Going from down on your luck crewman of a spaceship to world saving super janitor may sound a little like a Space Quest plotline but that’s the challenge you face in The Gunk, from developer Image & Form.
You’re quickly introduced to Rani, a scavenger you control who works with her partner Beck trying to make ends meet in space when they discover an uncharted planet with a mysterious power source. On investigating Rani finds the Gunk, a strange black ooze that seems to be sucking the life out of the planet. As she travels further she discovers an ancient civilization and begins to piece together the truth of what has happened.
The game plays out like a platform adventure with a number of puzzle elements usually revolving around the Gunk itself. The majority of these tasks involve clearing contaminated areas of the black ooze which then restores the immediate area to it’s living state that will open up more areas to explore. The difficulty curve is pretty gentle but as you go further you have the chance to upgrade abilities to help you along. A couple are necessary but most aren’t integral for play but they do help ease you through. The game is mainly linear but you progress quickly enough to not think about it being too limiting… you want to see what’s next.
The visual design really deserves some recognition as the contrast between the “dirty” and “clean” areas really helps highlight the impact Rani (ie. you) make as you clean up the Gunk. Plants bloom and there’s an explosion of colour that’s rewarding to the eyes too. Rani herself is fairly well animated and distinctive with pumpkin, her prosthetic arm slash vacuum cleaner. Some of her movement can feel a little restrictive – she can only grab certain ledges, for example – but if you accept that limitation early it won’t slow you down much. If anything it probably helps push you along the defined path and avoid too much unnecessary exploration.
I’m steadily becoming a big fan of shorter length games that understand their limits and giving fans a fun gaming experience that also don’t overstay their welcome. The Gunk delivers that in a four to six hour timespan which provides both a fun game and enjoyable story with its own unique environmental message.
The Gunk is out now for PC and Xbox. Played on an Xbox Series X via Game Pass.