Game Recs

You need to play 2021’s most chill platformer on Xbox Game Pass ASAP

Who knew cleaning up could be so fun?

Video games have found ways to make chores fun, but an action game about vacuuming is still a tough sell.

When that game is made by the developers of the excellent Steamworld series, though, it makes the concept a lot more appealing.

In The Gunk, two space explorers land on an alien planet to investigate an energy reading. Their mission: To make contact with a new species? To discover the secrets of the universe?

Nope.

They’re a pair of scrappers looking for salvage, essentially just trying to make rent.

Playing as Rani, you use your mechanical arm (affectionately named Pumpkin) to suck up the planet’s resources.

Before too long, you’re confronted with the titular gunk — a growing, possibly semi-sentient ooze that’s choking out life on the planet — and your mission takes on more of a Captain Planet eco-warrior tone.

If that all sounds fraught with some weird glorification of resource extraction and a savior parachuted in from on high — well, it is! That’s a point of friction you’ll have to make peace with if you want to enjoy The Gunk.

Rather than unpack those troubling aspects, The Gunk’s story focuses on Rani’s growing urge to clean the planet and the conflict that creates with her more pragmatic partner, Becks.

There’s not a lot of depth to their relationship, but their frequent, well-acted radio chatter will keep you company as you’re dealing with the gunk and add some personal stakes as their motivations diverge.

The Gunk’s gameplay is similarly stripped down. You’ll spend nearly all your time clearing gunk and solving simple platforming puzzles to open paths further into the wilderness.

Occasional combat against gunk creatures breaks up the loop. Combat cleverly relies on your gunk vacuum and a few extra tools rather than introducing a whole new set of mechanics.

And that’s The Gunk in a nutshell. Move from one location to the next while mopping up gunk and dealing with angry critters along the way.

So what makes The Gunk special?

More than anything else, it’s the atmosphere. It may be about repairing environmental devastation, but The Gunk keeps a light tone that makes it a perfect chill-out game.

As you clear an area of gunk, it springs to life with alien flora, which is gorgeous and satisfying every single time.

The Gunk keeps mechanics simple, letting its spectacular environments and unhurried pace carry you through its roughly five-hour story.

If you’re looking for a low-key adventure that’s rewarding without being too taxing, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than The Gunk.

The Gunk is included on Game Pass for Xbox and PC.