Considering how much of a slob I am in real life, it is really odd how much I enjoy cleaning stuff in video games. Whether it’s tidying up a mountain side in Minecraft, scouring blood and guts off a wall in Viscera Cleanup Detail, or vacuuming up muck in The Gunk, there is something satisfying about taking something that is chaotic and making it clean and orderly. As a big fan of Image & Form Games and their previous work, the mostly well received Steam World series, I was looking forward to The Gunk as something to scratch my cleaning itch and see how well the developers stepped from 2D into 3D.
The story is pretty straight forward; you’ve landed on a planet looking for resources, but the planet is covered in some sort of life-draining gunk that slows your progression and seems to be killing the planet. There are some call-backs to our own environmental concerns on this planet, but the story itself isn’t going to surprise anyone. The real meat of the story is the relationship between the protagonist and their ship mate. It has some really well written dialogue and the two characters seem like genuine friends and coworkers, not a stream of one-liners that we see in a lot of games with less nuanced writing.
Despite the dirt, The Gunk is a good looking game. It has the charm of a 3D platforming console launch title. Not very long, not very hard, but a nice experience none-the-less. It’s usually pretty easy to read the levels and figure out what you’re supposed to be doing, and the reward of seeing an area bloom back to life once you’ve removed all the gunk really shows that the developer’s artistic skills have transitioned well into the 3D space.
At its core, this is a puzzle platformer. You’ll be running, jumping, and figuring out how to manipulate the gunk and the world to get to the areas you need to get and complete the tasks you need to complete. The platforming isn’t meaty enough to provide the satisfaction of something like a Super Meat Boy, but you’ll fail a few times and need to adjust your approach at times. The game does have combat, but it’s extremely simple and there are really only a handful of enemy types who are mostly killed by sucking them up with you vacuum and then throwing them so that they explode. There is also an upgrade system that rewards you for exploration, but most of the upgrades felt a little underwhelming as the game was so easy to begin with.
While it’s a solid first step into the 3D space, I feel The Gunk needed more. With how good their Steam World games are, and the depth that many of them display, the simplicity of The Gunk seems like a step backward just to make the step forward into 3D. Hopefully this was just them getting their toes wet and we’ll see the same depth of previous Image & Form Games products brought into the 3D space. Not bad, but also not great, The Gunk is a good game that should have aimed a little higher.