Rani (that's you), her partner Becks the pilot & CuRT the droid land their spaceship on an Earth-type planet, searching for any sellable commodities. After a quick search of the area surrounding the landing zone you find a huge pile of brown & orange pulsating gunk and a gunk river. Turns out this gunk is suppressing the plant growth on the planet and by removing it by vacuuming it up into your backpack you restore the planet's weird flora. While exploring you also need to scan the numerous plants and minerals and can harvest useful resources, with which you can craft upgrades. These plants and metal deposits don't re-grow so resources are always limited.
Rani seems to be the younger and dumber of the pair. She lost half her right arm in some unexplained incident but still does all the ship's exploration, her right hand replaced by a multipurpose 'power glove' that she calls "Pumpkin" (no doubt because of its orange colour.)
The controls are pretty standard: move with the left stick, look with the right. You power up your glove's Gunk-sucker with the Right Trigger and go to aim mode with the left, which gives you more accuracy and highlights any nearby items that are scannable, which you do by holding 'RB'. Later in the game 'LB' will equip a decoy lure that you can throw to attract the attention of any enemies for a short time. This comes in very useful when you encounter the only thing that killed me during the entire game (other than missing a jump or falling into the gunk), the Gunk Spitter–a sentinel-type creature that tracks your movement and spits at you.
The 'B' button fires your glove's pulse cannon, but it's very weak and initially only stuns the smallest enemy alien (the Gunk Critter), it's more used for loosening hanging items and powering up doors.
Rani has no sense of self-preservation so it's quite easy to fall from a ledge or pathway and die. But worry not, she respawns immediately right where you fell, which kind of makes me ask the question: why doesn't she grab an edge to save herself like so many other 3D platform adventure characters? Either way, it means exploring is nice and easy and stress-free, and initially at least, The Gunk definitely feels suitable for younger gamers
I have no idea where all the gunk that you suck up goes but you have to remove it all to progress–every last gloopy drop of it. It's also toxic so prolonged contact with it will kill Rani. The gunk is indubitably the star of the game, ever-changing, pulsing and moving–it's clever stuff and almost hypnotic to watch.
To me, gameplay-wise I couldn't help being reminded of the much better Nintendo games, Mario Sunshine or Luigi's Mansion, but on an alien planet with barely any aliens, just a million lookalike areas, tunnels and corridors to find and clear of the Gunk. The Gunk became samey and repetitive very quickly, but had just enough originality to keep me playing to the end.
There is rather too much radio banter between the 2 girls–once Rani clears all the Gunk in an area because it blocks the ship's radio signal. Frankly I was glad for some radio silence after a while as the girls make you feel a bit like a third wheel when they start getting emotional over trivial nonsense. Maybe it's a "girl thing" but without more background I really didn't need their emotional baggage, and it added precisely nothing to the game.
In a game so exploration-heavy, some sort of map would have been nice (you only get a useless, low-detail one at transporter beacons.) But despite getting put through more twists and turns, two-way passageways, one-way passages, areas that have 5 exits, overs and unders you always seem to find your way… At times I did wander around without a clue what to do or where to go next, so an aerial view, a map or even a vague hint of where to go would have been a good thing. Maybe the developers thought a map would make the game too easy–I don't.
The loading from area to area is a bit disappointing too when you see the size of some of the free roaming open world games we have these days, and I'm surprised they didn't either make the planet one big area or mask the loading somehow.
The latter levels are rather tedious, dark, depressing and similar, like the designers had had enough of the game and couldn't wait to get it finished. After a really poor final boss battle there's a disappointing series of flick-screen comic-book pages to illustrate what followed… There's no cheerful playable endgame with you meeting some of the alien population you saved or even revisiting various areas to gather the resources you almost certainly still need to complete all gadget upgrades, no chapter select to aid mopping up achievements–nothing.
A game that started well and promised much really fizzled out like a damp firework. Even at a price of only £19.99 (or it's on Game Pass) "disappointing" doesn't really encompass how I feel about The Gunk, it could and should have been a much better game.