The Gunk review: Color out of space

The team behind Steamworld Dig is back with a 3D action platformer that's heavy on color and light on compelling gameplay.

5

Image & Form Games first rose to power on the back of their fantastic work on the Steamworld games. The colorful mining platformers are regarded as some of the better indie games of their generation and many fans have been anxiously waiting on how the development studio would deliver on their move into a 3D action platformer. The Gunk is now ready for primetime and available for Xbox consoles and PC.

Restoring life

The Gunk is a simple tale. It follows the exploits of a pair of intergalactic scrappers in search of their next payday who land on a dark, mysterious planet in search of some precious resources. Rani and Becks are the stars of this show, with their back-and-forth dialogue being used to establish the world and setting beyond what is seen during brief cutscene interludes. The working-class pair are clearly smitten with each other during the game’s opening moments and it quickly becomes clear that their relationship will play a central role in the action.

Upon arriving on the planet, the pair notices that things are dark, dreary, and lifeless. Becks sets the ship down and Rani is in charge of the grunt work on foot. Rani has some special abilities by way of a special glove she refers to as Pumpkin. This glove ultimately becomes a do-it-all device by the journey’s end, but its primary function is the removal of strange, dark gunk that seems to be spread all over the mysterious planet. 

As Rani clears the gunk infestation in a given area, the game camera will fall back and show a transformation where the living things that were overrun with gunk instantly spring back to life, leaving a small part of the landscape totally transformed. The revitalization of the areas offers a massive visual shift in overall feel and construction. Some plant life will grow and provide new platforms to scale or reveal previously inaccessible areas.

Reclaimed zones also provide an assortment of harvestable resources. Initially, Raini is clueless about the various plants and minerals on the planet, but a handy scanner is used to identify the good stuff. These materials can be brought back to the clearing where the ship touches down so that Rani can upgrade the Pumpkin with various new abilities or passive buffs. Some of these abilities are simply enhanced versions of existing powers while others offer new skills or ways to access previously-blocked areas.

The game world expands as quickly as players work to clear the gunk infestation and unlock new growth. The gunk itself eventually occurs in new forms that require an upgraded kit or a different approach to clear. Rani will also come across hostiles on the planet which can be dispatched by sucking them up with the Pumpkin or using the glove to hurl objects their way. Some puzzles will also necessitate the use of Pumpkin powers to complete, though most of what the player will experience has been standard fare in games of this type dating all the way back to Ocarina of Time.

Everything from the platforming to the puzzles and combat feels acceptable but unremarkable. It is almost always immediately obvious what must be done in nearly all situations and then the player will just go through the motions until it comes time to clear more gunk. If not for the desire to see how different areas would react to gunk removal and curiosity about how the tale of Raini and Becks plays out, there might not be enough here to captivate the masses beyond a few short hours. In a game where the environments can often pop off the screen, the ho-hum nature of actually controlling the action sticks out like a sore thumb.

On the visual side of things, the overall planet design is solid and having a game mechanic directly tied into expanding the playable area feels solid thanks to mostly strong visuals. The corrupted planet isn’t much to write home about, but the vibrant sections found after cleanup can often be a nice treat if you are fond of the semi-alien plant designs. The lighting quality is also strong throughout and I noticed no performance issues while playing on the Xbox Series X. The voice acting was solid throughout, which is critical for a game like this that lives or dies on the relationship between Rani and Becks. 

A whole new world

The Gunk never really falters at any point during its decidedly short runtime, but also fails to do anything to push itself above a crowded group of peers in the action-platformer genre. The pro-environmental themes are laid on real thick here, but it all works reasonably well within the confines of the story and action. As with many new games released recently, The Gunk is eligible for Xbox Game Pass on Day 1. While it may not offer a memorable experience, it is difficult to argue against giving it a try for the price, especially if you are smitten with most action platformers. 7/10 Pumpkin PowerGloves


This review is based on the Xbox Series X version of The Gunk. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. The Gunk is available now on Xbox consoles, PC, and Xbox Game Pass.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

Review for
The Gunk
7
Pros
  • Pollution removal to reveal game world works well
  • Solid voice acting from pair of leads
  • Strong environmental design
  • Smooth performance
Cons
  • Uninspiring combat
  • Forgettable puzzles
From The Chatty
  • reply
    December 17, 2021 7:00 AM

    Chris Jarrard posted a new article, The Gunk review: Color out of space

    • reply
      December 17, 2021 7:04 AM

      I don't know what to think of the game. It feels that the world, design, and artistic design doesn't match its game play.

      • reply
        December 17, 2021 1:09 PM

        Yeah the music doesn’t match either. I ended up muting the music and putting on a playlist on Spotify I thought was more appropriate.

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      December 17, 2021 12:20 PM

      I played a bit of this. I’m sure not sure I’ll finish it. Having no sprint button in any 3rd person game is so frustrating

      • reply
        December 17, 2021 12:31 PM

        It's one of the first upgrades I unlocked and has both both a hold button to sprint and perma-sprint button (on kb/m at least, shift and R)

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      December 17, 2021 1:11 PM

      It felt like an N64 game. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, because I’m seeing a resurgence perhaps of that style of 3D platformer maybe IDK… it felt like that era of games in execution and everything else though…

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