Contrary to what the state of my real-world home might imply, I find something oh-so-satisfying about cleaning up in video games. That makes The Gunk particularly appealing to me, as its linear campaign is packed full of opportunities to methodically transform a muck-covered alien planet back into a pristine and beautiful landscape. As the first 3D game from Image & Form Games (best known for its excellent SteamWorld series), The Gunk’s fairly brief journey doesn’t do a whole lot to expand on its shallow but consistently amusing concept, but it’s still a lot of fun to clear away the goop blanketing its world and uncover the grounded sci-fi story told there.
An action-adventure game at its heart, The Gunk puts you in control of the bold and optimistic space explorer Rani, accompanied by her more cautious and serious partner Becks, as they land on an unknown alien world in search of resources to scavenge. What they find instead is a planet where pockets of green energy and the life around them are being stifled by blobs of seemingly malicious black ooze. Armed with a robotic vacuum hand, its roughly four-hour campaign has you exploring the planet and sucking up the gunk as the pair pieces together the cause behind it. It’s a pretty cool tale, if a somewhat straightforward one, and has some fairly poignant messages about the state of our own planet as well.
The Gunk Screenshots
The vast majority of this adventure is spent either progressing down linear paths or hopping around small puzzle areas, and in either case you’re usually getting rid of all the gunk you see or trying to reach a switch in order to open up the next route. You’ll be holding down the right trigger a lot as you suck up every blob in sight, and cleaning an area entirely will cause it to miraculously spring back to life in a way that’s always satisfying. The Gunk is a really lovely game, both in its vibrant alien terrain and the absolutely fantastic soundtrack that makes wandering those areas a beautifully meditative exercise at times.
The actual platforming and puzzles themselves are fun too, if not necessarily complex or varied enough to ever give something like a Mario game a run for its money. It never stops being entertaining to clear out a bunch of gunk in order to allow a plant to grow and help you up a ledge, or to pull a switch that could twist a platform into the correct orientation you need to get across a gap. There’s also some extremely light combat scattered throughout those platforming sections in the form of small gunk monsters you can destroy by sucking them up and shooting them back out, as well as slightly larger ones that are stuck in place firing rocks at you until get up close and rip them off their base.
While each area succeeds at keeping these simple activities interesting with new ideas, be that constantly spinning platforms or enemies in tricky to reach places, they’re never really made overly exciting either. That’s not a huge surprise when your only movement mechanics are pretty much “walk” and “jump,” and your combat options are largely limited to sucking (as well as a slowly recharging stun blast that’s more commonly used to shoot puzzle objects outside of combat than it is to hit enemies). But the general vibe of The Gunk’s world undoubtedly helps fill some of the mechanical gap that may have otherwise started to feel tedious deeper in. That includes the banter between Rani and Becks as they unravel this planet’s story, which sells the caring relationship between them well – at times with cute jokes and at others with concerned spats.
It’s also fun to scour each new area for collectible crafting materials, which you can then take back to your ship and trade in for mostly useful new upgrades. These range from increasing your vacuum speed to more significant powers like a lure that will briefly distract enemies – an ability that could be helpful were combat not so simple that it never really felt like something I needed any help with anyway. Still, the upgrades are a nice reward for checking every corner and going down every optional route, which are always fairly short but still make your very linear path feel like it’s hiding a few secrets here and there. That said, you’ll unlock all the upgrades easily enough if you are diligent about sucking up the materials you see, making your crafting choices feel more like passive leveling rather than any sort of actual customization.