card

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