Nothing gets me like a good action-adventure platformer, especially one with a realized and beautiful world. So seeing The Gunk recently hyped up on social media, I needed to go out and try it. Luckily, it’s available on Game Pass, so I was able to snag it up easily.
However, how does this tale of two friends on a strange alien planet filled with goopy gunk stack up on the pantheon of 3D platformers and action-adventure games? Well, let’s suck up some of the gunk and see what beauty might be hiding in this title.
Two Friends and a Planet to Save
The story is incredibly simple: Two friends land on an alien planet and are looking for things that could make them some extra money with their client. Becks is the pilot of the ship, Bunny, and Rani is the boots on the ground explorer and Captain. We take on the role of Rani and get to experience this planet firsthand while Becks stays back and supervises camp.
This split in perception and general nature is what helps to set the clash between these two characters because as Rani sees and learns more about the planet, Becks is staying back and remaining dead set on their individual responsibilities. You can begin to see this character conflict early on as Becks starts to plead with Rani to return to the ship, but Rani keeps being drawn away by new things.
That is until she finds and rescues Heri from his captivity. Heri is a native to the planet and explains that his planet and people are in peril. Rani immediately volunteers to help out, much to the Becks’ chagrin. The rest of the game is about cleaning up gunk, restoring the natural environment, and trying to reach the Gardener to put a stop to these events once and for all.
The Gardener is the scientist who convinced everyone on the planet to essentially plug themselves into the Matrix and forget about the physical world while that world began to decay and the Gardener remained in his body, reaping the power of the entire planet.
It’s a straightforward story that more or less acts as a backdrop to the characters and allows us to traverse this beautiful world. However, the ongoing main conflict is the confrontation between Becks and Rani which irritated me.
I thought Becks was being reasonable initially since Rani wasn’t listening but then they find out that there are sentient creatures in trouble and Becks only gets more mad. The way she is portrayed, Becks makes it seem like she can’t even fathom why Rani would help these people at all. I feel like the reason is pretty obvious but what Becks is actually stressing about is not.
Becks later reveals some of her worries about debt and such in a later scene but it feels incredibly rushed and I never felt any payoff to this conflict besides relief that I didn’t need to hear this petty arguing anymore from either character. For most of the game, I wished I was walking in silence so I could enjoy this world without constant bickering in my ear.
But don’t get me wrong, the voice acting is pretty solid, and I enjoyed the characters individually. However, it was the way that the devs went about delivering their character conflict that irritated me as it lasted the entire journey and felt really forced at times. If there is a sequel in this universe, I’d love to see more of both of these characters as long as they don’t find another petty reason to fight with each other.
The main game mechanic is sucking up the gunk and materials using Rani’s right arm she’s nicknamed, “Pumpkin.” It can be pretty satisfying to scoop up the gunk and collect materials, and I never got too tired of it. The materials can be used to craft upgrades to help Rani suck up gunk faster, run faster, or even set little traps down for enemies.
That’s right, there are enemies that spawn in the gunk. These little gunk aliens come in three iterations, and each one is just as annoying as the last when I am trying to enjoy my time cleaning up this planet like it’s Isle Delfino.
My favorite part of the game was running around scanning objects to see if I could expand my encyclopedia any further. This was a way to deliver a lore dump onto the player while identifying key materials for upgrades. It felt a lot like a little scanger hunt and honestly was a more compelling reason for clearing the gunk than the actual plot because I would be looking for anything new that would spawn.
Speaking of Isle Delfino, when you manage to clean up an area and remove all the gunk, all the plants will come back to life and flourish. This can reveal new ways to traverse the environment like these flower tongues that act like bridges or special pools that, if Rani throws the correct plant in, will burst into a new plant for platforming.
The platforming in this game is nothing to write home about. It’s mostly the standard affair of jumping from one equally distanced platform to another. Its inclusion seems more to make the world feel more real than for any sort of challenge.
If there is any challenge in this game, it’s maybe solving the puzzles, if you can call them that. There will be times when you need to track down a way to get from one room to another, and you need to find the plant that will get you there. You might walk around for a bit before you stare up and see the seed you need about 30 feet off the ground. That’s about the extent of the difficulty when it comes to the puzzles.
Otherwise, there is the one and only boss battle which is the final fight of the game. Here you will have to face all of the gunk aliens again as well as someone shooting a giant laser at you. This fight honestly felt really out of place, as did most of the fighting in this game.
The Gunk gives off a more chill vibe cleaning up a planet rather than a game that is trying to give you any sort of challenge, so why squeeze these fights in here? They felt more tiresome than anything else.
The Gunk is a generally great time. It was a fun Sunday romp that allowed me to explore a little planet made up of visually striking plants and animals. I just wish that it had a more compelling plot, character conflict, or more interesting game mechanics. As it is, I think my one playthrough will be enough for this one but I look forward to anything Image and Form Games might make in this universe again. 6.5/10