Review – The Gunk

Overview

Developer Thunderful Games
Publisher Image & Form Games
Genre Action-adventure
Platforms PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S (reviewed)
Release Date December 16, 2021 (Xbox)
TBA (PC)

Thunderful Games has an interesting history, in that it came together as a merger of smaller studios, including the makers of the critically acclaimed Fe. The company’s new action-adventure game, The Gunk, sees players set on a lush alien planet full of mystery. How does this title pan out?

Content Guide

Violence: The player fights a couple of different monsters that explode into goo when defeated. The screen starts to turn red when the player takes damage, but there is no blood or gore to be found in the game. When a couple of NPCs die, they disintegrate into dust.

Language: The game contains a few instances of the word s****y; one character is about to say the f-word over a radio, but it gets lost in static.

Positive themes: The main character Rani displays a strong desire to help those in need, even against strong protest and when it is inconvenient or dangerous for her. The game emphasizes the importance of sticking with your friends, even in dangerous situations and when it’s difficult to get along due to your differences.

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Review

Rani and Becks, two pals trying to pay off the mortgage on their old rust-bucket of a space ship they call “The Bunny,” make their way to an unexplored planet hoping to find energy sources that they can collect and sell. Upon arrival, they discover that the planet is infected with a strange goo, which they come to refer to simply as the Gunk, scattered around the planet that is sapping the life out of the ecosystem. Furthermore, the two discover ruins, indicating that this remote world may not be as uninhabited as they thought.

These two heroines deliver enjoyable, well-acted banter throughout the game and boast distinct personalities: Rani is outgoing, impulsive, and wears her heart on her sleeve, while Becks is more cautious and prone to worry. Their personalities, specifically how they play off of each other, serve an important role in the overall narrative, which I appreciate as well, especially since the story emphasizes the importance of sticking with your friends even when it is difficult to get along and you don’t see eye to eye. That being said, they never show much depth beyond what I’ve just described. After these characteristics are established early in the story, the characters don’t develop much further. The handful of supporting characters follow the same pattern; their robot assistant CuRT, for example, cutely spouts the same line over and over in a different tone depending on the situation, but never serves any other purpose than to ever so briefly reflect the narrative tone of the moment.

Visually, The Gunk impresses. The planet on which our heroes land feels suitably alien, boasting all manner of bizarre, gigantic flora and a rich color palette. The mixture of mysterious stone and metallic structures acts as a good contrast to the otherwise organic environments. A nice mixture of special effects and moody ambiance also heighten the presentation.

Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t produce the same flair. The Gunk’s signature mechanic is gunk absorption, where the player character Rani uses her futuristic prosthetic arm like a vacuum cleaner to suck up the gunk in the environment. Clearing the gunk away and restoring color and life to the surrounding area feels satisfying, and is the most enjoyable part of the game. However, the rest of the gameplay sadly lacks much depth, leading to a shallow experience overall. The pathways are linear, featuring only short side paths leading to resources used for the game’s basic upgrades (like increasing the range of your arm vacuum). Platforming sequences require little skill, and while the occasional environmental puzzle keeps the experience from getting monotonous, they don’t take much effort to solve.

Furthermore, only a few different enemy types appear in the game, and almost all of them can be defeated in the same way, by simply grabbing them with your robo-arm and then tossing them away. The combat lacks any appreciable challenge until the final stages of the game. If there’s a bright side to all of this simplicity, it’s that younger audiences may find this game more accessible than many of its big-budget counterparts.

Despite all my complaints, The Gunk turned out to be well polished in just about every aspect, which is certainly not always the case with smaller games like these; the developers didn’t make the all too common mistake of biting off more than they could chew. And I like the positive message about sticking with your friends through thick and thin. But it’s clear that a lot more could have been done here to develop the characters and gameplay. With a bit more depth and complexity, I could easily envision new entries in this universe delivering more lighthearted and heartfelt adventures that stand out from the crowd.

The Bottom Line

 

The Gunk sports an interesting core mechanic and two likeable heroines, but lacks the depth and complexity needed to make the game stand out.

 

6.5

Michael Mendis

Michael Mendis loves to discuss gaming, Christian faith, and how the two interact. In addition to his main hobby of playing video games, he also enjoys watching movies, anime, and baseball.

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