The Gunk Review

Matt Lorrigan

There’s little more magical than when a video game gives you some kind of in-game vacuum cleaner. Whether it’s the powerful Poltergust in Luigi’s Mansion, or the smirk-inducing Suck Cannon in Ratchet & Clank, there’s a certain tactile joy that comes with sucking up bits of the environment by way of a high-powered hoover. The Gunk is the latest game to revel in the satisfaction of suction, with protagonist Rani sporting a mechanical arm capable of siphoning all sorts of stuff. The main thing you’ll be sucking up, however, is the titular gunk, a thick, invasive substance that is intent on clogging up a distant alien planet.


Ah, home base.

It’s on this planet that Rani and Becks, the game’s two main characters, touch down in search of their fortune, on the trail of a mysterious signal pointing to a potential energy source. It’s not long until the two partners first encounter the gunk, a cancerous-looking blob of black and red that appears unnatural even on an alien world. Luckily, Rani is already equipped with the tools to deal with it, and sucking up all of the gunk in a single area sees it suddenly burst into life and colour. It’s here that the game’s excellent art direction really shines, with colourful mushrooms of all sorts making up the flora of the game’s world, set against a ruined alien civilisation that has hints of H.R.Giger about it. It looks stunning at times, especially when running on Xbox Series X|S, and feels like a real step up from Image & Form, the studio that brought us the excellent SteamWorld series.

Clearing the gunk out of an area does more than just pretty it up, however, with plenty of the fungi that pop up in its wake serving as platforms to jump across, or items to help you progress. One type of mushroom can be sucked up and thrown into pools of energy to create new platforms, while another serves as a sticky explosive to clear the way. This type of puzzle solving serves as the backbone of the game for the majority of its 6-7 hour run time, as you suck up gunk, clear paths, find mushrooms or switches to hit, and keep moving forward. It’s a good loop, one that can make the game hard to put down at times, but the puzzles never quite live up to their early potential. It’s all too easy to sort of stumble into a solution, or start what feels like a tricky puzzle, only to find the answer sooner than you expect. The mechanics offer up the promise of some devious brainteasers, but The Gunk never really rises to the challenge.


That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because The Gunk isn’t purely a puzzle game. In fact, it’s hard to pin down exactly what sort of game it is. When you’re not hoovering up gunk, which serves as the main antagonistic force of the game, you’ll be sucking up all sorts of different resources, which can be used to upgrade your gear, back at your ship. So it’s a survival game then? Not really, since you’re only ever progressing forwards through linear levels, with no real danger of death. Other times, you’ll be jumping across moving platforms and spinning walkways, or clambering up walls. But The Gunk isn’t a platformer either. It pulls from different genres to create something that feels fairly unique, but familiar at the same time.

The unfortunate side effect of this type of game design is that it can often feel like The Gunk never hits its full potential, rarely excelling in any of its ideas and inspirations, even if each is executed well. Even Rani’s wrist-mounted vacuum, which serves as the game’s main mechanic, feels a little undercooked at times. Sucking up the gunk itself feels great, and requires more strategy than you’d think, with the thick gurgling goo quickly expanding back into areas if you don’t quickly clean it up. But outside of the resources you can collect, there’s very little in the world that reacts to the mighty pull of the portable vac. Rani also comes equipped with a scanner, letting you discover more about the new world you’ve landed on, but, bizarrely, half of the game’s scannable items can be found in the first chapter. There’s even some unnecessary combat thrown in during the latter half of the game. It all makes for an experience that feels a little front-loaded, and The Gunk is rarely better than it is in the first few hours.


That's right, suck it all up!

Thankfully, the entire game is lifted by a strong story with an excellent script, full of clever, colloquial language that feels natural and unforced, making everything about this sci-fi world feel more grounded. This is bolstered by some amazing performances from voice actors Fiona Nova and Abigail Turner, who carry The Gunk’s narrative with a relaxed ease. Nova voices Rani with a sort-of wide-eyed optimism and a sense of adventure, which partners really well with the more cautious and pragmatic Becks. The relationship between the two characters is believable and well written, and Nova and Turner bounce off each other so well that you can’t help but get invested. As Rani, exploring deeper into the alien planet, you always have Becks in your ear to keep your feet on the ground. But when gunk is nearby, the connection is scrambled, leaving you feeling isolated. It’s a small touch, one you might barely notice, but it makes the gunk feel even more sinister, and gives you even more reason to get rid of it.

The Gunk tries to be a lot of things all at once, and occasionally it can feel a little mechanically confused. However, with a gorgeous alien world to explore, a sinister mystery to unravel, and excellent voice performances that keep you invested in the characters’ relationship, The Gunk actually ends up being a fair bit better than the sum of its parts. Once you start, you’ll find it hard not to be sucked in.

The Gunk

The Gunk is a difficult game to label, but an easy one to enjoy. Whether you’re sucking up a load of the titular gunk to help bring an alien world back to life, or listening to an engaging back and forth between the game’s main characters, there’s plenty to like here, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its early potential.

Form widget
75%
Audio
85%

A wonderful soundtrack and great voice acting, what more could you ask for? The Gunk is a treat for the ears.

Visuals
85%

The Gunk looks fantastic, with excellent and imaginative world design, as well as great lighting and some really cool gunky physics. The art direction is also very strong, although some visuals bugs and pop-in do crop up to break the illusion from time to time.

Playability
80%

The Gunk’s feels pretty great to control, with a satisfying vacuum mechanic, well-designed puzzles, and smart level design. At times it can be a little hard to put down.

Delivery
70%

The Gunk plays well, and offers up an intriguing narrative. But the inclusion of combat feels unnecessary and underbaked, and the latter half of the game doesn’t quite live up to the early highs, both narratively and mechanically.

Achievements
60%

The Gunk has a few fun achievements, but the list is fairly short and simple, and there’s a couple which will be a pain in the arse to pop.

Game navigation