The Gunk is an indie game that came out as an Xbox exclusive. It has been featured on Xbox Games Pass since its release in mid-December 2021. The Gunk is a condensed space adventure that isn’t going to be for everyone. If you’re looking for an allegory about how gunk can be more than just a physical manifestation then absolutely pick this up.

Even if you’re looking for a small adventure to bring back those feelings of early Ratchet and Clank games this is right up your alley. Let’s take a look at what works and flows in The Gunk and what sort of gunks up the works.

Space Adventures

The Gunk focuses on a duo, Rani and Beck, who are looking for their next big payday. They arrive on a planet after following a faint signal. Soon they meet the titular gunk and begin clearing it out. As they do so the signal gets a little stronger and the story slowly starts to unfold. It spirals into this bigger narrative about a collapsed civilization that has been in stasis.

The Gunk is actually a bi-product of machines the entire population is stuck in. I won’t spoil why they are there but it does make for an interesting parallel to real-life issues regarding leadership and their inability to double back on efforts that don’t work in order to seek a better outcome.

Most of the gameplay revolves around Rani’s glove, her name is Pumpkin. The glove has a ton of functions and upgrades available for it. The one most used in the game is the vacuum function. It endlessly sucks up the gunk to clear pathways or solve puzzles, it is quite satisfying to use. The glove can also suck up small enemies and either fires them at other enemies or just walls, in general, to kill them off.

You’ll need to use it to suck up various plant life to use for puzzle solving. There are exploding plants needed to break up distant chunks of gunk or break things open. One kind of plant spawns plant-like platforms that Rani can use to explore or progress the story to the next. Those ones have to be put into these little pools that are what produce some of the signals Rani and Beck followed to get to the planet in the first place.

It would be criminal of me to not mention the environments. When they are covered in gunk they ooze a foreboding nature at times and can be downright creepy. When the gunk is cleared and nature returns it is breathtaking. Given the cartoonish nature of the graphics, the game pulling off amazing-looking plant life and interesting beautiful creatures is worth talking about. It helps the planet feel bigger in scale and varied when the developer easily could have gotten away with a more copy-paste style for environments.

The Gunk in the Machine

For the most part, The Gunk is a great game. The controls are tight, the core gameplay works well, the story is interesting and enjoyable. However, it isn’t without its faults. Towards the end of the game, it all starts to feel incredibly repetitive. The player is tasked with clearing gunk and taking the elevator to the top to stop the machines, the big bad guy, and free everyone. That would be fine but the player has to essentially repeat the same action four times. It started to get downright frustrating as the elevator seemed to stop on every single floor on the way up and that’s after you figure out how to clear the gunk the first time to even start the damned thing.

The worst part is the game can kind of screw up on that part. That’s where everything started to spoil for me. I had figured out the puzzle, exploding plant rushed really quickly across the hallway and throw it at the gunk so it clears a path. Because it didn’t land pixel perfect, nothing registered. It barely cleared any gunk from the area and I figured I was wrong about what I needed to do.

Forty-five minutes of trial and error, I gave up and looked it up. Mere centimeters from where I threw it would have set off the whole thing and showed progress. I still ended up having to throw multiple ones to even clear the area. I actually thought the game had somehow soft-locked me from progression. Naturally, the frustration from this boiled over as the elevator finally started to move, then stop one floor higher and I had to start the trial and error all over again.

Another thing that sort of detracts from the experience is the fact that the story between Beck and Rani is kind of short-changed. Their interactions are supposed to reflect how “gunk” is not just a physical thing. Throughout the game, Beck and Rani get into arguments that hint at much more depth to their actual dynamic. The game could have benefited from one more chapter that fleshed out the part of the arc where they sort of makeup or move past the arguments that sort of felt a little random during gameplay. They have spats about how Rani isn’t as straight-laced or down to business as Beck is and how she has to bail Rani out. While it does help for fleshing characters out at times it felt a little shoehorned in. One more level that made these things a little more hammered out would help the payoff that comes in a later level feel a little more thoughtful. Don’t get me wrong it is still meaningful but it just needs that extra push.

To Close it Out

One more thing to mention was the fact that the game did have some minor bugs. The first time I pulled an exploding plant off its stem the stem was apparently still there but was invisible. I tried to throw it but it stuck back into place before exploding. Thankfully that kind of stuff was few and far between.

Another point: Glad the enemies are varied enough to keep the minimal combat feeling meaningful

For a five-hour game, The Gunk manages to make that run time count. It’s a great game, with a wonderful aesthetic that thrives on the atmosphere and exploration it encourages. Fiona Nova does remarkable as Rani and her voice acting is a high point in the game. I genuinely couldn’t imagine someone else voicing Rani.

The Gunk has a good core mechanic and a solid enough execution to recommend buying it even if it wasn’t currently on Xbox Games Pass. If you have a few hours to kill or are looking for a bite-size adventure to satisfy amongst the sea of 40 plus hour open-world games then absolutely grab The Gunk. I genuinely hope The Gunk gets a sequel.

The Gunk Review
The Good
  • Great story
  • Solid characters and enemies
  • Doesn't overstay it's welcome
The Bad
  • Repetitive ending level
  • Minor glitches
  • Rushed character development
7.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author

Allen S
Editorial/Reviews Team, Manager

I started gaming when I was seven years old. I started my own game studio when I was twelve, went to school for game design. Now I work here and also on my own YouTube channel