Microsoft’s recent Xbox showcase featured an eclectic mix of games ranging from shooters to platformers to horror games. Of the titles from the Xbox event, The Gunk was one of the more interesting reveals. Hailing from Image & Form Games, the masterminds behind the SteamWorld franchise, The Gunk has a pedigree to which to live up.
The Gunk – Big Budget SteamWorld
While each SteamWorld title is excellent at what it sets out to accomplish, The Gunk is shocking due to its shift in direction. All the studio’s previous games are 2D. As their first 3D project, The Gunk carries major implications for the degree of exploration players can expect. SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Dig 2 make effective use of level design to encourage exploration and a “one more minute” mentality due to its metroidvania nature and gameplay loop.
There’s something so gratifying about each underground excursion as players acquire more abilities, collect loot, and delve further into the world’s dark recesses. To be clear, The Gunk is not just SteamWorld Dig in 3D, but it is echoing familiar concepts. The official site’s game description reads “Lead a duo of outer space explorers that chance upon a dangerous planet plagued by a corruptive gunk. Explore, gather, craft…and survive.”
Some people around the interwebs have taken to calling it Xbox’s Super Mario Sunshine, but it’s more akin to a big budget take on SteamWorld Dig’s addictive gameplay loop centered around gathering things to explore further.
Where to Take the Formula
Based on the description and released info, it seems The Gunk takes place on a single planet. Considering the team’s previous efforts and the description’s emphasis on material gathering and exploration, The Gunk is poised to expand the SteamWorld formula. SteamWorld Dig succeeded as a Metroidvania-style game because of its bite-sized progression loop. As a 2D game whose central focus revolves around digging deeper, it isn’t the most complicated title around. There are areas off the beaten path that reward materials to be sold for coins to purchase upgrades.
These alternate paths aren’t required, but they’re helpful. With The Gunk taking place across an entire planet in 3D, Image and Form has the potential to expand that exploration into something more tangible. The addition of “survival” in its description implies combat in addition to some possible survival sim elements. Perhaps a corruption meter of sorts that requires consuming some potion to prevent players from dying due to gunk. The studio hasn’t worked with extensive real-time combat; however, they’re known for successful experimentation.
Before SteamWorld Dig, there was SteamWorld Tower Defense. Later on, the franchise would expand to include SteamWorld Heist, a strategy game, and SteamWorld Quest, a turn-based RPG. The studio has matched an expected level of quality for the past decade so there’s nothing to worry about concerning its combat, though, the direction it takes and how it will figure into the core gameplay loop remains to be seen. One can count on it to be system-driven, however, acting as a piece of a larger puzzle that contributes to a greater sense of engagement when all its systems are working together.
Visual design plays a large role in users’ attachment to exploring worlds. Modern hardware is capable of rendering breathtaking environments coupled with stylized visuals. While sporting cross-gen support, The Gunk’s trailer featured beautiful scenery with decent, stylized texture work and moody lighting and effects.
Even if The Gunk misses the mark regarding its additional survival and combat systems, it might be able to save face with its art design. Imagine exploring a dank cave for minutes, coming upon a gunk-infested wall. Sucking up the gunk to reveal a visually striking part of the planet is the sort of visual stimuli the studio’s past efforts missed out on due to their restricted 2D visuals. 2D art can be beautiful, but not Image and Form’s 2D art. The brief Xbox showcase trailer encompassed a greater range of beautiful environments than anything in the SteamWorld franchise.
This could also figure into its hook. The more players explore and combat the gunk, the more of the planet’s prior status is restored. It’s already visually striking in its corrupted state, meaning it’ll be even more exciting to see in its restored glory.
The Gunk releases on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X in Fall 2021 with Smart Delivery enabled across Xbox platforms.