Developer: Image and Form Games
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Release Date: April 29th, 2022
Edited by AlexKnight2005
Pour one out for the legendary Swedish indie studio Image & Form. Image & Form has recently built up an impressive reputation with the amazing SteamWorld universe (Dig, Heist, Dig 2, and Quest: Hand of Gilgamech). Technically, while the development studio still exists, the name appears to be no more; the studio was merged along with Zoink Games and Guru Games to form Thunderful Development, part of the parent Thunderful Group.
Though I doubt it, I wonder if they’ll ever release more games under the Image & Form name. This one, The Gunk, currently looks set to be the very last one. Originally a timed exclusive for the Microsoft store and the Xbox consoles, the game was released there back in December 2021 before finally landing on Steam at the tail end of April 2022.
In a departure from Image & Form’s previous games, the Gunk is an action-adventure game. You play as Rani, one of a duo of space haulers alongside her friend Becks. The duo discovers a signal coming from an alien planet and land on it, with Rani slowly but gradually exploring the planet and uncovering its beauty and mysteries. (No story spoilers here; try the game out for yourself.)
Played in a third-person style, the game plays out like a platformer. All the typical controls are there: movement, jumping and grabbing on specific ledges, climbing up ladders, and other standard things. Though obviously designed for a controller, it controls pretty well on the keyboard and mouse too, which I used for my entire playthrough. Rani lost her arm in an unexplained accident, so she instead has a giant mechanical glove which she nicknames ‘Pumpkin.’ The glove is behind the key mechanic of this game; it sucks up the titular Gunk that is causing harm to the planet. Sucking up this Gunk causes the alien flora on the planet that has been suppressed to blossom and reveal they’re true beauty, with some of the plants even letting Rani traverse to new areas.
The Gunk gradually iterates slightly upon this vacuum glove mechanic by letting you suck up valuable resources to upgrade your glove and other specific flora to reach new areas. An upgrade also gives you a pulse gun, but you generally won’t use it much. The general gist of the game’s puzzles is to figure out which combination of the flora is required to reach the next area of the game. There is some light combat, too, as gradually Rani discovers that along with The Gunk came some rather hostile creatures. There is not much variety here, though, with a small critter, a medium critter, a large monster, and a boss.
The key elephant in the room is the game’s short length relative to the asking price. Yes, I am flogging a dead horse even talking about this subject, but The Gunk, with its eight chapters, can be completed in roughly 4 hours. Completionists like me would need only a bit more (my final playtime clocked out at 6.2 hours), and even that isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. I’m not sure how it would have fared even if it was extended, either: though the aforementioned gameplay loop is iterated upon a small amount by creating slightly more challenging combinations of world interaction, these overall remain rather basic and never really challenge for more than a few minutes.
Even for the completionists, The Gunk can be rather frustrating as well. There is a mechanic where you can scan various objects in the world to add them to your encyclopedia. If you aren’t trying to scan everything in sight, there will likely be things you miss, and backtracking to find them is a horrendous chore as you won’t exactly know what you’re missing and where to find them. The same goes for the resources required for your various upgrades as well. One wonders if the game could have done a much better job at assisting players in finishing these, considering that The Gunk otherwise lacks any semblance of replayability.
These factors do clog the appeal of The Gunk up slightly, but the general aesthetic is what prevents the game from falling into mediocrity. The third-person 3D style leads to yet another first for Image & Form — a rich and incredibly detailed world with some of the most gorgeous graphics ever, a stark contrast from their past games that strictly featured 2D art. For an indie team, it is some of the most eye-catching graphics I’ve ever seen, and I want more. The accompanying orchestral soundtrack by Ratvader gives a generally somber tone that fits the whole vibe of the game. The story, in general, is also a bit cliché, but it still fits well with the rest of the game, with moments of mirth and other not-so-happy moments.
A few bugs come close to souring the experience, though. A section of the game features elevators, and sometimes they would mysteriously glitch and visually disappear, at one point even soft locking me without knowing as I step off it before it rides up. Another specific section of the game also has a dramatic dip in framerate, making it barely playable at that point, despite my PC being able to adequately handle the rest of the game at 60 frames per second without issues.
- Incredibly gorgeous graphics.
- Charming cinematic story with heart.
- Lush orchestral soundtrack.
- Short length relative to the price point.
- The gameplay loop isn’t iterated upon.
- Collect-a-thon a chore.
K3W3L gives The Gunk a Drastik Measure of 7.0 out of 10.0 (70)
I see The Gunk as rather similar to a movie — not the best hours-to-cost ratio but still a fun experience to play through once. However, I balk at the current asking price of $24.99 on Steam and would suggest like-minded readers to wait for a slight discount. Perhaps a shame, as past Image & Form games have usually offered better hours-to-cost ratios.