I’ll at all times defend Tremendous Mario Sunshine. The GameCube Mario sport is probably the most polarizing installment within the sequence because it ditched primary platforming for a singular water cannon mechanic. It’s not like anything within the sequence, and few video games have actually adopted its lead. Like it or hate it, the sport’s F.L.U.D.D. mechanic was a contemporary concept that turned cleansing a grimy island right into a cathartic expertise.
So, I used to be instantly bought once I noticed The Gunk, which releases right this moment on Xbox consoles, PC, and Sport Cross. Lastly, an journey sport that builds on these “clean-up” mechanics I beloved as a child. However what’s particularly notable in regards to the journey sport is that it’s extra deliberate in its environmental themes than Tremendous Mario Sunshine was, displaying simply how a lot video games have grown up over the previous twenty years.
Save the planet
The Gunk begins with a spaceship touching down on an alien planet. The crew is there to empty it of precious assets to allow them to make some money. Gamers management Rani, who travels the planet actually sucking flora up with a backpack vacuum.
The mission shortly will get derailed, although, as Rani discovers the sport’s titular gunk. The planet is roofed in patches of black sludge that blocks paths and buries vegetation. Very similar to Tremendous Mario Sunshine, gamers must clear the gunk away, although by sucking it up somewhat than splashing it with water.
It’s nonetheless a satisfying gameplay hook practically 20 years after Sunshine’s launch. The cleansing mechanic is straightforward, however it triggers a heat feeling in my mind. Identical to actual life, it simply feels good to scrub a multitude up. Extra so, it’s rewarding to observe the world spring again to life because of my efforts, with lifeless vegetation reforming and turning into platforms I can soar on. It’s the identical catharsis I bought when taking part in Kena: Bridge of Spirits earlier this 12 months and watching its rotted world immediately rework into lush landscapes within the blink of an eye fixed.
What’s notably good about The Gunk is that it’s upfront about its environmental themes, which wasn’t a lot the case in Tremendous Mario Sunshine. On its floor, Sunshine was a sport about air pollution, although one which didn’t actually grapple with the concept in a significant means. Its brown goo was simply a part of a conventional Mario plot in regards to the Bowser household making an attempt to kidnap Princess Peach. You’ll be able to extrapolate some bigger themes from it, however it might require some stretching. You weren’t precisely getting a lot nuanced, thematic storytelling in 2002.
The Gunk acts as a contemporary counterpoint, displaying simply how a lot that’s modified. Rani shortly abandons her planet-destroying mission as she merely will get misplaced in the great thing about the world round her, a lot to her accomplice’s annoyance. She’s in awe the entire time, discovering a pure marvel that she immediately feels compelled to guard. None of that’s subtext or interpretation. The cleanup mechanic is there to assist these themes somewhat than be a pleasurable however meaningless characteristic.
Video games have grown up
At their finest, video video games have the ability to current concepts and reinforce them via good play. Turning an act of environmental conservation right into a pleasurable mechanic is pretty much as good a means as any to make gamers mirror on their capacity to guard their very own non-digital world. That type of expertise was one reserved for academic video games, however video games have grown up. In the present day’s builders are extra assured of their capacity to tell and entertain gamers on the similar time.
Admittedly, The Gunk isn’t at all times probably the most enthralling sport. Cleansing ooze can really feel gradual at occasions, and the sport contains a shallow fight system that’s skinny on concepts. Even so, I walked away from the journey feeling bright-eyed in regards to the present state of gaming. I want I had extra video games like this once I was rising up — ones that revered me sufficient to speak to me like an grownup.
The Gunk is now accessible on Xbox One, Xbox Collection X/S, and PC. It’s accessible as a part of Xbox Sport Cross, as properly.