The Gunk Echoes The Golden Years of 3D Platformers

The Gunk is a reminder, that every once and a while, there are developers out there that dare jump out of their comfort zone to try something new. Swedish developers Image & Form are mostly known for their underappreciated Steamworld titles and The Gunk is a vast departure from those games. Their new title is a strictly story-driven action-adventure romp that actually comes with a rather ominous message.  The story is about a roaming scavenger named Rani who lands on an isolated planet located at the outer boundaries of the galaxy for resources. With her, is her co-worker Beck who assists in collecting anything of value. However, although this planet is rich with sundry plants, minerals, and energy, there is a mysterious goo corrupting the planet. The ecosystem is withering away and it is only a matter of time before the planet dies. Therefore Rani must venture out into this strange world, clean up the mess and rejuvenate this planet’s lifeforce before it’s too late.

This is a fairly basic premise, but it’s enough to entice players to unravel this mystery and find out what’s going on. The Gunk was custom-made to be a straightforward adventure, telling a poignant tale about self-responsibility and destiny. This game does indeed come with a short campaign, which may turn away certain gamers out there. Of course, not everybody has the time to get lost in a grand, sweeping epic. Sometimes, a brief colorful adventure is exactly what the doctor ordered. With that said, even the gameplay can be considered on the “limited” side in terms of the control of Rani, there’s still a gem to be uncovered here. This game does come with a certain level of charm that provides a trip down memory lane for gamers who grew up playing Rareware titles and their ilk. That alone is worth mentioning.

Time to Mop the Slop

The core gameplay element with The Gunk is using Rani’s mechanically enhanced arm to vacuum the black slime that’s choking the planet. Her left arm is equipped with a cannon (kind of like Mega Man) that sucks in anything that’s in her way. This game is played in a third-person perspective that comes with standard platforming mechanics. It offers nothing particularly new or groundbreaking in that regard, what makes this game notable is the premise. The game doesn’t have hordes of baddies coming after Rani from every angle. Instead, the most frequent opposition she will encounter will be the black goo, itself. Much like Mario Sunshine, this game is laid out with semi-open worlds in which Rani must venture through and find various ways to clean it up. Even though there will be wildlife corrupted by the black goo, it’s fundamentally a rare occurrence. When it comes to combat, Rani takes her vacuum arm and sucks up the enemy. Then, she launches it back out from her arm, using it as a projectile. It is pretty straightforward and it works well with Rani’s character.

What is truly satisfying about The Gunk is watching the planet slowly transform from a desolate wasteland into a beautiful and vibrant landscape full of exotic alien lifeforms and plant life. Rani will be able to branch off and poke around throughout the areas and discover all kinds of environmental narratives like inscriptions and other clues. Players will slowly unravel the story through dialogue between Beck and Rani, thus there are also real-time cutscenes that give exposition to the plot. The story is a fairly interesting one to indulge in and it’s digestible. The areas are generally puzzles, which will need to be solved through various tasks like freeing up platforms that are frozen by the goo or finding a switch. There are clever ways that Rani can use her vacuum to manipulate the environment using real-time physics. Things like sucking a lever toward her or turning a cog are also possible through gameplay mechanics.

Space Janitor

On top of that, Rani does also come with a rechargeable stun blast in which she can use either blast a hole through enemies or activate buttons for certain puzzles. This gives some variety to the basic combat and helps spice things up a bit. Rani can also scour the environment and collect all kinds of raw materials which are tucked in walls. Then, she can always run back to her ship and upgrade her tools. Things like increased sucking range and even unique perks can be unlocked. Even Rani’s boots can be charged up, like a brief period of increased speed after sucking up a certain amount of gunk. In terms of upgrades, The Gunk doesn’t offer anything too out of the ordinary, but it’s enough to entice players to explore and collect what they can find.

As mentioned before, The Gunk is a short and linear adventure that can be completed in less than ten hours. Even though this game can be finished in a single weekend, this world is still worth revisiting and finding other nooks and crannies to pick clean. This game can serve as a nice introduction to third-person action-adventure games for younger gamers. Additionally, there is also some joy to be found here for seasoned gamers, as well. Anyone that’s hankering for a title that is reminiscent of 3D platformers like Banjo-Kazooie or even Jet Force Gemini should consider giving this new title whirl.

The Meaning of Cleaning

The developers took a chance with this game and it paid off pretty well. The Gunk has garnered mostly favorable reviews and it is generally a well-crafted game. It doesn’t offer a true next-gen experience by any means but, it doesn’t have to. It knows what it is and it executes everything pretty well. This game is clearly a love letter to the 3D platforming games of yesteryear and there’s nothing wrong with that. With so many games focusing on dystopian worlds, this new title certainly offers a good palette cleansing. Hopefully, this installment will be the beginning of potential follow-ups for Rani and her friends.

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