Space and planetary exploration is a fascinating genre to dive into, considering the amount of creative ways they can be explored. Many games try to take an overly scientific approach, focusing more on the tech and advancement than anything else. Other games allow you to explore and experience the world around you while utilizing futuristic tech. The Gunk is more of the latter, and is much better for it. By mixing character personalities and motivations with the state of the planet you’re on, The Gunk creates a moving story that incentivizes the player to take genuine care of the environment around them, and value the true beauty of nature.
The main premise of the game is nothing new, Rani and Becks are typical low-end space scrappers with not much money to their name. While on a job looking for more junk to sell, they stumble upon a planet with a high energy signal, potentially a source of profit. When landing, they’re unable to find the signal, so it’s up to Rani and her high powered multi-tool glove to scout out the source of the energy signal. While making the initial rounds, she makes contact with the titular Gunk, seemingly draining the environment of all life while simultaneously jamming the communications signal to the ship. After realizing she can eradicate the Gunk and restore the environments to their former glory, Rani takes it upon herself to clean the planet and find not only the source of the signal, but what’s causing the Gunk to spawn as well. The story and environments are linear, and tend to revolve around the same gameplay loop of: clean gunk, find seed, platform, repeat. The communication between the characters in a world mostly devoid of life is about the only break from this, and is about as littered with generic sci-fi speak as you can guess. While it does offer slight insight into the past of Rani and Becks, as well as how they view each other, it does little more than give exposition on past events. With both characters not knowing much about the world they landed on, they offer very little insight to the player, which adds a slight sense of wonderment if you’re more inclined to enjoy the exploration factor of games like this.
The overall look of The Gunk is heavily stylized, but generally looks outdated for its time. The characters in the game regularly stutter walk and lag even during cutscenes, and something as minor as holding and throwing a seed can cause your character to glitch into certain places, like in between plants. This was an issue that happened quite a bit during the earlier parts of my playthrough, throwing the seed caused it to either float in the air on an invisible hitbox or holding it while falling would cause my character to slip in between the plants and I’d have to precisely throw it away while also glitching out because my model with the seed was too big. The environments look okay, but tend to fall on the very generic “alien homeworld” kind of vibe, with glowing cylindrical plants and overly saturated environments. I will say the oversaturation works for the main draw of the game, which is the cleaning. When you completely clean the Gunk from an area, you see the area saturate with an effect similar to the Bloom brush effect in Okami. The environment goes back to normal and plants grow everywhere, so it tends to be satisfying. What’s not satisfying is how repetitive the process gets, with the only difficulty spikes being minimal platforming and some minor enemies. The platforming is more annoying than skillful, as tight jumps need to be timed with dripping Gunk that damages the player. With janky hitboxes the Gunk can hit you from outside the indicated zone, so trying to tread on what seems to be the “safe” side of platforms is largely useless unless you’re in the golden spot. The enemies that spawn from the gunk are little more than an annoyance that clogs your suction gun, as they charge at you while you’re cleaning and you instantly kill them anyways. The game wants to tell the story with a main focus on exploration, so having these roadblocks is more of a hindrance to the experience than anything else.
While there are some issues, The Gunk is a largely peaceful game that really looks to pique the sense of imagination and exploration in its players. While it doesn’t innovate on many features, it shouldn’t necessarily have to. It’s a decent combination of mechanics found in Slime Rancher and Okami with some puzzles and platforming, with a lively world to research and explore. This is one of those games where the journey feels more impactful than the destination, and there’s merit to that. While the gameplay loop left me largely unsatisfied, The Gunk can be a decent distraction if you’re into linear sci-fi adventures.
Score: 7 out of 10
Reviewed on Windows PC