It’s always lovely when you find a hidden gem, and despite this being a brand new release, The Gunk feels like it’s one them. It’s a relatively short game, though in this case that’s not a bad thing in fairness, and what else do you expect from an entirely linear platforming puzzler? What surprised me was its purpose being to tell a story which if you think about it can be linked to what’s happening in our world today, and revolves around two characters called Becks and Rani. They land on a planet tracking an unknown signal, and discover the planet is overrun with goo, or as you’ll have picked up from the title – The Gunk. Playing the entire game as Rani, he is wanting to find the signal as well as clean up the planet, so it’s handy he has essentially a portable vacuum on his hand that can suck up all the gunk. Clearing it away helps the planet slowly come back to life. During the play time the characters chat to each other and it all gives character depth for them which is interesting to listen to, especially as they’re jokey a lot of the time. I especially liked Rani asking Becks to join the adventure but bailing out through lack of quality footwear.
As The Gunk progresses you find out more about the world and its inhabitants, eventually meeting one of the aliens and having the mission change to save them as well as the planet. I won’t ruin too much of the story, but it does get more interesting as it goes. What I would have liked to see is more lore or collectables giving additional back story on the people who were living here. Image & Form Games have created a beautiful world to look at… in fact its visuals are a big part keeping you going as the game play elements are very repetitive and light touch. Rani has a tool which can scan objects to give you more data on them and same with the plant life, but that’s about it. The only things that can be collected are metal pieces, some plants, and other materials and they’re all used to upgrade Rani’s vacuum (okay, it’s called Pitbull, but sorry it’s a space age Hoover). Its upgrade system really is nothing complex, it’s not bringing anything new or interesting to the table, and it’s the same with the collectables. That’s a shame as I’d love to been finding more secrets and info even if it were just books or tablets of some kind. What is clever though is that you can imagine what the world was like due to the level design, it’s beautifully crafted and when the gunk is cleared, very pretty to look at.
The gameplay mechanics are best described as light, and it’s very much a repeat throughout. The Gunk has puzzles yet they’re so easy they barely are puzzles, and it’s the usual shoot this button, spin this bridge-type. All simple and at best you’ll chuck a plant into some green goo to get yourself higher to reach another bomb plant and that’s it. There really isn’t anything remotely challenging. See a wall you need to climb? It has a bit of yellow on it just so you’ll know which one. Luckily they’re somewhat varied enough for it not to be annoying, but the short run time helps more with that. Moving onto the combat… again it’s simple. In fact Rani can’t fight much at all, but the enemies don’t pose a challenge. There are what can be described as critters (no, not the B-movie ones!), who jump for a nibble though all you need to do is suck them up and throw ’em back and that’s it. Later on there’s a bull type which has the typical glowing part giving away what you need to hit, and of course, one that chucks bombs at you. Combat isn’t varied enough due to lack of overall action in the game, lack of enemy types doesn’t help, and them being no challenge either just adds to the fact it’s there to break up the puzzle and exploring in between.
That being said, The Gunk has been one of the most relaxing games to play in what is a busy quarter for game releases, and just generally a busy time of the year. I enjoyed my 6 hours despite the odd flaw, it’s simple to pick up and play, and there is nothing wrong with that when it’s just what you want. Becks and Rani were interesting enough, as was the world design, and it kept me going. It’s strange to say, but the cleaning part of the game getting rid of the gunk was nicely relaxing, and maybe I’m strange, but it was just a nice game to play. Most titles at the moment are going full throttle, yet this is the complete opposite to that and I recommend it as it’s something for when you just want something cleansing.
The Gunk is available now on PC and Xbox Series X|S for around £25, and is available on Game Pass if you’re subscribed.